• Maibort Petit

From Presidential House to Prison

Accused of drug trafficking charges, the US justice system has asked the Honduran government, regarding extradition of the former president of that Central American nation, Juan Orlando Hernández. He is accused by the US justice of the commission of drug trafficking crimes. The Honduran judicial system is now debating the request.

by Maibort Petit

The uproar gripped Honduras in recent days after it was learned that the United States government had requested the extradition of the former president of that Central American nation, Juan Orlando Hernández, when he was accused by the US justice of the commission of drug trafficking crimes. The request was made to the Honduran Foreign Ministry by the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, according to a message on Twitter by the Honduran foreign ministry. Among the latest decisions in the case, the one adopted during the first hearing held in the Supreme Court of Justice to decree the provisional detention of the former president until the second hearing takes place on March 16 stands out.

Former president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernándezhoto of Former president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández
Former President of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, accused by US justice of drug trafficking commission.

"The Foreign Ministry, in accordance with the law, has sent to the CSJ (Supreme Court of Justice) an official communication from the U.S. Embassy, requesting the formal provisional arrest of a Honduran politician for the purpose of extradition to the United States of America," read the message of the social network that obviated the mention of the name of the former president[1]. Meanwhile the Honduran government body was brief in its information, the press elaborated on data that referred to the extradition request presented to the CSJ maintaining that JOH "participated in a 'violent drug trafficking conspiracy' that since 2004 has transported 500 tons of cocaine from Venezuela and Colombia to the United States through Honduras (...) [and that] he received millions of dollars in bribes for facilitating shipments and protecting traffickers from prosecution."


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.

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Lawyers and the PNH speak

When the news broke, JOH's lawyers reported that he would surrender voluntarily "to follow the legal process and defend his innocence." Later, one of his legal representatives, Hermes Ramírez, denounced as "outrage" the harassment that had formed around the figure of the former president of Honduras and demanded compliance with the rules in this type of procedure[2].

Also, his political organization, the National Party of Honduras, asked that human rights and due process be respected in the case, through a statement in which the leadership of the same expressed its solidarity with the former president, while congratulating him for his decision to "surrender and voluntarily submit to the extradition procedure, a correct and correct decision that must be taken into account by the security organs at this time."[3]

Arrest warrant

On the eve of his arrest, the Supreme Court of Justice confirmed the receipt of the request and, through a statement, announced the call "to a plenary session" whose objective was to designate the "natural judge" who would analyze "the extradition request from the Embassy of the United States of America and sent by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation"[4].

Such a magistrate turned out to be Edwin Ortez, [a man accused of allegedly being linked to the party of Manuel Zelaya and his wife, now president, Xiomara Zelaya, Libertad y Refundación], who proceeded to issue the arrest warrant immediately.

Then the request was activated the judicial mechanisms and Tegucigalpa became a hotbed before the different versions of the case that circulated, until Hernández himself pronounced himself through a recorded message that he disseminated on Twitter in which he confirmed the request for capture for extradition purposes formulated by the United States, a request to which he said he was "ready and ready to collaborate".

"It is 5 and 44 in the morning, I send a message to all those who have accompanied me with their prayers, with their good wishes, thank you very much. It is not an easy moment, I wish no one, but also the purpose of this message is that the National Police, through my attorneys, has already received the message that I am ready and ready to collaborate and arrive voluntarily with your accompaniment at the moment that the natural judge appointed by the honorable Supreme Court of Justice so decides, to be able to face this situation and defend myself," Hernández said in his personal account on the social network[5].

A message that JOH issued while his house in the Honduran capital was surrounded by security forces since the night of Monday 14, deployed under the orders of the Minister of Security, Ramón Sabillón, who appeared to proceed with the capture of Hernández. Who now heads the aforementioned government office was until recently a fugitive from justice, after fleeing with his family after his dismissal from the police under the administration of Hernández. Ironically, it was now up to him to arrest his persecutor [6].

An operation that was crowned with the former president leaving his house covered with a blue cap and mask, to be immediately handcuffed hands and feet and put on a bulletproof vest. The next thing was to put him in an armored vehicle to transfer him to the National Police to give his preliminary statement in the judicial process on his extradition[7].

As soon as images of the one who had ruled Honduras for eight years spread, fireworks were heard in Tegucigalpa, as a hundred protesters celebrated the arrest outside JOH's residence.


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Before the Court

The objective of JOH's lawyers from the moment the extradition request was known and the government's willingness to comply with it, was to achieve the best conditions for their representative. Thus, house arrest was the goal as they struggle to free JOH from having to face U.S. justice.

Thus, the team of four lawyers that make up his defense – Hermes Ramírez Ávila, Félix Ávila Ortiz, Rosa Bonilla Galindo and Iván Martínez – is preparing to file an appeal when the three working days after the information hearing to which JOH was presented to the CSJ at the request of the United States are fulfilled.

The acceptance of the appeal would allow Hernández to stop serving provisional detention or preventive detention at the headquarters of the National Directorate of Special Forces (DNFE) and submit to house arrest. The initial request to the court during the first hearing proved unsuccessful[8].

But at the hearing the situation was different and Magistrate Edwin Ortez, the appointed judge of the case, informed JOH of the charges that the United States imputes to him, while he made known the rights that assist him.

At the request of Hernández's lawyers to grant him house arrest, the court ruled out on the grounds that the agreed order applicable to extradition proceedings does not allow the establishment of a measure other than provisional detention.

It was learned that Hernández expressed fear after what happened on the day of his capture when he was transferred to the Special Forces command and received the boo of a group of people crowded into the police.

Judge Ortez announced that the next hearing will be held on March 16.

Outside the court

While this was happening in the courtroom, outside the headquarters of the Supreme Court of Justice, JOH supporters gathered to express their support.

"Juan Orlando we are with you" and "We are supporting Juan Orlando and his family," read some of the banners held by the members of this group, who also criticized what they described as a "cowardly" position of the 44 deputies of the JOH party in the National Congress.

After the time, in the place the spirits were heated between sympathizers and opponents of the former president, to the point of reaching the blows and throwing of stones and bottles. For about ten minutes the brawl was maintained, which only subsided with the police intervention[9].

JOH calls for mediation from Israel

A note published by The Times of Israel reports that Juan Orlando Hernández would have requested the intermediation of Israel to avoid his extradition to the United States.

According to the publication, JOH maintains that Israel would have given him assurances that it would act on his behalf should the U.S. request his arrest for drug trafficking. This would have happened in June 2021 when the then Honduran president arrived in Israel to inaugurate his country's new embassy in Jerusalem. There he told officials of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett that during Benjamin Netanyahu's administration he was promised to do everything possible to avoid extradition, this allegedly in exchange for ordering the transfer of the Honduran diplomatic mission from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Also in November 2021, when Israeli Minister Eli Avidar visited Honduras to participate in the opening of a new Israeli embassy in Tegucigalpa, Juan Orlando Hernández spoke about the issue again.

However, the note, citing reports from Channel 12, reports that an ally of Benjamin Netanyahu said that "the Hondurans had never submitted any request to avoid Hernández's extradition."[10]

The preliminaries

Prior to all these events, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the United States Senate, Bob Menéndez, asked the Joe Biden administration, through communications addressed, on the one hand, to the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken and, on the other, to the Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, to officially designate Juan Orlando Hernández as a "foreign narcotics trafficker".

This request was also accompanied by the request for the immediate revocation of the former president's visa, all in line with the Law on the Designation of Foreign Drug Trafficking Leaders.

The Democratic senator urged the government to ask the former Honduran president about his role as co-conspirator and urged the government to take a firm stand in support of the rule of law in Central America.

Bob Menéndez supported his position with the growing body of incriminating evidence against Juan Orlando Hernández, which presumes his participation in drug trafficking activities[11].

For those same days, specifically on February 7, Secretary of State Antony Blinken gave what could be interpreted as a response to Menendez's request when he reported that the United States had included Juan Orlando Hernández on its list of "corrupt and undemocratic actors" in the Central American Northern Triangle, something that had happened at the end of January before leaving office as president.

Blinken said that already on July 1, 2021, the now former Honduran president was added to the list of people accused of corruption or undermining democracy in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, as established by the law that obliges the State Department to report these cases to Congress making them ineligible for visa or admission to the United States[12].


[1] Euronews. "U.S. Requests 'Formal Provisional Arrest of Honduran Politician.'" February 14, 2022. https://es.euronews.com/2022/02/15/estados-unidos-solicita-la-extradicion-del-expresidente-juan-orlando-hernandez

[2] France 24 https://www.france24.com/es/minuto-a-minuto/20220215-eeuu-solicita-a-honduras-extradici%C3%B3n-del-expresidente-juan-orlando-hern%C3%A1ndez

[3] Infobae. "Former Honduran President Hernández's party calls for respect for due process." February 15, 2022. https://www.infobae.com/america/agencias/2022/02/15/partido-del-expresidente-hondureno-hernandez-pide-respeto-al-debido-proceso/

[4] Free Press. "The U.S. asks Honduras for the extradition of former President Juan Orlando Hernández and police surround his residence." February 14, 2022. https://www.prensalibre.com/internacional/ee-uu-solicita-a-honduras-extradicion-del-expresidente-juan-orlando-hernandez-vinculado-al-narcotrafico-breaking/

[5] Twitter. Juan Orlando H. @JuanOrlandoH. https://twitter.com/JuanOrlandoH/status/1493553766062243840?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1493553766062243840%7Ctwgr%5E%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.prensalibre.com%2Finternacional%2Fhernandez-dice-estar-listo-a-colaborar-ante-peticion-de-extradicion-de-eeuu-breaking%2F

[6] El País. "Rise and Fall of the Political Dynasty of Juan Orlando Hernández in Honduras". February 15, 2022. https://elpais.com/internacional/2022-02-16/auge-y-caida-de-la-dinastia-politica-de-juan-orlando-hernandez-en-honduras.html

[7] Free Press. "Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández Captured After U.S. Extradition Request." February 15, 2022. https://www.prensalibre.com/internacional/capturan-a-expresidente-de-honduras-juan-orlando-hernandez-tras-pedido-de-extradicion-de-ee-uu-breaking/

[8] The Press. "House Arrest: Target of Juan Orlando Hernández's Lawyers". February 16, 2022. https://www.laprensa.hn/honduras/juan-orlando-hernandez-defensa-honduras-abogados-extradicion-prision-domiciliaria-CK5837271

[9] The Press. "Juan Orlando Hernández will continue to be detained in Cobras facilities." February 16, 2022. https://www.laprensa.hn/honduras/juan-orlando-hernandez-seguira-detenido-en-instalaciones-de-los-cobras-LG5822148

[10] The Time of Israel. "Honduran ex-president reportedly asked Israel to help prevent his extradition to US". February 17, 2022. https://www.timesofisrael.com/honduran-ex-president-reportedly-asked-israel-to-help-prevent-his-extradition-to-us/

[11] Venezuela Politics. "Senate Foreign Relations Committee Asks Biden Administration to Appoint Former Honduran President as Drug Lord." February 5, 2022. https://www.maibortpetit.info/2022/02/comite-de-relaciones-exteriores-del.html

[12] Free Press. "The U.S. includes former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández on the list of corrupt actors." February 7, 2022. https://www.prensalibre.com/internacional/ee-uu-incluye-al-expresidente-hondureno-juan-orlando-hernandez-en-lista-de-actores-corruptos/

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