Judge evaluates US request to extradite former President Hernández for drug trafficking

A judge in Tegucigalpa is evaluating this Wednesday whether to grant the extradition to the United States of former Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández (2014-2022), accused of participating in the export of some 500 tons of cocaine to the North American country.

The “first instance extradition judge considers the hearing for the presentation and evacuation of evidence in the process requested by the United States for former President Juan Orlando Hernández to have begun,” the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ) said on Twitter.

Hernández, detained since mid-February in the Los Cobras barracks of the special police forces, was transferred to the court for the judicial hearing under strict protection.

As explained by the CSJ spokesman, Melvin Duarte, “the arguments of the defense (of Hernández) will be heard and then the judge will have the time that is pertinent to assess those arguments of evidence.”

“In the case of granting the extradition and that decision is appealed (…) the file must be known by the magistrates of the Supreme Court of Justice in plenary session and they will have to ratify the decision or they will have to modify or revoke it,” Duarte added. That can delay the extradition decision for up to two weeks.

-“He did not send evidence”-

“The United States did not send any sufficient and reliable evidence” that implicates Hernández “in drug trafficking activities, as required by the extradition treaty for the judge to grant the request,” the former president’s defense said in a statement on Thursday.

He added that “in a Honduran court of justice, what the US prosecutor’s office sent does not support any accusation against any defendant (…) they did not send any supporting documentation, nor photographs, nor audios, nor videos.”

Hernández handed over the presidency of Honduras on January 27 to leftist Xiomara Castro. On February 14, the United States requested his extradition. A day later he was captured.

New York prosecutors linked the former president to drug trafficking during the trial against his brother, former deputy “Tony” Hernández, who was sentenced in March 2021 to life in prison for that crime.

– “You are not alone” –

While the hearing was taking place, dozens of supporters of the National Party (PN, right), to which Hernández belongs, gathered in front of the Judicial Power building, south of Tegucigalpa, demanding the freedom of the former president.

“He is not alone,” protesters shouted. “They were wrong to point out an honest man as a drug trafficker,” said one of those present. “A lie was created by an evil mind and repeated by fools. They made it true,” read one of the banners they carried.

“We are facing a great injustice,” the ex-governor’s wife, Ana García, complained through a video. “Juan Orlando is not a drug trafficker,” she assured. García also reached the outskirts of the courts.

The head of the special forces, Miguel Pérez, reported that 280 troops surrounded the Court building while the hearing was taking place to guarantee security.

– Former ally-

Hernández “has engaged in significant corruption by committing or facilitating acts of corruption and drug trafficking, and by using the proceeds of illicit activities for political campaigns,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said.

US prosecutors have referred to the former president as a “co-conspirator” who turned Honduras into a “narco-state” by involving the military, police and other civilians in drug trafficking to the United States.

Hernández, a former ally of Washington, criticizes the United States justice system by affirming that it points to him based on “declarations of drug traffickers and confessed murderers” who were extradited by his government.

In her inauguration speech, President Xiomara Castro promised to fight corruption and drug cartels, for which she received the support of the United States through Vice President Kamala Harris, who attended the inauguration.

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