The US government has turned on the right-wing former dictator of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, after it spent years supporting him. Hernández is the latest in a series of brutal authoritarians who were key US allies until they outlived their usefulness, from Iraq’s Saddam Hussein to the Dominican Republic’s Rafael Trujillo to Panama’s Manuel Noriega. This February, the United States requested the extradition of Honduran ex-president Juan Orlando Hernández on charges of trafficking cocaine and guns. Local authorities arrested him on February 15. Hernández, who is popularly known by his initials JOH, served two terms in office, from 2014 to 2022. It was widely known that JOH used drug money to fund his presidential campaigns, and blatantly stole the 2013 and 2017 elections in broad daylight.
On Tuesday, Honduran national police arrested JOH from his residence in the capital Tegucigalpa. It came a day after the US government requested JOH’s extradition by the Honduran Supreme Court of Justice for allegedly conspiring to traffic drugs in the US. On Tuesday morning, Supreme Court judge Edwin Ortez formally accepted the extradition request and issued an arrest warrant for Hernández. Hours later, Hernández was handcuffed by officials and moved to a high-security detention center.
The US drug trial against the brother of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández brought the nexus between organized crime and political power to the forefront, undermining the country’s purported role as an ally in the fight against corruption and powerful drug trafficking groups. Over the course of the two-week trial that ended with the conviction of former Honduran congressman Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández — the president’s brother — on drug and weapons charges, little doubt remained about the importance his connections to political power and dirty members of the country’s security forces played in facilitating his network. Still, it’s unclear if this conviction alone — especially in the wake of past convictions that in hindsight only temporarily shook up Honduras’ elite — will knock down the criminal structures firmly in place.