2024March 2024FirearmsNarco-StatesInternational NewsNarcotics Trade

Former Honduran President Convicted in the US of Working with Drug Traffickers

Sofia A. Diaz 

Staff Writer

Embed from Getty Images

Juan Orlando Hernández, a former 2-term president of Honduras, has been indicted on drug-trafficking and firearm charges and was extradited to the United States for trial. Hernández has been accused of conspiring with infamous drug lords such as Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the former leader of the Sinaloa Cartel also known as El Chapo, to import copious amounts of cocaine into the U.S and of possessing destructive firearms.

On March 8, jurors in a Manhattan federal court found Hernández guilty on three counts of drug-trafficking and firearm charges after a two-week trial and two days of deliberation, according to The Guardian. The sentence for these charges is at least 40 years in prison. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Hernández is to be sentenced on June 26. 

Hernández is a well-known political figure in Honduras, serving as president from 2014 to 2022 and previously as a member of Congress. The New York Times reports that in 2013, during his first presidential campaign, Hernández appealed to the public because of his desire to be representative of a new law and order for Honduras. His candidacy as a  member of the right-wing Honduran National Party aimed to combat the crime and drug epidemic that enveloped the country. A 2013 article from InSight Crime, for example, was entitled ‘Honduras President-Elect Pledges “Iron Fist” to Combat Chaos.’

Despite the former president’s initial campaign that aspired to combat the crime and drug epidemic, U.S. prosecutors claim Hernández was in alliance with the same forces that he was initially opposing, says New York Times Prosecutors stated that evidence shows proof of Hernández receiving millions of dollars from trafficking organizations, from both inside and out of Honduras. The prosecution added that Hernández also allowed substantial amounts of cocaine to be transported through Honduras and make its way to U.S. territory, claiming he boasted to ‘stuff the drugs right up the noses of the gringos,’ reports New York Times

The trial illuminated dark truths about Honduras’s history of corruption and its connections to crime and drug-trafficking. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) claims that Hernández and his conspirators trafficked over 400 million tons of cocaine that was intended to be smuggled onto U.S. grounds during his tenure in Honduras, according to ABC News. Hernández was also alleged to have been in possession and conspiring to possess “destructive weapons,” such as machine guns. The DOJ reports that more recently, Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares or “El Tigre,” the former chief of Honduran National Police, pleaded guilty to his involvement and association with the charges for cocaine importation.

Although the magnitude of the charges brought forth against Hernández are augmentative considering that several convicted traffickers testified to have bribed him, he continued to plead not guilty to drug-trafficking conspiracy and possession of weapons charges, Reuters says. Hernández was noted to have responded to the testimonies of the witnesses by stating “they all have motivation to lie, and they are professional liars,” and denied allegations of meeting with or taking bribes from the traffickers, including Guzmán, according to The Associated Press. Some of the spectators in the courtroom were noted to have laughed at the former president’s not guilty plea. 

The team of lawyers defending Hernández affirmed that the prosecution was relying on testimonies from criminals who have motive to falsify their statements to reduce their sentences and to avenge their reputations as traffickers by reciprocating the “crackdown on cartels” onto the former president, Reuters says. Hernández’s defense attorney, Sabrina Shroff, stated that he intends to appeal the conviction. 

Hernández is the first former head of state to be found guilty in U.S. courts for drug-trafficking since 1992, says The Guardian, when General Manuel Antonio Noriega, former leader of Panama, faced a similar situation. Noriega was found guilty in a Miami federal court  on charges of accepting a bribe to allow the Medellín cartel to transport drugs through Panama with the intention of smuggling it to the U.S.

After the guilty verdict, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland stated, “Juan Orlando Hernández abused his position as President of Honduras to operate the country as a narco-state where violent drug traffickers were allowed to operate with virtual impunity, and the people of Honduras and the United States were forced to suffer the consequences,” according to the DOJ.

The former president has been jailed at the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center since the date of his extradition and will remain there until sentence day in June, reports Reuters.

Image courtesy of Getty Images

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share This