Honduras ex-president Hernandez heading to US for drug possession


US authorities accuse Juan Orlando Hernandez of receiving millions in bribes as part of a drug smuggling scheme.

Honduras has extradited former President Juan Orlando Hernandez to the United States on charges of arms and drug trafficking.

A US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) plane took off Thursday afternoon with Hernandez aboard the airport in Tegucigalpa, the capital. Just three months after leaving office, Hernandez boarded the plane handcuffed.

The extradition comes weeks after Honduras’ highest court cleared the way in late March for Hernandez, who served as president from 2014 to earlier this year, to be extradited to face charges in a New York court.

US authorities have accused the former leader of participating in a drug smuggling scheme in which he facilitated the smuggling of some 500 tons of drugs – mainly from Colombia and Venezuela – to the US via Honduras.

The 53-year-old has denied all charges, saying they are part of a plot orchestrated by enemies trying to get back at him.

But US prosecutors have alleged that Hernandez received millions of dollars from drug traffickers for protection, including from Mexican narco king Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

Once seen as a key ally in Washington’s fight against drug trafficking, Hernandez lost his immunity after handing over power to Xiomara Castro, the country’s first female president in late January.

He faces three charges: conspiracy to import a controlled substance into the United States; using or carrying any firearms, including machine guns; and conspiracy to use or carry firearms.

Teresa Bo of Al Jazeera, reporting from Buenos Aires, said Hernandez was helicoptered from a Honduran special forces military base to an airport, where the DEA plane picked him up.

“Hernandez was a very close ally of the United States. He even met Vice President Biden when he… [part of] the Obama administration. He has met with former President Donald Trump,” Bo said. “He was supposed to be doing the right thing at the time because he fought against illegal immigration and assisted the United States in that fight.”

She added that while this isn’t the first time a former leader has been accused of drug trafficking, “it’s very, very important — especially [in reference] to United States policy in the region and the war on drugs.”

Some Hondurans had been celebrating in the streets of Tegucigalpa, the capital, when Hernandez was arrested in February. Hundreds of police officers had surrounded his home after a lower court judge issued a warrant for his arrest following the US extradition request.

“The authorities are finally doing what they should have done a long time ago: punish and put behind bars the people who robbed this country,” Aaron Hernandez, a 31-year-old Honduran truck driver, told Al Jazeera after the Supreme Court ruling. decision.

But others have come forward to support Hernandez, saying they believe he did nothing wrong.

“If a citizen is tried, he should be tried in our country,” said the ex-president’s wife Ana Garcia, a lawyer, as she joined a dozen protesters before the Supreme Court in late March to prove Hernandez’s innocence. proclaim.

Most of the allegations against Hernandez arose in two New York trials: those of Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernandez, the president’s brother and himself a former Honduran congressman, and Geovanny Fuentes Ramirez.

Both men were part of a sizeable drug trafficking case filed in 2015 and both received life sentences. Prosecutors labeled Hernandez a “co-conspirator” in the same case.

In a letter published when the Supreme Court made its decision, Hernandez insisted he is innocent and said he is the “victim of revenge and conspiracy”.

His family also said in a statement at the time that they were “ready and confident that we can show the American justice system that these charges are a revenge plot by Honduran narcos whose empire of crime and violence destroyed Juan Orlando.”

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