In an audio message to his supporters Tuesday night, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández sounded like a defeated man.
“It is incredible to me that the false testimonies of confessed murderers are listened to and valued in this way,” he said in a pained voice.
He was speaking hours after his brother, Tony Hernández, was sentenced to life in prison for smuggling 185 tons of cocaine into the United States in a vast conspiracy.
President Hernández could be the next to fall after being named in the case of his brothers, and at least two others, as a co-conspirator.
Although he has not been formally charged, the evidence so far presented in court appears to be heavily incriminating, some experts say. “If Juan Orlando Hernández were tried today, they would get a conviction,” said former DEA agent Mike Vigil, who is closely following the case.
The DEA and the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York declined to comment on what they say is an ongoing investigation.
President Hernández pleads not guilty and claims that drug traffickers have tried to link him to illegal activities For your own benefit to obtain reductions in your own sentences. He also claims that since his election in 2014, drug trafficking in Honduras has been reduced by 95%, citing figures from the US State Department.
But experts say the figures do not provide an accurate picture, as they are based on drug seizures that are very imprecise. The United States estimates that approximately 4%, or 120 metric tons, of cocaine shipments from South America made a first stop by air or sea in Honduras in 2019, a decrease from a few years ago, according to the annual report of the International Narcotics Control Strategy for 2020.
The report noted that “it is assessed that more have passed through Honduras by land after making a first arrival in other countries.” He also added: “corruption is widespread in private and public institutions.”
This week Hernández revealed what he said they were covert DEA recordings to traffickers who showed they were scared by their choice. In one of the recordings, a trafficker is heard saying: “Concerned with this man who won.” In another recording, traffickers are heard talking about a plot to kill Hernández.
But the recordings are open to interpretation and could be a double-edged sword. The person who made the tapes – drug lord Devis Leonel Rivera – has already made allegations against Hernández in court in New York.
Lack of cooperation
US federal prosecutors have also complained that the Hernández administration has not cooperated with extradition requests for some key figures in the case against him and his brother.
“Many of the co-conspirators of the defendant (Tony Hernández) who are publicly accused, remain in Honduras and nothing happens with them. Extradition requests have been sent. They have not been attended,” said one of the prosecutors, Matthew Laroche, during the sentence of Tuesday.
He said the life sentence “would significantly resonate with officials in Honduras, who are still in Honduras, who are involved in these crimes.”
Tony Hernández, brother of the president of Honduras, is sentenced to life imprisonment plus 30 years
Dilemma for Biden
The legal case against President Hernández leaves US officials in a quandary as they seek to stem the flow of Central American migrants at the southern border. Unlike Donald Trump, who made Hernández an ally in his ‘zero tolerance’ immigration policy, the Biden administration has taken a tougher stance on public corruption to bolster democracy in the region.
Vice President Kamala Harris has been tasked with speaking with the presidents of the ‘Northern Triangle’ countries, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, but it is unclear whether she will call Hernández.
“They (US officials) are working hard not to give Juan Orlando any life jackets. Great care is being taken to point out that the United States is not going to rescue him … no way,” said Eric Olson, a veteran America analyst. Central with the Seattle International Foundation.
The United States is unlikely to try to prosecute Hernández this year, abiding by a custom of not indicting foreign heads of state while in office.
However, Hernández could be prosecuted, and extradited to the United States, after leaving office in January 2022. But experts say he has consolidated power in Honduras and the ruling National Party is the favorite to win the elections. in November. Some experts say Hernández may also organize a legislative push to repeal the country’s 2012 extradition law.
“Going back on the extradition issue would be very bad for Honduras … as a country we must finish what we started,” says a former Hernández ally. “So Honduras must go much further in cleaning the country of drug trafficking and corruption,” he added.
If Juan Orlando Hernández ever faces trial, here is the potentially most significant evidence against him: