Almost two years after arriving extradited to New York, the former president of Honduras Juan Orlando Hernández will sit starting this Monday on the bench of the American justice that accuses him of drug trafficking, trafficking, and weapons possessioncharges that could lead to life in prison.
Hernández, 55, who until now has claimed his innocence, will be tried alone in the southern federal court in manhattan after two co-defendants, former Honduran police chief Juan Carlos “Tigre” Bonilla and former police officer Mauricio Hernández, pleaded in recent days guilty of drug trafficking.
The US prosecutor’s office accuses Hernández, whose term extended from 2014 to 2022, of participating in and protecting a network that sent more than 500 tons of cocaine to the United States between 2004 and 2022.
In exchange, he would have received “millions of dollars” from drug cartelsamong them Mexican drug trafficker Joaquín “Chapo” Guzmánsentenced to life imprisonment in the United States.
The drug money helped him get rich and “finance his political campaign and commit electoral fraud” in the 2013 and 2017 presidential elections, the accusation claims.
If found guilty of the three charges brought against him by the prosecution, could be sentenced to life imprisonment more than 30 years, like his brother Tony Hernández and his collaborator Geovanny Fuentes, who participated in the same network.
Relentless with drug trafficking
A faithful collaborator of the government of Republican Donald Trump (2017-2021), JOH, the acronym of his name by which he is known in Honduras, came to boast of Washington’s praise for his government’s work in the drug seizure and in the fight against organized crime.
“He detained people who had no ties to him, but he protected others,” former DEA agent, the US anti-drug agency, Mikel Vigil, told AFP.
Last year, Mexico’s former Secretary of Homeland Security, Genaro García Lunathe highest-ranking Mexican official to sit on a bench in the United States, was declared guilty of drug trafficking, among other charges, by a New York court. The announcement of his sentence is scheduled for March 1.
Ruthless, the authorities intend to “disrupt the entire ecosystem of drug trafficking networks that harm Americans.”
Postponed three times, the trial begins on Monday with the selection of the jury members who will seal the fate of JOH, in a trial that generates great expectation in his country and among the Honduran community in New York, which has a group of active detractors. of the former president.
Lawyer Renato Stabile, who joined Hernández’s defense two weeks ago to help the incumbent Raymond Colon, with health problems, asked the judge this week for a new postponement, alleging lack of time to study the voluminous incriminating material. He also requested jury selection through a questionnaire to ensure impartiality. Investigating judge Kevin Castel denied both requests on Thursday.
Detained in the Brooklyn Metropolitan Center, the defense has deplored the detention conditions of the former president, who will attend the trial dressed in a suit and tie.
Stripped of his visa, neither his wife nor his children will be able to shelter him in the courtroom in southern Manhattan.
“No one is above the law,” Josette Altmann, general secretary of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO) based in Costa Rica, tells AFP, who believes that this case could be a “reminder to leaders across the geopolitical spectrum” of legal repercussions but above all of “reputation” that “leads to participation in improper conduct.”
JOH also has another trial pending in Honduras for fraud and money laundering.
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Since 2014, Honduras has extradited 38 people accused of drug trafficking to the United Stateswhere they have already been sentenced in addition to Tony Hernandez and Geovanny Fuentes, Fabio Loboson of former president Porfirio Lobo (2010-2014), to 24 years in prison, and former deputy Fredy Renán Nájera, to 30 years.
If found guilty, Hernández would follow in the wake of other former Latin American leaders convicted in the United States like the Panamanian Antonio Manuel Noriega, in 1992, and the Guatemalan Alfonso Portillo, in 2014.