The World Today for April 05, 2024

NEED TO KNOW

Walking Sideways

HONDURAS

A federal court recently convicted former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández of conspiring to traffic cocaine to the US, as well as on two weapons charges. When he is sentenced in late June, he will face 40 years to life in prison, reported the Associated Press.

Hernández, who served as the country’s head of state between 2014 and 2022, has vowed to appeal the decision, saying he fought against criminals as an ally of the US in the war on drugs. American prosecutors gave plea deals to drug dealers who testified against him and lied, claimed Hernández.

Around 100 people on the street outside the courthouse in New York City applauded in jubilation when they heard the verdict. They were among the many Hondurans and others who dispute the ex-president’s assertions.

“He sent our country to hell,” said Flavio Ulises Yuja, a Honduran who came to New York to attend the trial, speaking to the New York Times.

Hernández created a narco-state, shielding traffickers, fomenting corruption and lawlessness, and failing to foster legitimate economic development in the country – while collecting millions in bribes, say critics. For the region, Transparency International’s 2023 Corruption Perceptions Index ranks Honduras as only better than Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

The trial showed, for instance, how drug-tainted money had permeated every level of Honduras’s government, noted InSight Crime. Convicted drug Alexander Ardón, for example, testified that Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the boss of the Sinaloa Cartel also known as “El Chapo” flew a helicopter to Honduras to give $1 million to Hernández’s 2013 election campaign.

Prosecutors and others hoped his conviction would dissuade other leaders in Honduras and the region to fight against, rather than cooperate with, drug cartels.

Honduran journalist Jennifer Avila was not optimistic. Current President Xiomara Castro, a leftist and wife of former president Manuel Zelaya, who was deposed in 2009 just before Hernández came to power, has pledged to tackle corruption. She has promised to work with the United Nations to establish the Commission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (CICIH), a special body that would aim to cut through the drug cartels’ influence as well as bureaucratic red tape that has hobbled past anti-corruption efforts.

Writing in Americas Quarterly, Avila said Castro hasn’t finalized details with the UN or Honduran powerbrokers to form the commission, which is stalling its creation. The president has also faced challenges in reforming the Honduran judiciary, prosecutors’ offices, and other government institutions, often entrenched with the old guard.

Still, the president might want to start with her own family. Last year, the National Anti-Corruption Council denounced a high degree of nepotism and “concentration of power” in Castro’s government.

Castro’s eldest child is her private secretary, her youngest daughter is in Congress, her brother-in-law is the president of Congress, and his son is the defense minister. Her husband is said to be the real power in the presidential palace: He’s an advisor to the president.

Meanwhile, during Hernández’s recent trial, a drug trafficking boss testified he had bribed her brother-in-law, Carlos Zelaya, the president of Congress, with as much as $200,000.

He won’t face charges, however. Castro’s allies in the legislature passed an amnesty law to shield those who served in her husband’s administration, the Associated Press reported.

As World Politics Review notes, despite the real chance Honduras has to turn things around, the backsliding shows it probably won’t.

“The expectations after (the Hernández government), plagued by corruption … awakened the desire and hope for change,” wrote the Anti-Corruption Council. “However, citizens have witnessed a continuation of actions contrary to good practices.”

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