Hondurans cheer a rare win over their corrupt politicians

ALJAZEERA

NEGATIVE
In 2021, her daughter Keyla, a nursing student, was raped and killed by Honduran National Police, sparking national outrage and protests.
“Justice has been done for the thousands of victims whose blood was spilled under his narco-dictatorship,” she told Al Jazeera.
Evidence presented at trial suggests that his 2013 campaign was supplemented with millions of dollars in donations from drug traffickers.
In 2018, DEA agents arrested Hernandez’s brother, Antonio “Tony” Hernandez, in the US.
The prosecutors additionally provided multiple photos of the former president with drug traffickers, including one with the leaders of the Valle Valle drug clan at the South Africa World Cup in 2010.
In almost every case, former drug traffickers described receiving protection from military and police forces as well as from judges, prosecutors and politicians.
“We’re going to shove coke right up the noses of the gringos,” he testified Hernandez said.
The scheme was part of what the prosecutors alleged was a larger pattern of collecting donations from various drug traffickers.
Tony Hernandez pleaded guilty to drug trafficking in 2019.
Although several office-based research analysts spoke to the court, no active DEA field agents working in Honduras testified.

After spending two years in a jail cell, the defendant in New York City, was pale and greying. As the verdict was read, he bowed his head in a final prayer.

In a federal courtroom here, defense attorneys for former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez had spent nearly three weeks trying to convince jurors that the state’s witnesses, who were convicted drug dealers and murders, were lying and that their testimony—that they were part of a “narco-state” that operated with the former president’s protection—was not credible.

Hernandez’s prayers, however, would go unanswered, and his lawyers’ words unheeded, as jurors found the former president guilty on all three counts of drug and weapons charges. This marked the end of an epic fall from grace, comparable to that of the late President of Panama, Manuel Antonio Noriega, who was found guilty 32 years ago in a Miami federal courtroom of accepting millions of dollars in bribes from the Medellin drug cartel.

Hernandez had previously supported the US government’s “War on Drugs” with the same fervor as Noriega. In his 2013 presidential campaign, Hernandez—who is a member of a very conservative political party in Honduras—positioned himself as a candidate for law and order, promising to lessen the amount of illegal drugs coming into the nation and the resulting violence.

The Hondurans claim that instead of doing either of these things, he brought in a period of state repression that targeted dissidents as well as the Indigenous and Afro-Caribbean populations of the nation. The most prominent victim of this was the environmental activist Berta Caceres, who was killed in 2016 by a local business executive with connections to the government.

Hernandez’s unpopularity led many Hondurans to celebrate his arrest by US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents in January 2022, three weeks after he resigned from office, and his extradition to the US for trial three months later. Hernandez’s testimony that he had no connection to drug trafficking and that his accusers were “professional liars” caused the judge to sternly order the Honduran expatriates to remain silent during the day, even though Hernandez’s case had captured their attention.

Numerous Hondurans went outside to Columbus Park, which is located in the Chinatown neighborhood of Manhattan across from the federal courthouse, and tied a sea of flags to the park’s fence. The expats broke into song as soon as the verdict was announced. Some used their phones to livestream the celebration to friends and family back home, while others organized a vigil in memory of the dozens of Hondurans who had died at the hands of assassins and security forces working for Hernandez’s government.

Norma Martinez was one of the attendees of the vigil; she was a slightly built woman wearing purple earrings. Her daughter Keyla, a nursing student, was raped and killed by the Honduran National Police in 2021, which incited protests and outcry across the country.

She told Al Jazeera, “Justice has been served for the thousands of victims whose blood was shed during his narco-dictatorship.”. “At least Hernandez is behind bars, even though there’s no justice in Keyla’s case and I’m not entirely satisfied. “.

“Dicto-Narco-Presidentship”.

Hernandez, also known as JOH, was considered untouchable for many years in Honduras, even by the man himself, it seems.

When he ran for office in 2013, he made a campaign promise to use the armed forces and law enforcement to fight street gangs using a “Mano Dura,” or “Iron Fist,” strategy.

Evidence presented during the trial indicates that drug traffickers contributed millions of dollars to his 2013 campaign.

In spite of the fact that US President Donald Trump’s administration supported the official result, Hernandez was re-elected in 2017 after overseeing a constitutional amendment that permitted him to seek a second term. International observers claimed the election was marred by irregularities. Large-scale demonstrations came next. Security forces killed dozens of people in the days following the vote, and they were met with a wave of repression.

Antonio “Tony” Hernandez, the brother of Hernandez, was detained by DEA agents in the United States in 2018. Furious over numerous claims of drug trafficking and conjectures regarding his fraudulent reelection, a considerable number of Hondurans started calling the Hernandez administration a “narco-dictatorship”.

The administration of US President Joe Biden, which assumed office in 2021, deliberately avoided holding public meetings between US officials and Hernandez; however, covert training and cooperation between US and Honduran security forces on counterdrug activities persisted. After Hernandez departed from his position in January 2022, local police in Tegucigalpa, along with DEA agents, arrested him at his residence the following month. Thirty months later, he was extradited to the US.

Many viewed the court proceedings as a trial of the system of lawlessness and impunity that is connected to Honduras’s most powerful politicians, in addition to Hernandez. The court case also brought up issues regarding the connection between US politicians and a right-wing elite in Latin America that dates back to the 1954 coup that overthrew Guatemala’s democratically elected government.

“Dish out coke directly up the gringos’ noses.”.

Hernandez’s defense attorneys argued that the state’s witnesses were unreliable because they were trying to cut their own sentences by making plea agreements with the government. In addition, the prosecutors used the statement that “these were the men the defendant chose to work with” to highlight the criminality of their witnesses, which included drug traffickers in US prisons who were collectively accountable for dozens of murders. “.

When Hernandez was a congressman in the late 2000s, corruption was the main topic of witness testimony. The witnesses claimed that while negotiating agreements between local drug-trafficking clans, the president and his brother used state power to strengthen their hold on the cocaine trade heading north, with Honduras serving as a major delivery route from Colombia.

Prosecutors also produced several images of the former president with drug dealers, one of which featured the heads of the Valle Valle gang during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Former drug dealers almost universally reported being protected by law enforcement, the military, politicians, and judges.

Hernandez allegedly visited Graneros Nacionales’ Choloma headquarters on a regular basis, according to Jose Sanchez, a former accountant for the rice industry. Sanchez claimed that Hernandez met with the company’s owner, Fuad Jarufe, and the convicted drug dealer Geovanny Fuentes on several occasions when he was the president of the Honduran Congress and later the president of the nation. The discussions were about a cocaine laboratory located in the nearby mountains.

In court, Hernandez declared, “We’re going to shove coke right up the gringos’ noses.”.

Additionally, Sanchez stated in his testimony that he saw a box of bulletproof vests from the Honduran military’s 105th Infantry Brigade in Hernandez’s San Pedro Sula home and that while they were driving to exchange money for a money laundering scheme, a trafficker brandished a submachine gun. Hernandez expressed his desire to be able to “use this little toy from [his] friends in the military.”.

The accountant claimed that Hernandez would ask him to exchange US dollars for Honduran lempiras—the currency used by drug traffickers—so that the business could use them to launder bribes.

The prosecutors claimed that the scheme was a part of a larger pattern of drug traffickers’ donations.

El Chapo Guzman gave $1 million to Juan Orlando Hernandez’s 2013 presidential campaign during a meeting that took place late in 2013 at a mansion in western Honduras, according to testimony provided by Alex Ardon, a politician from Honduras who is currently serving an extended prison sentence. The candidate promised to shield cocaine shipments from the Drug Enforcement Administration in return.

Drug lord Leonel Devis Rivera Maradiaga, another state witness, has been connected to at least 78 murders and has also worked with Hernandez. In his deposition, he claimed that in 2012, while attending a party with another drug dealer, he received a call from his brother and then two video calls. “As if it were a private meeting,” he claimed to have seen Hernandez at several tables with the traffickers during the calls. Rivera Maradiaga was informed by one of the traffickers, Neftaly Duarte Mejia, that “he’d already given him [$100,000] as well as his private helicopter to use for his [2013 presidential] campaign.”. “.

In less than a week, Hernandez’s sister Hilda received a $250,000 gift from herself and her congressman from Honduras, Oscar Najera, according to Rivera Maradiaga.

Honduras (USS).

During a 2013 meeting, Fabio Lobo, a drug trafficker who is currently incarcerated, and Tony Hernandez drove to a gas station outside Tegucigalpa, where the president’s brother accepted a $4 million bag from a man in another car.

While driving back from picking up the money, Tony is said to have said over the speaker phone to his brother, “We got the package our friends, the Valles [drug clan], sent.”.

According to Lobo, the man who gave Tony Hernandez the cash is the same one who was detained on June 6, 2018, in a convoy of armored vehicles carrying $200,000, a cache of weapons, and “Narco-libretas,” or narco-booklets, bearing the president’s and his brother’s initials.

The former intimate partner of Alexander Mendoza, aka “El Porkie,” claims that police employed hitmen from the MS-13 street gang, also known as “sicarios” in Spanish, to provide armed security for drug transports.

Mendoza escaped from custody in a violent shootout that claimed four lives in 2019 after being arrested. The men who liberated him were dressed in the same elite military police unit uniforms that Hernandez’s defense used to highlight his anti-drug history. That unit is charged with working with MS-13 and carrying out extrajudicial executions.

Mendoza’s former partner stated in court that she regularly heard him speaking on the phone with Tony Hernandez, who was well-known for setting up death squads that were in charge of “social cleansing,” and Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla, a police commander with strong connections to the military. In 2019, Tony Hernandez entered a guilty plea to drug trafficking.

She claimed to have heard Mendoza tell other gang members to “call ‘El Tigre’ if there’s a problem.”. He will remedy this. She claimed that at one point, “El Tigre” gave Mendoza access to a sizable cache of weapons fit for a military.

Based on information provided by Lobo, the DEA started looking into Juan Orlando Hernandez in 2014. He discussed using military intelligence to guard drug routes in a series of meetings with Julian Pacheco Tinoco, the military commander, that year. Pacheco Tinoco stormed out of the room during their third meeting after Lobo introduced him to two Mexican traffickers who were connected to the Sinaloa Cartel. The traffickers were identified by him as DEA informants.

No current DEA field agents operating in Honduras testified, despite the fact that a number of office-based research analysts addressed the court.

Until 2020, the United States of America maintained its security assistance to Honduras by supplying arms, technology, and training while funding police “depuraciones,” or cleanups.

“It was completely untrue that Juan Orlando claimed to have cleaned up the National Police and military police. Martinez told Al Jazeera, “It wasn’t true.”.

“What they actually accomplished was to remove the truthful individuals who provided services to the public, leaving only law enforcement to carry out the task of distributing and permitting the sale of drugs. “.

The US’s involvement in the suffering of Hondurans is something that is rarely discussed in public. Because the CIA used Nicaragua as a staging area for attacks against its leftist government, Cold War warriors in Washington dubbed the Central American country the “USS Honduras.”. In a similar vein, leftist Hondurans were tortured and murdered by Battalion 316, a paramilitary group trained by the CIA.

More recently, after moderate President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras raised the country’s minimum wage to a modest $300 per month, the administration of US President Barack Obama was divided about supporting the 2009 coup that overthrew Zelaya.

Many claim that the US meddling in Honduras has left the country with difficulties in self-governance.

“It’s a little bit sad that we need to do it here,” Honduran immigrant Alexis Castellanos said amidst the clamor of shouting and singing at Columbus Park after the verdict. “It’s good to have justice,” Castellanos said. It is impossible for our nation to have justice. “.

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