Honduras' armed forces have removed an army captain under investigation by the US government for drug trafficking, a move which could put further stress on bilateral relations between the Central American nation and its northern ally.
The armed forces' October 21 press release states that Army Captain Santos Orlando Rodríguez Orellana has been "separated from active service in a dishonorable manner." The decision is the latest power play involving Rodríguez Orellana, who unexpectedly finds himself at the center of a whirlwind of damaging accusations that have shaken Honduras in recent weeks.
On October 7, the US Embassy in Honduras said that seven individuals suspected of drug trafficking and corruption were under investigation, including a different army captain and Wilter Blanco, the alleged head of the Atlantic Cartel. The US government unsealed an indictment against Blanco earlier this week.
Then, on October 10, the embassy announced that Rodríguez Orellana had been added to its list of suspects.
A few days later, the army captain told Honduran media outlets that he had been interviewed on October 9 by a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent. Rodríguez Orellana reportedly said that during that meeting at the US embassy he was pressured to provide information on Juan Antonio "Tony" Hernández, the brother of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández. While the embassy made no mention of Tony Hernández in either the October 7 or October 10 press releases, an embassy official told InSight Crime that he is a "person of interest."
InSight Crime Analysis
The Honduran military has been quick to take action against Rodríguez Orellana since the US Embassy announced he was under investigation. The armed forces initially put Rodríguez Orellana in custody, but he was freed on October 17 because there was no formal accusation against him. The following day, US Ambassador to Honduras James Nealon said via Twitter that Rodríguez Orellana's release was "unfortunate." (See below) Now, the army captain has been removed from active duty.
— US Ambassador HN (@USAmbHonduras) October 18, 2016
These rapid-fire responses speak volumes about who is pulling the levers of power in Honduras. And that is unlikely to please those within the Honduran military who would prefer to have Rodríguez Orellana prosecuted under their own watch, rather than have his case be at the discretion of the US government.
This dynamic places President Hernández in an even more delicate position, given the US government and the Honduran military are two of his closest allies. Of course, the inclusion of his brother as a "person of interest" in the drug probe makes the balancing act only that much harder.