The indictment of former Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernández has revealed that he is accused of receiving millions in drug money from traffickers, using it to commit voter fraud in two presidential elections, and operating his country as a narco-state.
“While publicly purporting to be an ally of the United States,” Hernández and his co-conspirators contributed to Honduras “becoming one of the largest transshipment points in the world" for US-bound cocaine, prosecutors say in their indictment, which was unsealed April 21 in a federal court in New York.
The allegations date back to the early 2000s, long before Hernández became president, and outline a two-decade stint in which 500 tons of cocaine were moved to the United States. Go-fast boats loaded with cocaine arrived in Honduras from Venezuela, as did drug planes from Venezuela and Colombia, prosecutors said. Hernández allowed sensitive military information to be provided to traffickers, and troops and police were used to protect cocaine shipments. Hernández also allegedly directed bribes to officials at voting centers to ensure his election in 2013, according to the indictment.
Hernández “allegedly partnered with some of the world’s most prolific narcotics traffickers to build a corrupt and brutally violent empire,” US Attorney Damian Williams, of the Southern District of New York, said in a statement accompanying the indictment's release.
InSight Crime Analysis
The indictment against former President Hernández provides not only new details of his alleged ties to the drug trade but shows that his suspected contacts with traffickers go back decades and include some of the most notorious figures in the region.
His first contacts are alleged to have been with Victor Hugo Díaz Morales, alias “El Rojo,” who prosecutors say provided Hernández with $40,000 in drug money through his brother, Tony, in 2005. In return, Díaz Morales received protection from Honduran law enforcement. Díaz Morales then ran his Honduras operations from Gracias, Lempira – Hernández’s hometown in western Honduras – and was a friend of the president’s brother.
Around 2009, Díaz Morales also provided approximately $100,000 in additional drug funds to Tony Hernández. The funds were destined for public officials, including Juan Orlando Hernández, who was campaigning to become head of Honduras’ Congress, prosecutors said. If the bid was successful, Tony promised, officials connected to El Rojo would end up in top law enforcement positions. Díaz Morales also received information about the Honduran military’s radar capabilities and police operations, according to the indictment.
Later, around 2013, then-presidential candidate Hernández allegedly dispatched his brother to receive a $1 million bribe from Sinaloa Cartel kingpin, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, alias "El Chapo."
At that time Tony Hernández was working with Honduras drug clan the Valles to ship drugs to the Sinaloa Cartel, US prosecutors allege. The Valles – previously led by convicted traffickers Miguel Arnulfo and Luis Antonio Valle – were once one of the main drug trafficking groups along Honduras’ western border with Guatemala. Both men were arrested and sent to the US under Hernández’s watch.
According to prosecutors, Hernández decided to extradite the Valles in response to reports that they planned to assassinate him.
In 2019, prosecutors allege, Hernández and former President Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa received $2 million in drug proceeds from Amilcar Alexander Ardón, then-mayor of El Paraíso, a small town along the border with Guatemala and a key trafficking corridor. Ardón had gone from cattle rustler to drug capo, serving as a bridge between Colombian and Mexican traffickers.
The indictment also contained many of the allegations made against Hernández during the 2021 trial of convicted Honduran trafficker Geovanny Fuentes Ramírez, when US prosecutors said Fuentes Ramírez paid bribes to Hernández to secure protection for drug operations, and that Hernández sought access to a cocaine laboratory controlled by the trafficker.
According to prosecutors, Hernández was brazen enough to continue receiving bribes from Fuentes Ramírez after prosecutors publicly identified him in his brother’s court case.