US authorities allege that a recently arrested drug trafficker relied on protection from Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernández and his brother Tony to manufacture hundreds of kilograms of cocaine per month, broadening the scope of the narco-politics nexus in the Central American nation.
US authorities arrested Geovanny Daniel Fuentes Ramírez at the international airport in Miami, Florida, on March 1 on drug and weapons charges, the Justice Department announced in a March 3 press release.
Prosecutors allege that beginning in 2009, Fuentes Ramírez’s began operating a cocaine laboratory in the coastal town of Omoa in northwest Cortés department along Honduras' Caribbean coast with the capacity to produce 300 to 500 kilograms of cocaine per month, according to the criminal complaint.
Omoa sits in a highly strategic location near Puerto Cortés, one of Honduras’ largest commercial ports. The town is also not far from Puerto Barrios, another large port down the coast to the west in neighboring Guatemala. Both towns are part of a main cocaine trafficking route in the Central American corridor.
SEE ALSO: Honduras News and Profiles
In order to ensure protection and the safe passage of drug shipments, Fuentes Ramírez allegedly bribed members of the Honduran National Police, as well as high-ranking politicians and members of congress, according to authorities. He is also believed to have reported directly to Tony Hernández, the former congressman and brother of President Juan Orlando Hernández who was convicted on US drug charges in October 2019.
Fuentes Ramírez and Tony Hernández were drug trafficking associates since at least 2012, according to a Honduran military intelligence official who spoke to InSight Crime on the condition of anonymity.
A retired police chief that investigated drug activity in Honduras in the first half of the last decade told InSight Crime that Fuentes Ramírez also had relationships with several Honduran politicians and officials.
In addition to the drug lab, Fuentes Ramírez also reportedly used a clandestine airstrip near Cortés department to receive and transport shipments of Colombian cocaine, as well as to move drug shipments manufactured inside the lab itself, according to authorities.
For his part, President Hernández called the allegations linking him to Fuentes Ramírez "100 percent false," adding in a statement on Twitter that such claims were "based on the lies of confessed criminals looking for revenge or to reduce their sentences."
InSight Crime Analysis
The latest criminal complaint in the United States suggests that political powers in Honduras didn’t just turn a blind eye to help facilitate the trafficking of Colombian cocaine shipments through the country and into the United States, but also provided cover for domestic drug production for more than a decade.
In fact, the depth of corruption appears to have reached the top of the Hernández family and the president himself.
Around 2013, Fuentes Ramírez allegedly paid $25,000 to a “high-ranking Honduran official” identified as “CC-4” -- presumably President Hernández, although he is not directly named -- in order to secure protection for the cocaine lab in Omoa, according to the criminal complaint. "CC-4" was reportedly interested in the drug lab due to its "proximity to a major commercial shipping port," according to US officials.
In return, authorities allege “CC-4” agreed to use Honduras’ armed forces to ensure the security of Fuentes Ramírez’s drug trafficking activities. However, “CC-4” reportedly told Fuentes Ramírez that he would have to report directly to his brother, Tony, who was “managing drug trafficking activities in Honduras,” according to prosecutors.
This is not the first time that President Hernández’s name has come up in US drug trafficking investigations. As part of the probe into the president’s brother’s drug conspiracy, US authorities alleged that President Hernández -- again identified as "CC-4" -- met with former El Paraíso mayor Amilcar Alexander Ardón Soriano around 2008 to discuss the drug trafficking arrangement he had brokered with Tony.
After then-President Porfirio Lobo won the 2009 election, Ardón and Hernández allegedly met once more, according to prosecutors, to discuss bribes that needed to be paid to other congressmen in order to pave the way for Hernández’s election as president of the legislative body, which would later lead to his ascent to the presidency.
During Tony's trial, prosecutors alleged President Hernández accepted millions of dollars in bribes to fund his successful presidential campaign in 2013, including from the now-jailed former Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Joaquín Guzmán Loera, alias “El Chapo.” The Honduran president has adamantly rejected such accusations in the past.
As head of state, President Hernández currently enjoys immunity from US prosecution. However, when he leaves office in 2022, the latest criminal complaint suggests that authorities in the United States may now be laying the groundwork for a potential future criminal prosecution against him.