A major US drug case against the brother of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández has ensnared the president, who prosecutors say took part in a conspiracy when millions in drug proceeds went to fund his campaigns in exchange for protecting traffickers.
While Hernández has not been charged with any crimes, he has come under fire in Honduras and under scrutiny in the United States, which has long held him up as a poster child for allies that have taken on drug trafficking in Central America.
Hernández’s brother, Tony, is set to go to trial in October. If court documents from the sweeping case are any indication, prosecutors won’t be afraid of pointing the finger at Hernández and other high-level officials — including former President Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo — when it comes to leveraging drug trafficking to “maintain and enhance their political power.”
Here, InSight Crime presents a four-part series that examines the embattled president, including his alleged links to drug traffickers, major scandals that have tarred his reputation, and threats to his political future.
Amilcar Alexander Ardón went from cattle rustler to milk farmer to drug capo to mayor of El Paraíso, a small town along a key trafficking route on Honduras’ border with Guatemala. There, he formed a business relationship with Tony Hernández, whereby Ardón provided drug proceeds to the political campaigns of Juan Orlando Hernández in exchange for protection. This criminal partnership allegedly lasted for years, and it now may end Hernández’s political career.
When President Hernández was first elected head of state in 2013, the United States saw him as a critical ally to fight corruption, impunity and organized crime in Central America. Over time, however, a number of criminal allegations have cast doubt on Hernández’s commitment to tackling his country’s most pressing problems. Bilateral cooperation on migration, the use of extradition, and US-backed “mano dura,” or “hard fist,” strategies to fight crime might not be enough to keep him in the good graces of his allies in Washington.
Western Honduras is a remote mountainous region used to smuggle all types of contraband and drugs. It is also where Tony Hernández used his brother’s rising status in the National Party to protect and advance his own drug trafficking enterprise. From his base in the department of Lempira, Tony Hernández rode his brother’s coattails, becoming a local powerbroker and then a congressman. Tony also used his clout there to help criminal groups, such as the Valles, while funneling drug money to his brother’s political campaigns.
After President Hernández’s alleged links to traffickers came to light, he immediately pointed out that he had sent dozens of capos to face justice in the United States. But the same traffickers, hoping for shorter prison sentences, ended up cooperating extensively with US officials. Surprisingly enough, their testimony led to the drug case against his brother, an unintended consequence of the extradition policy Hernández rammed through to get into office.