A Damning Portrait of Presidential Corruption, but Hondurans Sound Resigned

He acquired briefcases filled with money. He held clandestine conferences with drug traffickers in a rice manufacturing unit. He sought to put money into a cocaine lab. He vowed to flood the United States with medication. And he did all of this whereas pursuing the best workplace in Honduras.

These have been some of the accusations made about President Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras in a federal courtroom in New York this month.

Mr. Hernández, who has repeatedly denied any affiliation with drug traffickers, was not standing trial in the case and has not been charged with any crimes. Rather, Geovanny Fuentes Ramírez, a Honduran citizen, was the defendant; he was convicted on Monday on all counts, together with conspiracy to site visitors cocaine and arms possession.

But proof offered in court docket over two weeks supplied a searing evaluation of the president, whose authorities’s failure to construct a lawful state and a sturdy financial system has helped drive a whole lot of 1000’s of despairing residents to to migrate lately, with most trying to reach the United States.

Credit…U.S. District Court

The trial added to the growing mound of proof gathered by federal prosecutors lately that casts Mr. Hernández as a key participant in Honduras’ drug-trafficking trade. The proceedings led analysts to consider that formal expenses towards Mr. Hernández himself might not be far-off.

“It’s yet another nail in his coffin,” mentioned Eric L. Olson, director of coverage on the Seattle International Foundation and an professional on Latin America. “But more than what this means for Juan Orlando, this sends another message to the people of Honduras that there’s no future for them, and what’s the point of hanging around?”

The swirl of corruption allegations round Mr. Hernández has been building for years.

In 2017, worldwide observers documented many irregularities in his election to a second time period, prompting weeks of violent protests across the nation. The opposition mentioned he should not have been on the ballot within the first place, arguing that Mr. Hernández had unfairly stacked the Supreme Court along with his supporters, who then lifted the nation’s constitutional ban on re-election.

More just lately, federal prosecutors within the United States have sought to indicate that the president constructed a symbiotic relationship with drug traffickers who supplied monetary help for his political ascent in return for defense from prosecution.

In 2019, Mr. Hernández featured as an unnamed but plainly identifiable “co-conspirator” within the prosecution of his brother, Tony Hernández, who was convicted in federal court in New York on drug trafficking expenses and is scheduled to be sentenced subsequent week.

The accusations made by American authorities legal professionals over time have made for a jarring distinction with the United States’ continued political support for Mr. Hernández, who has forged himself as a keen accomplice within the effort to stem the movement of migrants to the U.S.-Mexico border.

In testimony through the trial this month, Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, who as soon as ran a violent drug gang known as Los Cachiros, testified that in 2012 he gave $250,000 in money to Mr. Hernández — transferring it by manner of the president’s sister, Hilda Hernández — in alternate for the promise that he wouldn’t be arrested and extradited to the United States. Mr. Hernández, on the time, was working for his social gathering’s presidential nomination.

Another witness, a Honduran accountant who testified underneath the pseudonym José Sánchez, mentioned he witnessed Mr. Hernández accepting bribes from Mr. Fuentes and negotiating entry to the drug trafficker’s cocaine lab throughout conferences on the workplaces of Graneros Nacionales, the most important rice producer in Honduras.

“I couldn’t believe what I was watching,” Mr. Sánchez mentioned of an encounter in 2013, when Mr. Hernández was working for president on his social gathering’s ticket. “I was looking at the presidential candidate meeting with a drug trafficker.”

Mr. Sánchez mentioned that in these conferences, Mr. Hernández was twice given bribes of money stuffed into briefcases, one with $15,000 and the opposite with $10,000. The accountant mentioned he was personally answerable for counting the money: $20 payments wrapped in rubber bands.

Mr. Sánchez, who fled the nation and is looking for asylum within the United States, additionally mentioned he heard Mr. Hernández guarantee Mr. Fuentes that he deliberate to cancel the extradition treaty with the U.S., making his associates “untouchable.”

“He then took a sip of his drink,” Mr. Sánchez mentioned of Mr. Hernández. “And he said, ‘We are going to stuff the drugs up the gringos’ noses, and they’re never even going to know it.’”

A prosecutor mentioned throughout closing statements that the connection between Mr. Fuentes and Mr. Hernández was so vital to each males that Mr. Fuentes continued bribing the president in alternate for defense as late as 2019.

The proof offered at trial, and the “readiness” of prosecutors “to explicitly allude to his culpability, suggests that Hernández is very much in the government’s sights,” mentioned Daniel Richman, a professor at Columbia Law School.

Mr. Hernández has denied the allegations of corruption and has argued that the testimony within the Fuentes case, as within the trial of his brother, got here from unreliable witnesses who have been attempting to punish him for his efforts to wash Honduras of drug trafficking. Moments after the jury returned its verdict on Monday, he took to Twitter to defend himself, citing what he known as an “unprecedented 95 percent reduction” in drug trafficking throughout Honduras.

The trial performed out in Honduras towards the backdrop of presidential and congressional campaigns which have additional underscored the diploma to which corruption riddles the political system.

Several candidates who competed in primaries on March 14 have been underneath investigation for or suspected of corruption. And although the votes are nonetheless being tallied, the front-runner to be the nominee for the Liberal Party, one of Honduras’ two predominant political events, was launched from a U.S. jail final August after serving three years for a cash laundering conviction.

Mr. Fuentes’s brother, Cristhian Josué Fuentes Ramírez, whom prosecutors have additionally accused of drug trafficking, is working for Congress.

But corruption is so embedded in society, and Mr. Hernández so broadly despised by Hondurans, that the most recent allegations towards him will most probably have little affect, analysts mentioned.

“One would think he’d be crippled by these allegations, but there have been so many shadows over the legitimacy of his presidency and he’s still been able to hold the office,” mentioned Charles Call, an affiliate professor of peace and battle decision at American University in Washington.

Following the decision this week, Hondurans expressed a way of fatigue, and widespread cynicism that something would change.

“We do not live in a state of law,” mentioned Edwin Kelly, 35, an information analyst from La Ceiba who lamented “the power of the narco-president.”

The newest revelations may, although, drive much more migrants to go north.

There are many causes extra Honduras have been leaving lately, amongst them insecurity and poverty, mentioned Mr. Olson, of the Seattle International Foundation.

“But there’s a meta-story, which is the failure of government,” he mentioned “We need to give the people of Central America a sense of hope. And that starts with fighting corruption and ending this ridiculous theft of Hondurans’ future.”

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