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Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández is extradited to the United States | News Univision Drug Trafficking

This Thursday, the former president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, was extradited to the United States to face drug trafficking charges. ending a lengthy legal process that began days after the former White House ally left office in January.

Dressed in a blue jacket, with a mask and handcuffed, he was transferred by helicopter shortly before noon to the Hernán Acosta Mejía military base, attached to the Toncontín International Airport, in Tegucigalpa, from where a US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) plane took off to bring him to Fort Lauderdale and then to New York, where he will face a judicial process that could imprison him for the rest of his life.

Before leaving Honduras, he gave the media a video in which he assured: “I am innocent. I have been and am being subjected to an unfair process.”

Once the plane took off, shouts like “Yes, it could!” and on roads near the air terminal, some cars waved Honduran flags. Even in some sectors of Tegucigalpa fireworks were detonated.

His departure from the country was marked by a strong presence of police officers and broadcast live on Honduran television. Hernández was turned over to a US Marshalls agent and later to DEA officials.

The court move is a stunning reversal of fortune for the former Honduran president who was once considered untouchable and almost unprecedented in the annals of American justice.

“I can’t believe they made it” said Richard Gregorie, the former federal prosecutor who indicted Panamanian dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega on drug charges in the 1980s. “It’s a big blow,” he added.

Only two other leaders of a foreign country have been charged in the United States., Norman Saunders, of the small Turks and Caicos Islands, in 1985, for a drug trafficking conspiracy, and former President Ferdinand Marcos, of the Philippines, in 1988, for massive money laundering. But both were already in the country when they were arrested. Saunders was found guilty and sentenced to eight years in prison. Marcos died before being tried.

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Hernández is accused of “state-sponsored drug trafficking”

“The indictment against Hernandez is actually higher than the one made against the Panamanian Noriega, given the massive corruption and widespread drug trafficking,” said Mike Vigil, a former DEA chief of operations. “Former President Hernández was the dominant force in turning Honduras into a virtual narco-state by creating massive corruption at all levels of government,” he added.

The former president, who left office just two months ago, has vehemently denied all allegations against him related to drug trafficking, calling them lies concocted by violent criminals seeking to reduce their sentences.

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The obstacles of impeaching the leader of a foreign country in the US

Not surprisingly, impeaching the leader of a foreign country is a significant legal challenge, in part because of the immunity they enjoy in office, but also because of the limitations on the scope of US legal jurisdiction outside the United States. .

In the case of Noriega and Hernández, the United States argues that the drugs – and the money – moved through the United States, creating a criminal nexus in this country.

US efforts to indict other political leaders for conspiracy connected to drug trafficking, such as President Ernesto Samper of Colombia in the mid-1990s, failed because investigators were unable to find a criminal link to the United States.

Gregorie says he met stiff opposition from the George H Bush administration when he told his superior that he had enough evidence to indict Noriega, a former CIA asset. “You can’t imagine how many people got mad at me. A lot of people didn’t want it to happen,” said Gregorie, who brought the case anyway. “That was pretty much the end of my career,” he said.

Subsequently, the Department of Justice established a procedure according to which all cases involving foreign politicians had to be authorized by the attorney general’s office.

Gregorie had to leave the Justice Department, but later returned as head of the narcotics section in Miami, before retiring in 2018. In the process, he learned a lesson that he passes on to young prosecutors: “When you shoot a king, you better have a big bullet”said.

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Surprise for the capture of Juan Orlando Hernández

The fact that Hernandez did not attempt to escape capture at some point in the past two weeks took many by surprise. Drug conspiracy charges mean he faces a possible life sentencelike his brother.

“I am very surprised by this turn of events,” said Joaquín Pérez, a Miami attorney representing another Honduran politician in a related case. “This guy is going to be toast. The closer he gets to the Sun, the more he burns up,” he added.

“When he gets here they are going to put him in an isolation cell, like [Joaquín] ‘El Chapo’ [Guzmán]”, he added, referring to what is known as a SHU (Special Housing Unit), where detainees are kept separate from the rest of the prison population.

It’s a surprising twist of fate for a conservative political leader who was previously considered a key ally of Washingtonespecially on drug and immigration policy.

“A lot of US officials really believed in him,” said Adam Isacson, who closely follows Honduras at the Washington Office on Latin America.

Chief among them was General John Kelly, the former head of the US Southern Command, which oversees US military cooperation in Latin America. Kelly was also head of the Department of Homeland Security under President Donald Trump and later became his White House chief of staff.

“In the meetings we had, Kelly always said that he (Hernández) shared our values ​​and our goals and that he was a tough guy,” Isacson said, recalling how Hernández earned special praise from the White House when he moved the Honduran embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“They had a total affair with him during the Trump era,” Isacson added.

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