He ran the country like a "narco-state"/ The former president appears before the court in New York

2024-02-21 16:28:00, Kosova & Bota CNA

He ran the country like a "narco-state"/ The former president appears

Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández was once touted by US authorities as a key ally in the war on drugs. Now, federal prosecutors say the political leader ran his Central American nation as a "narco-state," collecting millions of dollars from violent cartels to fuel his rise to power.

Nearly two years after his arrest and extradition to the US, Hernández went on trial Tuesday in Manhattan federal court on drug and weapons trafficking charges.

It's a fall from the pedestal for a political leader long seen by Democratic and Republican administrations as helpful to American interests in the region, including the drug war and helping to slow the flow of immigrants crossing the US southern border.

The fact that Hernández is being tried in the US rather than in his native country underscores Honduras' institutional weakness, said Raúl Pineda Alvarado, a Honduran political analyst and former three-term congressman from Hernandez's National Party.

"For Hondurans it means how weak our democracy is in terms of the separation of powers," he said. "Politicians are not subject to any control."

Federal authorities say that for nearly two decades, Hernández profited from the drug trade that brought hundreds of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into the US, sometimes even working with Mexico's powerful Sinaloa cartel.

The millions of dollars in drug money that began pouring into Hernández's account starting in 2004, in turn, fueled his rise from a congressman representing his rural province in western Honduras to president of the National Congress and then two terms of consecutive presidential terms from 2014 to 2022.

In exchange for bribes that supported his political aspirations, US prosecutors say, drug traffickers were allowed to operate in the country with near impunity, receiving information to evade authorities and even law enforcement escorts for their shipments. .

During his first winning presidential campaign, Hernandez solicited $1.6 million from a drug trafficker to support his leadership and that of other politicians in his conservative political party, federal prosecutors say.

His brother also received a $1 million campaign donation from notorious Sinaloa boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán, with the promise that the cartel's drug shipments would find safe passage through Honduras if Hernández was elected.

Federal prosecutors in New York spent years climbing through Honduran drug-trafficking organizations before reaching the man many believed to be at the top — Hernandez.

He was arrested at his home in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, in February 2022, just three months after leaving office, and extradited to the US in April of that year.

US Attorney General Merrick Garland said at the time that Hernández abused his position as president "to operate the country as a narco-state".

Hernández's lawyers declined to comment ahead of the trial, in which prosecutors are expected to rely on testimony from drug traffickers and corrupt Honduran law enforcement officials and politicians.

The former president, who earned a master's degree from the State University of New York at Albany, has steadfastly maintained his innocence, saying the charges are retaliation by drug traffickers he had extradited to the US.

Hernández faces charges including drug trafficking conspiracy and possession of weapons and ammunition.

Meanwhile, his co-defendants, former Honduran national police chief Juan Carlos Bonilla and Hernández's cousin Mauricio Hernández Pineda, both pleaded guilty in recent weeks to drug-trafficking charges in the same Manhattan court where the trial is taking place. his trial./ CNA

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