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No One is Above the Law

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Calls on Biden Administration to Appoint Former Honduran President as Drug Lord. The request was made by the president of the parliamentary body to the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, and the Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen.


by Maibort Petit


Officially designating Juan Orlando Hernández, former president of Honduras, as a foreign narcotics trafficker, was the formal request that the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menéndez, made to the Joe Biden administration, through communications addressed, on the one hand, to the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken and, on the other, to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.



Photo of Juan Orlando Hernández, former president of Honduras
Juan Orlando Hernández, former president of Honduras

To senior officials in the Biden administration, Menendez asked them to immediately revoke the visa and sanction as a "major foreign narcotics trafficker" under the Foreign Drug Kingpin Designation Act, Hernandez, popularly known as JOH.


Likewise, the Democratic senator urged the government to ask the former Honduran president to account as a co-conspirator and to adopt a firm position in support of the rule of law in Central America. This position is held by Menéndez based on the growing body of incriminating evidence against Juan Orlando Hernández, about whom he makes presume his participation in drug trafficking activities.


"It is high time for the U.S. government to seek accountability measures against Juan Orlando Hernandez, beginning with a public revocation of his visa and designation under the Foreign Drug Kingpin Designation Act," the letter states.


" The United States must continue to demonstrate its support for the rule of law and the peoples of the Americas by identifying, denouncing, and punishing foreign officials involved in drug trafficking and undermining democracy in the hemisphere, regardless of whether those actors are presidents or senior officials of partner countries," reads one of the excerpts Menendez addressed to the secretaries of state and the Treasury.


 

About the Author

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.



 

Likewise, he stressed that several federal court cases suggest in their allegations that Juan Orlando Hernández is involved in criminal activities and drug trafficking, while warning that such actions by the former Honduran president "have endangered the national security of the United States and the prosperity of the people" of the Central American nation.




Menéndez believes that it is time for Hernández to be held responsible for his activities and punished under the Law on the Designation of Foreign Drug Trafficking Ringleaders, as well as "revoke his visa." "The Biden administration can affirm its commitment to promoting the rule of law in Central America and issue an unequivocal statement that government impunity will not be tolerated anywhere."


Similarly, in his communications, Robert Menéndez recalled the cases of former Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami and Colombian President Ernesto Samper, whom the US government sanctioned, so now the Biden administration must guide in that sense the actions against Juan Orlando Hernández.


The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee stressed that, according to the Justice Department, "impunity among high-ranking government officials involved in drug trafficking activities in Honduras has contributed to the country becoming 'one of the main transshipment points of cocaine bound for the United States' and a 'narco-state in ruins.'"



photo of Senator Robert Menedez
Senator Robert Menedez

Menendez criticized the exclusion of former President Hernández from the State Department's list that includes corrupt and undemocratic actors in the Northern Triangle. "I fear that the omission of Juan Orlando Hernández from these lists is sending the wrong message to the Honduran people at a time of transition of their democracy, as well as to public officials throughout the region."


In the communications, Menéndez refers that, although Juan Orlando Hernández "has not been formally charged, the evidence presented in several U.S. federal court cases since 2019 has credibly implicated him as a co-conspirator in drug trafficking crimes."


Specifically, it refers to the U.S. government's Sentencing Filing in the U.S. case against Juan Antonio Hernández Alvarado — a former congressman and BROTHER of JOH — which makes direct mention of former President Hernández and his "leadership role in a violent and state-sponsored drug trafficking conspiracy."


 

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And while JOH has denied these allegations, Robert Menendez stresses that the materials presented in three federal court cases involve family members and former associates who have presented incriminating evidence of the former Honduran president's direct involvement in drug trafficking activities.


It cites that, in February 2021, court documents gave an account of the investigation that U.S. prosecutors followed Hernández and other high-ranking government officials, for their alleged involvement in drug trafficking schemes.


It also mentions that on March 30, 2021, Tony Hernandez was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of conspiracy to traffic at least 185,000 kilograms of cocaine into the United States.


"The evidence presented in the court proceedings in the case of United States v. Juan Antonio Hernández Alvarado showed that "between 2004 and 2019, [Tony Hernández] obtained and distributed millions of dollars in drug-derived bribes to Juan Orlando Hernández," who served as his co-conspirator.


Robert Menéndez's communication to the Biden administration also recalls that, in 2013, Tony Hernández, led by Juan Orlando Hernández, accepted USD 1 million from Chapo Guzmán, former leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, money that would have been injected into the presidential campaign of JOH, a destination that, according to what the court documents say, it would not have been denied by the former president.


Mention is also made of the request that Juan Orlando Hernández would have made in 2013 for USD 1.6 million in drug profits to drug trafficker Ardón Soriano, money that would also have been destined for his electoral campaign and those of his political party.


The drug trafficker Geovanny Fuentes Ramírez, convicted of drug trafficking on March 22, 2021, judicial process in which it was known that JOH was one of the partners who received "tens of thousands of dollars [from Fuentes Ramírez] in exchange for a continuous promise of protection ... the scrutiny of law enforcement and military support for their drug trafficking activities," among other allegations that Senator Menéndez cites in his communications.


Based on these records, Robert Menéndez urges Antony Blinken and Janet Yellen to publicly hold Juan Orlando Hernández responsible for his actions, since his omission from the State Department's lists of Corrupt and Undemocratic Actors in Central America sends the wrong message to the Honduran people at the current moment of transition of their democracy.


Finally, Robert Menéndez emphasizes that the United States must continue to demonstrate its support for the rule of law and the peoples of the Americas, proceeding to identify, denounce and punish foreign officials who are involved in drug trafficking and undermine democracy in the hemisphere, "regardless of whether these actors are presidents or senior officials of partner countries (...) By sanctioning former President Hernández under the Foreign Drug Kingpin Designation Act and revoking his visa, the Biden administration can affirm its commitment to promoting the rule of law in Central America and issue an unequivocal statement that government impunity will not be tolerated anywhere."

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