President Juan Orlando Hernández has denounced unofficial accusations that he took bribes from a drug trafficker, weeks before Honduras is due to go to the polls to elect a new president.
On October 7, the Honduran presidency released a statement discrediting accusations from Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, the former leader of the Cachiros drug trafficking group, that Hernández took bribes from a drug trafficker in 2013, the year in which he won the presidential elections.
The statement came in direct response to a New York Times article published on October 6 about how Rivera Maradiaga became an informant for the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in 2013. Among the information that the Honduran capo shared with US authorities was a 2013 audio recording of a drug trafficker telling Rivera Maradiaga that he "made a $250,000 payment intended for Juan Orlando Hernández," according to the New York Times. The newspaper article noted, however, that the DEA document that revealed this audio did not confirm the veracity of the allegation.
The response from the Honduran presidency described the allegation as a backlash from criminal elements suffering from a crackdown under President Hernández, and argued that "they now resort to false insinuations that seek to involve and discredit their main enemy, President Hernández, without providing any evidence of the accusations, simply because they are false."
The official statement underlined the successes against organized crime during Hernández' presidency, which saw the dismantling of major Honduran trafficking groups; the extradition of 14 suspected drug traffickers to the United States; and an ongoing campaign to purge corrupt elements from the police. The document also noted that the allegations surfaced 50 days before the country's presidential ballot, in which Hernández is running for re-election.
InSight Crime Analysis
The accusations against Hernández remain unofficial at this stage, and the president is not yet facing any public investigations either at home or abroad. Still, the reported audio recording could further tarnish Hernández' image. In March, Rivera Maradiaga testified in a US court to having personally met and attempted to bribe the current president's brother Juan Antonio "Tony" Hernández, who is a person of interest in a US investigation.
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If the accusations are true, the case would be the latest example of organized crime's capacity to buy political protection through financing electoral campaigns or paying off politicians. Rivera Maradiaga previously testified that he bribed Hernández' predecessor, Porfirio Lobo, whose son was recently sentenced to 24 years in a US prison for cocaine trafficking.
Corruption in Honduras was recently described as the "operating system" by a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report. However, the criminal infiltration of democratic systems is a pattern seen throughout the region, and undermines governance and the rule of law, opening doors wider for organized crime and their activities.