Honduras president implicated in narcotics-related corruption
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández | News 784

Prosecutors in the United States have issued a document which lists the president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández of the right-wing National Alliance Party, as a co-conspirator in a plan to win elections in that country with the financial aid of major narcotics traffickers.

Unlike his brother Tony, the president has not yet been indicted. The details released so far indicate a profoundly disturbing pattern of involvement of right-wing, U.S.-supported Honduran governments with the international drug trade, going back to the military coup of June 2009. The document filed last week by federal prosecutors for the Southern District of New York alleges that President Hernández and his predecessor in the presidency, Porfirio Lobo, used at least $1.5 million provided to them by drug traffickers to ensure their election and those of their allies to office.

In the 2009 coup, the left-wing president, Manuel “Mel” Zelaya was overthrown and hustled out of the country by the army. Zelaya, elected as the candidate of the centrist Liberal Party in 2005, had annoyed both the ruling class in his own country and the U.S. government by implementing moderate economic and social reforms at home, and by realigning his country’s foreign policy away from U.S. domination and toward integration with the left-wing “Bolivarian” movement in Latin America.

According to comments Zelaya made after the coup, the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush had wanted him to cooperate in actions against socialist Cuba, but Zelaya had refused. That may have been what set the coup plotting in motion, but the information released in the indictment suggests that drug cartel money may have been involved from the outset.

The coup installed conservative politician Roberto Micheletti as interim president. Supporters of Zelaya demanded that Micheletti step down and Zelaya be restored to the presidency, to which he had been legally elected. Most Latin American governments supported the restoration of Zelaya, but the United States played a very dubious role.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refused to call the coup a coup, on the specious grounds that this would have obliged the United States to cut off aid to Honduras. Rather, the United States chose to focus on going ahead with the new presidential elections scheduled for late November of 2009. Opponents of the coup pointed out that an election could not be fair if, as was happening in Honduras, security forces were in the streets repressing the opposition, and many boycotted the vote. Porfirio Lobo of the right-wing National Alliance then won the presidency.

Many Hondurans blamed the United States for making it possible for Lobo to be elected in the fraudulent election. And now ex-president Lobo may also be close to being indicted for involvement with “Los Cachiros”, the biggest narcotics trafficking ring in Honduras. Lobo’s son is already serving a 24-year sentence for the same sort of thing.

In the elections of 2013, also seen as fraudulent by many Hondurans, Lobo’s ally, Juan Orlando Hernández was elected president. The Honduran constitution did not, at the time, allow for re-election, but this did not prevent Hernández from trying to run for president again in 2017. He simply packed the country’s Supreme Court with political cronies, who obliged him by declaring that part of the constitution to be unconstitutional! His 2017 presidential campaign was once more rife with accusations of corruption and fraud, but of course, he won anyway.

Since then, Honduras has been the scene of massive militant demonstrations by the opposition which have had the purpose, not only of opposing the regime’s corruption and its neoliberal policies of privatization and austerity but also of ousting Juan Orlando Hernández from power. These demonstrations have met with brutal repression by the militarized police forces.

Since 2009, hundreds of Hondurans have been murdered for political reasons. These have included farmers in the Bajo Aguan region who have been trying to defend their lands from the aggressive expansion of African palm cultivation oligarchs, people in indigenous and Afro-descendant communities resisting incursions by mining and tourism businesses, and opponents of the regime in general.

Berta Cáceres, an environmental activist from the Lenca Indigenous community, was murdered on March 2, 2016, because she was leading the opposition to an environmentally destructive dam project. Her case has never been fully resolved to the satisfaction of her family, and other Lenca people have been killed under similar circumstances as well.

As well as Lobo and Juan Orlando Hernández, many other officials have been accused of crimes of corruption and drug dealing. The country’s Minister of Security, General Julián Pacheco Tinoco, has also been accused in informant testimony in the United States of being involved in the shipment of cocaine from Colombia to Honduras—cocaine which would then be sent on by the drug traffickers to the United States.

Yet, much as U.S. President Trump yells about “bad hombres” from Latin America bringing drugs and rape and mayhem into the United States, he has regarded the Hernández regime in Honduras as a close U.S. ally, and now he suggests perhaps Honduras or Guatemala as a “third safe country” where refugees fleeing from other countries in the region must apply for asylum instead of coming here directly to apply. One reason may be that Honduras has supported Trump’s foreign policy agenda, going so far as suggest that it might copy the United States decision to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

There have been many criticisms and protests in the United States against our country’s involvement in the Honduras mess. Currently, there is a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives (HR 1945, Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act). The chief sponsor of the bill is U.S. Representative Henry “Hank” Johnson (D-Ga.) and it has 69 cosponsors at present. The bill, if enacted into law, would forbid all U.S. aid to the corrupt and repressive Honduran security forces. The prohibition would only be lifted if the persons responsible for the murders of Berta Cáceres, of the farmers in Bajo Aguan and similar atrocities were brought to justice, and if other actions in support of the people’s rights, such as demilitarizing the police, were carried out. As the bill’s sponsor and cosponsors surely realize, these things are unlikely to be done by a narco-state, so the struggle will have to be carried on by other means as well.


Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.