El ex presidente Juan Orlando Hernández conducido al avión que lo llevaría a EEUU. Foto: BBC.

Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández extradited to the US on drug trafficking charges

Honduras extradited former President Juan Orlando Hernández to the United States on Thursday to face drug and arms trafficking charges, a dramatic setback for a leader once touted by US authorities themselves as a key ally in the war on drugs.

A handcuffed Hernandez boarded a plane with agents from the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) bound for the United States, where he faces charges in the Southern District of New York.

US Attorney General Merrick Garland said Hernández “abused his position as president of Honduras from 2014 to 2022 to operate the country as a narco-state.”

In court documents, prosecutors alleged that Hernandez was involved in a “corrupt and violent drug trafficking conspiracy” that smuggled more than 550 tons of cocaine into the United States.

He was charged with participating in a drug trafficking conspiracy, possession of machine guns and destructive devices, and conspiracy to possess machine guns and destructive devices.

Photo: BBC.

Prosecutors accuse Hernandez of receiving millions of dollars from drug cartels, including from notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. They allege that he used the money to finance his political campaigns and that he committed electoral fraud in the 2013 and 2017 presidential elections. “In exchange, drug traffickers were allowed to operate with virtual impunity in Honduras,” Garland said. “We allege that Hernández corrupted legitimate public institutions in the country, including parts of the national police, the military, and the national Congress.”

Hernández was arrested at his home in Tegucigalpa last February at the request of US authorities. They chained him up and showed him to journalists, something many Hondurans never imagined they would see. The Honduran Supreme Court rejected his appeal of a judge’s decision in favor of extradition.

“Drug trafficking fuels violent crime and addiction; it devastates families and wreaks havoc on communities,” Garland said. “The Department of Justice is committed to disrupting the entire ecosystem of drug trafficking networks that harm the American people, no matter how far or how high we must go.”

Hernandez has repeatedly denied doing so. In a video message posted Thursday, he said: “I am innocent. I have been and am being unfairly subjected to prosecution.” He has said that he is the victim of drug traffickers that he extradited and that they are now lying to seek revenge.

Henry Osorto Canales, former commissioner of the National Police, said that while the extradition was an embarrassment for Honduras, it was also a historic day. “This is a start precisely because it has begun with the largest political piece that the country had and, logically, the other pieces are going to fall, at least the closest ones. [a Hernández]”, said.

Hernandez’s brother, former congressman Tony Hernandez, was sentenced to life in prison in the same US court for the same charges.

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