Honduran Justice Authorizes Extradition of Former President Juan Orlando Hernández to the U.S.
by Maibort Petit
Maibort Petit is a Venezuelan writer, researcher and political scientist specialized in Transnational Organized Crime. Based in New York, she works for various Hispanic media outlets and as a consultant for various firms in New York and Washington DC.
She is also founder of Freedom Voice Reports which is an Investigative Reporting team, started over 25 years ago, with an emphasis on protecting our freedoms. Reporting on authoritative government, dark money used by business to persuade our political institutions, our court system, drug trafficking stealing so many lives, parental rights being lost in our educational system and so much more.
On Monday, the magistrates of the Supreme Court of Justice of Honduras ratified the extradition of the former president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández to the United States, where he is wanted by an accusation for drug trafficking crimes. Seven nationalist magistrates, seven liberals and the judge in the case discussed the appropriateness of the US government's request.
The process concludes almost a month after the United States Department of State reported on February 7, 2022, the United States Department of State reported the declassification and publicity of the inclusion of the former president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández in the Engel List of corrupt and undemocratic actors in the US since July 1, 2021, because multiple credible reports reported the alleged participation of the former president in acts of corruption and drug trafficking, as well as in the use of the proceeds of these illicit activities in the facilitation of political campaigns.
After the first step, a process was initiated that, a week later — on February 14 — resulted in the REQUEST for JOH's extradition by the US administration.
Subsequently, the Honduran Foreign Ministry reported through its account on the social network Twitter that it had sent to the Supreme Court an official communication from the U.S. Embassy, in which it formally requested the provisional arrest of "a Honduran politician" whose name they omitted, for the purpose of extradition to the North American nation.
The arrest of Juan Orlando Hernández occurred on February 15, when he was at his residence in Tegucigalpa and March 17, the Extradition Judge of First Instance, Edwin Ortez, approved the extradition based on crimes of drug trafficking and carrying weapons.
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Once the aforementioned procedure was done, the lawyers of Juan Orlando Hernández appealed the order on March 20, 2022, when the defense team of the former president filed an appeal before the Supreme Court of Justice of the Central American nation against the ruling that authorized his transfer to the United States, this being the final decision that was adopted this Monday by the highest instance, definitive.
Suspicions of criminal activity
There were suspicions about JOH since 2004, according to what documents that were declassified reveal that indicate that he "participated in a violent drug trafficking conspiracy" at that time when he was a deputy of the National Congress of which he was even a director.
For the defense of JOH it is essential that the former president remains in Honduras and in that sense his actions revolve, among them, having brought to light the alleged 32 cases that his representative has opened in instances of his country. The lawyers, on the eve of a decision by the Supreme Court, seek to stop the possible extradition by warning that it is necessary that the complaints be investigated first and he be tried in the Central American nation.
The US justice system asks the former Honduran president to sit him in the dock of the defendants of the Court for the Southern District of New York and there answer for the three charges related to drug trafficking that the homonymous prosecutor's office imputes to that court. If the extradition materializes, Juan Orlando Hernández would face an experience similar to that of his brother, former deputy Juan Antonio Hernández, sentenced to life imprisonment for similar crimes.
The first of JOH's charges is conspiracy to import a controlled substance into the United States from a location outside the United States, as well as to manufacture and distribute a controlled substance with the intent and knowledge that such substance would be imported into that country. The second count is for using or carrying firearms or aiding and abetting the use, carrying and possession of firearms in support of the narcotics import conspiracy of which he is charged in count one. Third, he is accused of conspiracy to use or carry firearms in support of the narcotics import conspiracy.
Juan Orlando Hernández has persistently denied the charges against him, personally, and through his lawyers or through his wife, Ana García de Hernández, who maintains that JOH is the victim of an orchestrated revenge by Honduran drug traffickers who were extradited to the US and seek to lower their sentences.
The former first lady assures that there are enough legal arguments to stop the extradition of her husband and the matter is resolved in favor of him.
Garcia warned that the agreement signed between the U.S. and Honduras is not a regulation that, according to law, allows the extradition of Honduran nationals. Honduran law must be applied and he recalled that the Central American country is a signatory to international treaties that protect fellow citizens from being victims of inhuman and degrading punishment.
The maneuvers of the defense
But before being tried in U.S. lands, he must be tried in Honduras itself, where he faces complaints and accusations for the same crimes. "Mr. Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado has in our country a number of complaints and preliminary investigations pending, which are part of the criminal process that must be elucidated prior to his extradition to a foreign country," said Rosa Elena Bonilla Galindo, a member of the team of lawyers that defends him.
Echo of these statements are the statements of Iván Martínez, another of the lawyers of the legal team, who said that his client has causes in Honduras for the same facts that are investigated in the United States. The complaints have been in the Honduran prosecutor's office for a long time, so, he added, the "Public Ministry, its reasons will have, has not raised the process to the competent body, only they will be able to respond."
What JOH's lawyers are trying to do is prevent him from being sentenced in the U.S. to life in prison for drug trafficking crimes that in Honduras face lesser penalties. For the legal representatives of Juan Orlando Hernández "the extradition treaties are based on the fact that the sovereignty of the state should not be undermined, nor through an extradition process, thirst to prevent the requesting State from ignoring the truth," explained Félix Ávila, another of the former president's lawyers.
"If Honduras grants the extradition of a Honduran, being obliged according to the agreements it has signed to respect and guarantee human rights, allowing that Honduran to be sentenced in another country to life sentences, it is the same as imposing them through its legal system, flagrantly violating national and international regulations.
The lawyers have also asked the CSJ, which is analyzing the extradition, to carry out a preliminary ruling before the Central American Court of Justice in order for it to issue a report on the scope and prerogatives that immunity grants to the deputies of Parlacen.
They are only complaints, not requirements
The Statements of the defense came to the step the Public Ministry through a spokesman, Yuri Mora, who confirmed that on former President Hernández, indeed, weigh 32 complaints, but clarified that the agreement signed between Honduras and the United States "establishes that at least that he has judicial procedures, such as fiscal requirements or accusations through fiscal requirements, is that it can be considered for extradition."
In this sense, the spokesman of the prosecutor's office made it clear that the fact that JOH has 32 complaints does not cause any effect on the extradition process, since this is established by the Extradition Treaty with the United States.
JOH to the control of justice
But while some believe the time has come to hold Juan Orlando Hernández accountable, others think he continues to maintain control of the Honduran justice system.
One of those who think so is Deputy Silvia Ayala, who is part of the special parliamentary commission in charge of extradition issues whose mission is to generate a report and study on the Honduran context and the extraction agreement that exists between the Central American nation and the United States, a country that currently maintains accusations about JOH, former police chief Juan Carlos Bonilla; and Tokiro Rodas, an alleged gang member, whom he accuses of maintaining ties to drug trafficking.
Deputy Ayala and the rest of the members of the legislative body analyze the extradition lists, estimates that Juan Orlando Hernández "continues to control the judicial system," even though at this time he is being held in prison and one of its members has approved his extradition to the United States.
"The fact that 32 complaints now appear against Juan Orlando Hernández, when in eight years no request was filed, indicates that he continues to control justice," Ayala said.
He said that "As far as we know there was never an investigation process, but at this moment when Hernández has been captured by the extradition request, and the Public Ministry says that it has an investigation around irregular actors of the former president and his criminal group that continues to control the delivery of justice".
Do not challenge the US.
Others dare to give advice to the Honduran Supreme Court of Justice regarding the decision it must make regarding JOH's extradition.
This is a Honduran political analyst, Raúl Pineda Alvarado, for whom "It is not intelligent, it is not logical, it is not coherent to think that Honduras is going to challenge the largest power in the world, particularly in the case of former President Hernández, who does not have any support from the government of his country."
From his point of view, Pineda Alvarado believes that only "a miracle can save Don Juan Orlando Hernández from facing the prosecutors and the American Thursdays and as far as I know the lawyers do not do miracles.