Prosecutors in the United States allege that the brother of the president of Honduras is a major drug trafficker in Central America, providing further evidence that the country's political elites play an active role in the drug trade.
Federal authorities in Miami arrested former Honduran congressman Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández November 23 on drug and weapons charges. Antonio Hernández is the brother of current Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández.
Prosecutors say Antonio Hernández is a “large-scale drug trafficker" who worked in Colombia, Honduras and Mexico. A criminal indictment obtained by InSight Crime says that he imported "multi-ton loads of cocaine" into the United States for more than a decade.
The arrest comes less than a year after Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga -- a former leader of the once powerful "Cachiros" criminal group -- testified that he paid Antonio Hernández $50,000 in bribes. The exchange ensured that the government paid a debt to a company that the Cachiros used to launder drug proceeds, according to the indictment.
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Just months before that, US authorities in Miami considered Antonio Hernández a “person of interest” in a high-profile drug trafficking investigation linked to Wilter Blanco, the suspected leader of the Atlantic Cartel.
Reacting to his brother's arrest, President Hernández said that “nobody is above the law.” He added that he hopes the justice system will clarify whether these accusations are true.
President Hernández is not the only Honduran head of state from the ruling National Party to have family members with alleged ties to the Cachiros’ drug trafficking operations. In September 2017, US authorities sentenced Fabio Lobo, the son of former President Porfirio Lobo, to 24 years in jail for conspiring with the criminal group to traffic cocaine into the United States.
InSight Crime Analysis
Perhaps the most surprising thing about this indictment is that it comes as no surprise.
The Cachiros wove Honduras' political elites tightly into their criminal modus operandi, and the case of President Hernández's brother is no exception.
Juan Antonio Hernández wasn't a small-time drug trafficker. He was allegedly involved in every step of the cocaine trade: processing, receiving, transporting and distributing. The former congressman had such a prominent role that his initials, "TH," were allegedly stamped on some of the cocaine shipments he handled. Drug loads were protected by members of the national police, which he called upon to act as heavily armed security, according to the indictment.
He also afforded other drug traffickers protection through his political connections. Not only did he pay enforcement officials for information critical to protecting drug shipments, but he also served as a conduit for large bribes paid by major drug traffickers to high-ranking Honduran politicians, according to the indictment.
SEE ALSO: Honduras Elites and Organized Crime
It's unclear what Antonio Hernández's arrest means for US-Honduras relations. President Hernández is the United States' main ally in Central America. The North American nation backed Hernández even after his bitterly contested reelection victory was marred by allegations of electoral fraud.
At home, President Hernández is already in the crosshairs of anti-corruption prosecutors in the Attorney General’s Office and the internationally-backed Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (Misión de Apoyo contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad en Honduras – MACCIH) regarding his alleged role in diverting millions of dollars of public money for political purposes.
The United States is one of the major funders of the MACCIH, but it remains to be seen if the arrest of the president's brother and the ongoing investigation into Hernández's alleged criminal activity will alter the relationship of the two nations.