The president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, elected in 2018 to govern four years, began his term amid violent unrest over a controversial re-election. Now he is nearing the end of it, described ad nauseam in a New York courthouse by two powerful drug traffickers as the man who gave them protection in exchange for envelopes containing thousands of dollars.
Eight months after his departure from power, the name of Juan Orlando Hernández, 52, appears linked to the cartel that in the last decade has controlled the drug business in Honduras: Los Cachiros. Two of its leaders, Geovanny Fuentes and Devis Leonel Rivera Madariaga, are being tried in a New York court and their statements have put the president on the ropes. His confession not only points to him, but includes his vice president, the Army, the Police and the last two leaders: Porfirio Lobo and Manuel Zelaya, all of whom are accused of facilitating drug trafficking in exchange for bribes. The last hurricane that was yet to reach the Central American country, hit hard a country on the edge.
This week, both drug traffickers declared that Los Cachiros gave Hilda Hernández, sister of President Juan Orlando Hernández, $ 250,000 in cash in 2012, when he was the head of Congress and the clear candidate for the presidency. In exchange they asked “protection so that neither the military nor the preventive police would arrest them or extradite them to the United States,” Rivera said with his feet handcuffed before a popular jury.
The fan launched in New York points to the leadership of the country: the president, his sister Hilda, who died later in a helicopter accident, his brother Tony Hernández, who has been imprisoned for two years, and Vice President Ricardo Álvarez, a who claimed to have delivered $ 500,000. Álvarez had allegedly promised to eliminate the extradition law between the United States and Honduras if elected. About Manuel Zelaya Los Cachiros said they paid half a million dollars in 2006 to appoint his cousin to the post of Minister of Security, an appointment that never materialized. Those named have defended themselves by saying that they are the confessions of two DEA collaborators, repentant drug traffickers who are trying to reduce their sentence, Hernández said. “An irrefutable proof that I never received a bribe was that I never appointed a minister of organized crime or under pressure from the United States Embassy,” Zelaya defended himself on Twitter.
But US justice had long targeted the president of Honduras. Even more so after the capture of his brother Tony negotiating the purchase of thousands of kilos of cocaine. In the trial against him held last year, his name – identified as CC4 – appears 104 times. A witness even said that he attended a meeting in 2013 in which Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán, the former head of the Sinaloa cartel, gave Tony Hernández a million dollars for his brother’s presidential campaign.
The president has come out of all this well, so far, thanks to his good relationship with Donald Trump and his ease of bowing to Washington. As if it were a macabre joke, Honduras, one of the most violent countries in the world, agreed to be a “safe third country” and to receive asylum seekers from anywhere on the planet while they waited for their application to be accepted in the United States. Periodically some capos were extradited to Honduras and, although migrant caravans are a problem for the United States, the security agenda has taken priority over the human rights agenda. With the arrival of Biden and the flood of confessions, that protection is in jeopardy.
But beyond the president, the trial illustrates the putrefaction that spreads through institutions such as justice, the Army or the Assembly. The former Minister of Justice of Peru, Juan Jiménez Mayor, was commissioned in 2013 by the Organization of American States (OAS) to launch the Maccih, an anti-corruption commission organized for the first time by the OAS. During the three years he was in office, he opened an investigation against 70 deputies accused of diverting public resources for public works that were never carried out. According to his complaint, two-thirds of Congress were collecting unchecked bonuses, but as their job went higher, it became more uncomfortable. Finally, Hernández ordered his departure from the country with the endorsement of Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the OAS.
“It is plausible what the drug traffickers are saying in New York because drug power is too close to power in Honduras. But it must also be recognized that Juan Orlando Hernández promoted the extradition of drug traffickers, which was prohibited in the Constitution, and the importance of this must be measured. In Colombia this caused a war and meant going from drug trafficking to terrorism. At the same time, he has extradited about 15 great bosses and it is possible that it is a revenge. The quality of the tests will be decisive ”, acknowledges the former head of the Maccih in an interview with EL PAÍS.
The idea that Honduras is a “narco-state” was heard this week in court by the prosecutor during the trial that will follow this Monday. That theory is also shared by Salvador Nasralla, a two-time presidential candidate. “Honduras is run by organized crime and all powers are controlled by the same mafia.” According to Nasralla, the president may end up as Manuel Antonio Noriega, the former president of Panama arrested in 1989 after the US invasion. “Americans don’t have friends, they have interests. And this man got out of hand. The confession of the drug traffickers in New York has been accompanied by notes, calls, notebooks … and they all agree on the same methodology, ”Nasralla tells EL PÁIS from Tegucigalpa. “The Army guaranteed his illegal re-election and at the same time it is the one who allows the passage of drugs,” he said. According to their figures, some 80 tons of cocaine pass through Honduras every month, a strategic place on the route that ascends through the Caribbean from Colombia and Venezuela.
Hours before the primary elections to be held this Sunday in the country’s main parties, the writer and analyst Víctor Meza highlights the tension he feels in the streets and the disturbing rumors that run through the country. “In an electoral context, Juan Orlando is going to be more and more alone and no one rules out a self-coup or that he wants to be reelected again. There are meetings and messages and very disturbing versions. There is an atmosphere similar to the one that was breathed before the 2009 coup d’état that removed Manuel Zelaya from power and which was also Sunday and with elections in between, ”says Meza. “The weakening of Juan Orlando is evident, he came to power lacking legitimacy and the trial has finished sinking him,” he says. “The drug trafficker distributes money in full hands among police, politicians, officials, military, judges … its implementation has been slow, but it has finally ended up controlling all the organs of power.”
Two months ago, Juan Orlando Hernández cited General Morazán, the liberator of Central America, as an example of courage and drive. With a microphone in his hand he tried to breathe courage into a population struck down by hurricanes Eta and Iota that left tens of thousands of people destitute, referring to the hero of 1830. Hernández asked for one more sacrifice to the Hondurans for eight weeks before his name made the front page of half the world again for his links with drug trafficking. Among the population, the feeling, however, is that of all the hurricanes that have hit the country, this was the most predictable.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.