Update: Honduras extradited former President Juan Orlando Hernández to the United States on Thursday to face drug trafficking and weapons charges in a dramatic reversal for a leader once touted by US authorities as a key ally in the war on the drugs. Just three months after leaving office, a handcuffed Hernández boarded an airplane with agents from the US Drug Enforcement Administration bound for the United States, where he faces charges in the Southern District of New York, the AP reports. US Attorney General Merrick Garland said Hernandez “abused his position as President of Honduras from 2014 through 2022 to operate the country as a narco-state.” Our original story from Feb. 15 follows:
The United States requested the arrest and extradition of former President Juan Orlando Hernández on drug and weapons charges less than three weeks after he left office, a move that follows years of accusations about the Honduran leader's alleged links to drug traffickers. Honduran security forces surrounded Hernández’s neighborhood Monday night and on Tuesday the Supreme Court of Justice met to choose a judge to handle the extradition request, the AP reports. Honduran Security Minister Ramón Sabillón, who was fired by Hernández as head of the National Police in 2014, said Tuesday that Hernández had conspired "with cartels to traffic (drugs) and corrupt many public institutions, which led to social deterioration and undermined the application of justice in Honduras."
He said the main charges Hernández faces in the US are drug trafficking, using weapons for drug trafficking, and conspiracy to use weapons in drug trafficking. US prosecutors in New York had repeatedly implicated Hernández as a co-conspirator during his brother’s 2019 drug trafficking trial, alleging that his political rise was fueled by drug profits. His brother, Juan Antonio "Tony" Hernández was sentenced to life in prison on drug and weapons charges in March 2021. At his sentencing, Assistant US Attorney Matthew Laroche characterized the crimes as "state-sponsored drug trafficking."
Hernández, who left office Jan. 27 with the swearing in of President Xiomara Castro, released an audio recording via Twitter early Tuesday thanking his supporters. "It is not an easy moment," he said. "I don't desire it for anyone." He said his lawyers had informed the National Police that "I am ready and prepared to cooperate and go voluntarily ... to face this situation and defend myself” if an arrest order is issued. The US moves were a long-awaited fall for a leader reviled in his home country who enjoyed support from the Trump administration but had been kept at arm’s length by the Biden White House, which has targeted Central America’s endemic corruption as a root cause of migration.
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