Juan Orlando Hernandez faces accusa from convicted drug-traffickers that he took bribes and provided protection for them when he was the president of Honduras. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Another drug kingpin was just handed a life sentence for cocaine trafficking and weapons offenses in New York. Could the former president of Honduras be next?The sentencing this week of Geovanny Fuentes in New York—much like the celebrated trial of former Mexican kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman—is the latest warning that Latin America’s richest and most powerful narcos are on notice. In this case, that includes the former president of Honduras.
During the trial that resulted in his conviction in March last year, U.S prosecutors alleged that Fuentes and other traffickers paid massive bribes to former President Juan Orlando Hernández, who allegedly said that he wanted to “shove the drugs right up the noses of the gringos.”The life-sentence for Fuentes comes during a testing time for Hernández, who recently had his U.S visa revoked when he was added to a State Department list of corrupt officials. His inclusion on the list was kept private until he left office at the end of last month, and officially made public on Monday.Prosecutors said trafficker Fuentes ran a massive cocaine lab in Honduras and also facilitated the transportation of the drug from South America to the U.S. He is one of many former drug-traffickers from Honduras who has implicated Hernández in the drug trade, adding to international speculation that the president oversaw a “narco state” while in office. His brother, “Tony” Hernández, was convicted for drug trafficking in the U.S in 2019 and sentenced to life behind bars last year. During that trial, prosecutors said Tony was “a uniquely bad character. Who, along with his brother, is at the center of years of state sponsored drug trafficking.”When Fuentes was convicted last year, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss described him as “a ruthless, powerful, and murderous cocaine trafficker.”
“He facilitated the shipment of large loads of cocaine by bribing Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado, then president of the Honduran National Congress and now the Honduran president. Hernández Alvarado instructed Fuentes Ramirez to report directly to convicted co-conspirator and former Honduran congressman Tony Hernandez, the president’s brother.”Hernández has always denied any connections to the cocaine business. But Fuentes is far from the first Honduran drug boss to throw dirt at the former president. Witnesses have alleged that even El Chapo—then head of the Sinaloa cartel—and other drug bosses paid a million dollars in 2013 to Tony to go toward his brother Juan Orlando’s presidential campaign, in return for political protection of their trafficking activities. Reporting by VICE World News suggested that the protection deal soon soured, however. The arrest of Digna Valle in Miami in 2014, the matriarch of the violent Valle drug-trafficking clan based on the Honduras / Guatemala border, violated their protection agreement. Digna’s brothers were arrested months after her, allegedly for planning to kill the president for reneging on his protection promises, as well as their drug-trafficking offenses. “Tony Hernández told me that the Valles had been captured because they had tried to kill the president of Honduras, JOH,” said Amilcar Ardón, a former local mayor, in court.
Further charges point the finger at other former officials accused of protecting President Orlando’s drug-trafficking interests. Former National Police Chief Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares, also known as “El Tigre,” or The Tiger, was charged in 2020 and last year was the focus of an extradition order. At the time, Mike Vigil, a former chief of international operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration, told VICE World News: “[Bonilla] is a very pivotal figure, and if he was extradited to the United States and decided to cooperate, it would be the final nail in the coffin of Hernández.” Bonilla remains at large in Honduras.
In an open letter published via his Twitter account on Monday, former President Hernández said he was “surprised” at the decision of the U.S State Department to block his access to a visa. He criticized Secretary of State Antony J Blinken for basing his decision on media reports as well as “the declarations of confessed drug-traffickers and murderers who were extradited by my government, or felt forced to flee and hand themsleves in to U.S authorities for free of being extradited [by my government].”But the worst—a criminal indictment—may be yet to come for Hernández.