Former President of Honduras arrested at US request – Whittier Daily News
By Marlon Gonzalez and Christopher Sherman | Associated Press
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Police arrested former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández at his home on Tuesday, a step in fulfilling a request by the United States government for extradition on drug trafficking and weapons charges.
The arrest came shortly after a Honduran judge signed an arrest warrant and less than three weeks after Hernández left office. Years of allegations by US prosecutors about the Honduran leader’s alleged links to drug dealers followed.
Hernández left his home, flanked by police, bound at the wrists and ankles and wearing a bulletproof jacket. He got into a police vehicle and was driven away. A police helicopter that had been waiting nearby took off but appeared only to be escorting the caravan.
The Supreme Court appointed a judge to hear the case Tuesday morning, and hours later the judge signed the warrant for Hernandez, court spokesman Melvin Duarte said. The Ministry of Security, which had surrounded Hernández’s home since Monday night, acted quickly to arrest him.
Honduran Security Minister Ramón Sabillón, who was fired by Hernández as head of the National Police in 2014, said Tuesday that Hernández “conspired with drug trafficking cartels and corrupted many public institutions, leading to social decay and undermining the use of justice.” in Honduras.”
He said the primary charges against Hernández in the US are drug trafficking, use of weapons for drug trafficking, and conspiracy to use weapons for drug trafficking.
US prosecutors in New York had repeatedly implicated Hernández as a co-conspirator in his brother’s 2019 drug trafficking trial, claiming his political rise was fueled by drug profits.
His brother Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández was sentenced to life in prison in March 2021 on drug and weapons charges. At his sentencing, Assistant US Attorney Matthew Laroche described the crimes as “state-sponsored drug trafficking.”
Nicole Navas, a spokeswoman for the US Department of Justice, declined to comment on the US extradition request late Monday.
Hernández posted an audio recording via Twitter early Tuesday, thanking his supporters. “This is not an easy moment,” he said. “I don’t wish it on anyone.”
He said his lawyers had told the National Police that “I am ready and willing to cooperate and willingly go … to face this situation and defend myself” if an arrest warrant is issued.
The identity of the judge selected to handle the case was not immediately disclosed. However, the court’s president, Rolando Argueta, is known to be close to Hernández, and all 15 Supreme Court justices were elected by Congress in 2016 during Hernández’s first term. They serve seven-year terms and most come from within his National Party.
The US moves were a long-awaited downfall for a leader despised in his home country who enjoyed the support of the Trump administration but was kept at bay by the Biden White House, which has targeted endemic corruption in Central America as a root cause of migration has .
Last year, US Senator Patrick Leahy was one of a dozen senators supporting a bill aimed at isolating Hernández by imposing sanctions on him and banning the export of tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets, which Honduran security forces used in recent years protesters had acted.
“During the past eight years of decay, depravity and impunity, successive U.S. administrations have besmirched our reputation by treating Hernandez as a friend and partner,” Leahy said in a statement Tuesday. “By apologizing for government after government that had no legitimacy and operated as a criminal enterprise, US officials lost sight of what we stand for and that our true partners are the Honduran people.”
Dana Frank, a Honduras expert and professor emeritus of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said the US wanted to look heroic in finally trying to bring Hernández to justice, but that successive administrations dating back to President Barack Obama Hernández enabled.
“Hernández was able to wreak havoc in Honduras at devastating cost, in large part because the US backed him to the last minute,” Frank said.
Honduran criminal defense attorney Marlon Duarte said the extradition process against Hernández, if it goes ahead, will take no more than three months.
Once an arrest warrant is issued, Hernández must surrender or be forcibly taken into custody, he said. At an initial hearing, Hernández would be informed of the charges and held at a military base.
Another hearing would be held within two months, where the US evidence would be presented and the judge would decide whether to extradite him.
If the judge orders the extradition, Hernández would have three days to appeal. Then the Court of Appeal – also appointed by the Supreme Court – would decide within five days whether to uphold the extradition or overturn the judge’s decision. If the judge denied extradition, the US government would have an opportunity to appeal.
Hernández left office on January 27 with the inauguration of President Xiomara Castro. On the same day he was sworn in as the representative of Honduras in the Central American Parliament.
One of his lawyers, Hermes Ramírez, told local media his client had immunity as a member of the regional parliament and said government forces were not following due process. He said Hernández was in the house.
Various contingents of the National Police, including special forces and military police, were present in the neighborhood of Hernández on Monday evening. Barriers at all entrances kept media and even local residents out.
Members of the security forces entered the area with guns, balaclavas and handcuffs dangling from their ballistic vests.
Hernández often pointed out that while he was President of Congress, Honduras began allowing the extradition of its citizens on drug trafficking charges as part of its defense.
But US prosecutors have claimed he took bribes from drug dealers with a promise to protect them once he is president.
Hernández took office on January 27, 2014. He used a friendly Supreme Court to overcome Honduras’ constitutional ban on re-election, winning a second term in 2017 in elections marred by irregularities.
Sherman reported from Mexico City. Associated Press writers Elmer Martínez in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and Claudia Torrens in New York contributed to this story.