By / February 27, 2024

Former President of Honduras Charged With Corruption and Collusion With Drug Cartels

Juan Orlando Hernandez, the former President of Honduras, once known as a staunch advocate for the fight against drug crime, now stands trial in the United States, charged with corruption and accepting vast sums of money from cartels in exchange for assistance in smuggling drugs and firearms into the USA. The trial began last week.

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U.S. Trial to Determine Fate of Former President

In the United States, a trial is underway to determine whether the former President of Honduras was truly the anti-drug warrior he claimed to be or a puppet of the cartels, whose influences were used to smuggle drugs worth millions of dollars and weapons.

The trial of former President Juan Orlando Hernandez began in New York on Wednesday, when the prosecution presented charges, claiming that Hernandez’s rise to power was financed and driven by powerful cartel syndicates, while the defense argued that the former president is being falsely accused by cartel decision-makers for his firm stance against drug crime.

Accusations and Defense

Hernandez pleaded not guilty to the drug and firearms charges in May 2022. During his tenure, the former President received over 50 million dollars in anti-drug aid from the United States and many millions more in security assistance, according to Reuters. Three months after leaving office, Hernandez was charged with illegal possession of weapons and heard three charges related to conspiracy to traffic drugs. Attorney General Merrick Garland accused Hernandez of using his presidential power to run Honduras as a drug state.

Prosecutor David Robles stated on Wednesday that Hernandez collaborated “hand in hand” with cartels to import several tons of cocaine into the USA, while cooperating with the US federal government from 2014 to 2022.

Defense attorney Renato Stabile argued in court that the testimonies of convicted criminals, influenced by the anti-drug legislation signed by Hernandez during his term, should be ignored by the jury. Stabile argued that all witnesses testifying against Hernandez were seeking personal revenge or were paid by the cartels.

Extradition and Defense in the USA

Hernandez was extradited to the United States in April 2022, charged with accepting millions of dollars from drug cartels with the promise that they would not be arrested. Upon arrival in the USA, defense attorney Raymond Colon reported in court that Hernandez was mistreated in prison, informing that he was kept in solitary confinement and was not allowed to contact his family.

The trial is expected to last for the next two or three weeks. Hernandez faces 40 years to life if convicted on all charges. “This pervasive corruption and massive cocaine trade have cost the people of Honduras,” said Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, shortly after Hernandez’s extradition.

(Featured image by Brookings Institution (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) via Flickr)

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