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Life in prison: New York trial exposes alliance between U.S. government, right-wing drug kingpin

Photo: Anti-government protesters in Honduras

Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernandez, former Honduran congressman and the brother of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, was sentenced to life in prison in a Manhattan federal court and ordered to forfeit $138 million. He was convicted of crimes in a two-week trial in October 2019 that carried decades in prison as a mandatory minimum sentence. His conviction comes after his trial revealed Hernandez’s role as a key figure in one of the world’s largest and most violent drug-trafficking conspiracies. 

In November 2018, Hernandez was arrested and charged in Miami on drug trafficking charges. He was found smuggling nearly 200,000 kg (440,000 lb) of cocaine and machine guns. According to Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman in 2018, “Former Honduran congressman Tony Hernandez was involved in all stages of the trafficking through Honduras of multi-ton loads of cocaine that were destined for the U.S. Hernandez bribed law enforcement officials to protect drug shipments, solicited large bribes from major drug traffickers, and arranged machine gun-toting security for cocaine shipments.”

The evidence presented in the 2019 trial revealed Hernandez’s role as a large-scale drug trafficker with connections in Colombia, Honduras and Mexico who sought to import cocaine into the United States. Between 2004 and 2018 he facilitated the transport and distribution of tons of cocaine via various means of transportation. Hernandez used the millions made in the drug trade to benefit the right-wing National Party in election campaigns.

The National Party has been in power in Honduras since progressive President Manuel Zelaya was overthrown in a military coup backed by the Obama administration in 2009. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton bragged in her 2014 memoir that she devised a strategy, “which would render the question of Zelaya moot” — meaning the democratic choice of the Honduran people was irrelevant. Zelaya, who Clinton hated for his “fondness for Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro,” was legitimately elected in 2005. He was removed by the military after pursuing policies that put his government on a collision course with the U.S.-dominated regional order. Vicious repression of people’s movements as well as electoral fraud has been committed by the subsequent right-wing governments to preserve the National Party’s rule.

An unsealed indictment from a Drug Enforcement Administration investigation found that from at least 2004 to 2016 drug-trafficking rings closely collaborated with prominent public and private individuals in the country. This included post-coup Honduran President Porfirio Lobo Sosa and certain members of the National Congress of Honduras. In 2013, Hernandez was conspiring with former Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, “El Chapo,” and accepted $1 million to support Juan Orlando Hernandez’s presidential campaign.

Court testimony also revealed that both Hernandez and his brother Juan Orlando continued to use drug proceeds for National Party campaigns in exchange for providing protection for traffickers. Hernandez served as the link between his brother’s right-wing government and organized crime. The utter hypocrisy of U.S foreign policy is on full display in this case.

The U.S. government’s claim to be a force for democracy in the world is nothing but a farce. Washington played an integral role in overthrowing democracy in Honduras by removing Manuel Zelaya from office and installing the corrupt, criminal administrations of Porfirio Lobo Sosa and Juan Orlando Hernandez in the first place. The United States claims to be waging a “war on drugs” internationally, but is perfectly content to ally itself with drug kingpins if they agree to submit to Washington’s dictates. While Tony Hernandez is heading to prison, his brother and co-conspirator remains at large — and retains the support of the U.S. government for his right-wing regime. Justice will not be done until he and all others who trampled on the rights of the people of Honduras are held to account.

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