Newly unveiled testimony from the brother of Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernández about his links to the drug trade is making it harder for the Central American head of state to deny his knowledge of such criminal activity, but it remains to be seen if this will have any real impact.
In recently unsealed testimony given to a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent in November 2018, former Honduran congressman Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández admitted to knowing and interacting with several notorious drug traffickers and being offered bribes by such individuals.
In one case, a member of the Valles, formerly one of Honduras’ most successful criminal groups, offered Tony Hernández weapons, horses, helicopters and large sums of money in an effort to have members of the gang appointed to Honduras' National Congress in order to help prevent the extradition of other members to the United States, among other things.
“I spoke to [an associate of the Valles] by telephone only once ... he offered me helicopters ... what he wanted was to have people in Congress to be able to ... to be able to handle, obviously, the issue of the extraditions,” Tony Hernández told the DEA agent.
SEE ALSO: Honduras News and Profile
Tony Hernández appears to have maintained relationships with a veritable who's who of Central American drug traffickers. These included leaders from the Cachiros and Valles criminal groups, as well as Víctor Hugo Díaz Morales, alias “El Rojo,” a powerful underworld figure who was arrested in Guatemala City in March 2017. Hernández was further linked to Mario José Cálix Hernández, the former mayor of Gracias who authorities recently accused of transporting cocaine into the United States and who Tony Hernández named as El Rojo’s “right-hand man."
US authorities arrested Tony Hernández in November 2018 on drug and weapons charges. They allege the former congressman was a “large-scale drug trafficker” who helped some of the region’s most powerful traffickers move multi-ton shipments of cocaine -- some of which had the initials “TH” stamped on them -- into the United States for more than a decade.
Authorities allege that the president's brother helped process, receive, transport and distribute drugs -- especially through the department of Olancho and the eastern region of La Moskitia, Honduras' main drug trafficking corridor -- using connections with corrupt police officers and local National Party politicians.
Even before that, Tony Hernández was a “person of interest” in a US drug trafficking investigation involving former Atlantic Cartel leader Wilter Neptalí Blanco Ruíz in 2016.
Blanco was allegedly Tony Hernández’s point man for controlling criminal economies ranging from drug to timber trafficking, in addition to overseeing certain narco-airstrips in Olancho, according to a former member of Honduras’ inter-institutional security force (Fuerza Nacional de Seguridad Interinstitucional – FUSINA), who spoke to InSight Crime on the condition of anonymity.
InSight Crime Analysis
Tony Hernández’s detailed knowledge of the activities of some of Honduras’ most prominent drug traffickers makes it increasingly difficult for President Juan Orlando Hernández to deny being aware of these acts.
But whether anything comes of the recent revelations remains to be seen. These latest reports come amid deepening uncertainty regarding Honduras’ anti-corruption drive.
The head of the internationally-backed Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (Misión de Apoyo contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad en Honduras – MACCIH), Luiz Antonio Guimaraes Marrey, recently announced that he will be stepping down in June.
This comes just one year after he took the position following the unexpected resignation of his predecessor, Juan Jiménez Mayor, due to what he called a lack of support from the Organization of American States (OAS), the body’s parent institution.
The Hernández administration has been focused on the country’s violent street gangs, instead of addressing the rampant corruption that has swirled around the country’s elites.
SEE ALSO: Honduras Elites and Organized Crime
Without a director and with its mandate set to expire at the end of this year, the future of the MACCIH remains unclear.
To further complicate matters, President Hernández is one of the biggest regional allies of the United States in Latin America. Just last year, high-ranking US officials met with him to reinforce the two nations’ “strong partnership” and their so-called commitment to the fight against corruption.
However, the “mounting evidence of widespread corruption and criminality of the Hernández administration is becoming more difficult to ignore,” according to Christine Wade, a Central America expert and political science professor at Washington College.
“[The United States'] top regional ‘ally’ is a veritable narco-state,” Wade added. “At a minimum, this should provide the US Congress with an opportunity to reevaluate aid and assistance to Honduras, but one would certainly hope that [the US State Department] will reassess this relationship.”
*This article was written with assistance from InSight Crime investigator Héctor Silva Ávalos.