Former Honduran President Just Got Arrested on Cocaine Trafficking Charges

Juan Orlando Hernández was taken into custody in the Honduran capital following an extradition request from the U.S. based on drug and weapons charges.
​The former president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, was arrested Tuesday.
Former president of Honduras Juan Orlando Hernández, center, was arrested Tuesday. 

The former president of Honduras was arrested Tuesday in Tegucigalpa after the U.S. requested his extradition just weeks after he left office.

Footage on social media shows Juan Orlando Hernández emerging from a house wearing a National Police armoured vest, as well as a cap and face mask. He is surrounded by police officers, one of whom pats him down as he stands on the doorstep.

Wearing chains on his wrists and ankles, he then lumbers slowly off the doorstep and through the police crowd.

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The former president has been fingered in a number of drug-trafficking cases in the U.S., including one in which prosecutors accused him of saying he wanted to “shove the drugs right up the noses of the gringos.” 

The prompt arrest of the former official shows the long arm of U.S. law enforcement in Honduras. Hernández was officially a valued U.S ally on anti-drug efforts. But a leaked translation of charges against him out of the Southern District Court of New York seen by VICE World News Tuesday morning alleges he was simultaneously aiding and abetting violent drug-trafficking organizations.

It was believed Hernández would go on the run if he were charged, but he announced on Twitter Tuesday morning that he would hand himself in once a judge was appointed to review the extradition request, which is what happened.

The former president has repeatedly denied allegations made in U.S. trials that he oversaw a “narco state” during his time in office, took bribes from drug traffickers, and benefited financially from the international cocaine trade.

The new charges allege the former president was part of a drug conspiracy that smuggled more than 500 tonnes of cocaine from South America through Honduras to the Guatemalan border, and that he protected drug-trafficking organizations that committed “brutal acts of violence with no consequences.”

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They outlines how Víctor Hugo Díaz Morales, also known as “El Rojo,” a former Honduran trafficker who was captured in 2017, worked with the former president. Hernández, the charges allege, accepted $40,000 in bribes from Díaz Morales in 2005 to offer him help as well protection from the military in his drug-trafficking activities. Díaz Morales also gave Hernández $100,000 in 2009 to go towards his then campaign to be president of the National Congress, according to U.S. prosecutors. 

The charge sheet also alleges that in 2012, when the then-Congressman Hernández supported the renewal of an extradition agreement between the U.S. and Honduras, he promised behind closed doors to continue to protect the drug traffickers with whom he was allied.

The president also used his drug-trafficking contacts to secure votes during his second presidential campaign in 2017, according to the document seen by VICE World News. He was re-elected.

This week’s charges also back up what witnesses have claimed before in the courts: that Hernández took a million-dollar donation for his presidential campaign from Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán in 2013 in exchange for protection of the Sinaloa Cartel’s interests in Honduras. 

His brother, Antonio “Tony” Hernández, was convicted for drug trafficking in the U.S. in 2019 and sentenced to life behind bars last year. During his trial, Tony was described as “a uniquely bad character, who, along with his brother, is at the centre of years of state sponsored drug trafficking.” 

But the new charges circulating Tuesday allege that even following the conviction of his brother, President Hernández continued to work with drug traffickers.

"Juan Orlando Hernández had the chance to help his country. Instead he helped himself and his cronies, and the Honduran people lost their lives, their families, and their communities to the ravages of drug gangs, abusive police, corrupt officials, and grinding poverty,” U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy said in a statement.

“Throughout the past eight years of decay, depravity, and impunity, successive U.S. administrations sullied our reputation by treating Hernandez as a friend and partner."