HomeNewsAnalysisWill Tony Hernández Conviction Upend Narco-Politics in Honduras?
ANALYSIS

Will Tony Hernández Conviction Upend Narco-Politics in Honduras?

CACHIROS / 18 OCT 2019 BY PARKER ASMANN EN

A jury in a US court has found the brother of the president of Honduras guilty on drug and weapons charges, but serious questions remain about whether this will have an impact on embedded criminal structures in the Central American nation.

Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, a former Honduran congressman and the brother of President Juan Orlando Hernández, was convicted of all four charges against him, including drug trafficking and lying to authorities, authorities announced October 18.

President Hernández reacted to the news on Twitter, saying that he felt "great sadness" and that he "rejected any false and irresponsible version that seeks to stain the name of Honduras as a result of this verdict."

Prosecutors in the trial, which began on October 2 and lasted for two weeks, largely relied on the testimony of a number of traffickers, including the heads of notorious drug clans and government officials, who said that Hernández provided them protection and handled drug shipments. The traffickers also described how Tony Hernández funneled millions of dollars in drug proceeds to his brother's campaigns. 

On Twitter, President Hernández, once again, pointed the finger at them.

"What can be said about a conviction based on testimonies of confessed murderers?" he said.

Tony Hernández was arrested in Miami in November of 2018, and over the course of the next year, his long-rumored connections to drug traffickers came to light in court filings.

The landmark trial made waves from day one. To set the stage, prosecutor Jason Richman said in his opening statement that former Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquín Guzmán Loera, alias “El Chapo,” had hand-delivered $1 million to the former congressman that was meant for the sitting president of Honduras.

SEE ALSO: Honduras News and Profiles

Allegations of official corruption in facilitating Tony Hernández’s drug conspiracy were a constant feature throughout the trial. One witness, Víctor Hugo Díaz Morales, alias "El Rojo," alleged the Honduran police and military played a fundamental role in safeguarding drug shipments and traffickers, including former police chief Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares, known as “El Tigre.”

Another key witness, Amilcar Alexander Ardón Soriano, the former mayor of El Paraíso in the department of Copán in Honduras’ “wild west,” claimed to have in 2009 bribed former President Porfirio Lobo and then-congressman Juan Orlando Hernández with $2 million in drug proceeds to help fund their respective campaigns in exchange for protection and security information.

Tony Hernández’s own testimony was used to show his connections to prominent Central American drug traffickers, including leaders from the infamous Valles and Cachiros criminal groups. Former Cachiros head Devis Rivera Maradiaga also testified that he provided drug money to both Tony and Juan Orlando Hernández.

Arguably the most compelling piece of evidence introduced by the prosecution was a “narcolibreta,” or ledger, that allegedly detailed cocaine shipments received and distributed by Tony Hernández. Among the other entries included inside was a $440,000 payment to “JOH y su gente,” or JOH and his associates. It was unclear whether the letters were meant to signify the president, but he has long been called by his initials, which are frequently seen on posters in support of and against him.

Tony Hernández now faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years and a possible maximum sentence of life in prison. He will be sentenced on January 17, 2020.

InSight Crime Analysis

The conviction of Tony Hernández could have only happened in the United States.

For more than a decade, the former congressman and his co-conspirators were able to use their connections to Honduras’ political elite and corrupt security forces to safeguard their drug trafficking operations. It was only after US prosecutors targeted Hernández and accused him of being a drug lord that it was made clear he would likely end up in a prison cell. 

President Hernández has stressed his commitment to the fight against organized crime in part through extraditing traffickers, many of whom, ironically, ended up testifying against Tony with the hope of receiving shorter prison sentences. 

SEE ALSO: InSight Crime Series – The Downfall of Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernández

But the fact that it took a high-profile trial in the United States to break up one of the most brazen criminal structures Central America has seen in recent years, which featured sitting politicians and policemen among its ranks, suggests that state institutions in Honduras have yet to achieve the autonomy or capacity needed to successfully attack criminal networks.

While Tony Hernández’s conviction is extraordinary, it's likely not enough to remove the shadow of narco-politics that still looms over the country's business elites and government, including the president himself. 

These criminal structures still stand and will continue to do so as long as the United States views the sitting president -- who was named as a co-conspirator in his brother’s drug conspiracy -- as an ally worthy of US security assistance.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

ECUADOR / 19 AUG 2022

Two subjects on a motorcycle attacked prosecutor Federico Estrella outside his home in Babahoyo, Los Ríos, on August 15. Estrella…

EL SALVADOR / 15 FEB 2021

Hopes are high in the Northern Triangle, that the arrival of Joseph Biden and his administration to the White House…

COLOMBIA / 14 DEC 2021

Prosecutors in Colombia have dismissed a criminal libel case filed by accused paramilitary drug lord Guillermo León Acevedo Giraldo, alias…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Europe Coverage Makes a Splash

20 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an analysis of the role of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport as an arrival hub for cocaine and methamphetamine from Mexico.  The article was picked up by…

THE ORGANIZATION

World Looks to InSight Crime for Mexico Expertise

13 JAN 2023

Our coverage of the arrest of Chapitos’ co-founder Ovidio Guzmán López in Mexico has received worldwide attention.In the UK, outlets including The Independent and BBC…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Shares Expertise with US State Department

16 DEC 2022

Last week, InSight Crime Co-founder Steven Dudley took part in the International Anti-Corruption Conference organized by the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor and…

THE ORGANIZATION

Immediate Response to US-Mexico Marijuana Investigation

9 DEC 2022

InSight Crime’s investigation into how the legalization of marijuana in many US states has changed Mexico’s criminal dynamics made a splash this week appearing on the front page of…

THE ORGANIZATION

‘Ndrangheta Investigation, Exclusive Interview With Suriname President Make Waves

2 DEC 2022

Two weeks ago, InSight Crime published an investigation into how Italian mafia clan the ‘Ndrangheta built a cocaine trafficking network from South America to ‘Ndrangheta-controlled Italian ports. The investigation generated…