BY JEFF ABBOTT | FEBRUARY 25, 2022 | 8:32 AM
The U.S. government recognized Juan Orlando Hernández as president when this served its interests—now it’s taking a stand against his illegal re-election and human rights violations.
The process of extraditing former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández from his Central American country has begun, just weeks after he left office. Hernández was arrested in Tegucigalpa on February 15 on drug-trafficking and weapons charges.
The formal extradition process comes after the U.S. Embassy issued an extradition request to the new administration of President Xiomara Castro on February 14, according to Honduras’s Foreign Minister Eduardo Enrique Reina. Yet the extradition process could take a while: The hearing for Hernández before the Honduran Supreme Court is currently set for March 18.
Historically, the United States has allied itself with problematic heads of state across Latin America.
Hernández was first elected president of Honduras in 2013 after spending thirteen years serving in the Honduran Congress representing the Lempira department for the conservative National Party. Of those thirteen years, he spent his last four years as the president of the body.
Hernández was illegally re-elected as the Central American nation’s president in November 2017, after the Hondruan Supreme Court modified the country’s constitution so he could run for re-election earlier that year. His administration was marked by extreme human rights violations, including attacks on human rights defenders and the high-profile assassination of environmental activist Berta Caceres in 2016.
His re-election and the subsequent crackdown on protests and activists contributed to the massive migration of Hondurans that gained international attention in 2018. Since 2019, Hernández has been implicated in the drug conspiracy case against his brother and former congressional representative Tony Hernández.
Hernández was added to the U.S. Engel’s list of corrupt Central American officials and stripped of his visa. Just prior to that, Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued a letter calling on the U.S. Department of State to declare Hernández a “narco-kingpin.”
According to Reina, the controversies around Hernández hurt the image of Honduras in the International community.
“It is a serious issue, because in addition to the fact that the accusations are severe and very serious, he is a former president of the Republic,” Reina tells The Progressive. “That leaves a very poor image of the country.”
The Castro administration has made combating corruption and impunity a key pillar of its reform agenda. Since taking office, the administration has already issued a letter to the United Nations to form an International Commission Against Impunity in Honduras, a body that mirrors the famous anti-impunity body in neighboring Guatemala, which was closed in September 2019.
“Our responsibility is that the national [institutional] systems should work,” Reina says. “We find ourselves with a state that has been dilapidated, a state that has practically become almost bankrupt. And, therefore, institutional recovery is a task that we have to start and that is why international accompaniment is requested, while we are managing to establish policies that make us improve all of this.”
Throughout his administration, Hernández was a close ally of the United States. Both the Obama and Trump Administrations staunchly defended the power of Hernández as president.
Historically, the United States has allied itself with problematic heads of state across Latin America. It has sided with and supported dictators who were accused of human rights violations, drug kingpins, far-right ideologues, and authoritarian military leaders who have taken power in coup d’états. The tune changes, however, when these leaders no longer serve the interests of the U.S. government.
“We’re losing any kind of moral credibility,” says Martin Edwin Andersen, a writer and national security whistleblower during the Clinton Administration as well as, more recently, at the National Defense University and the William Perry Center for Defense Studies.
“We tell people how to run their lives, in a democratic sense,” Andersen tells The Progressive, “when we’re in fact seen supporting all these neo-narcos.”
In 1989, the United States launched a military invasion of Panama to remove President Manuel Noriega, who had studied at the U.S. military’s School of the Americas, and had been an ally of the United States after taking power in 1983. He was arrested in 1990 and extradited to the United States on charges of racketeering, drug smuggling, and money laundering. He served seventeen years in a U.S. federal prison.
The support for these sorts of shadowy governments has come as part of the U.S. government’s militarization of the region. This has taken the guise of combating drugs, crime, and now, migration. But as Andersen points out, this doesn’t have to be the case.
“One of the problems with the Honduran example is we’re not focusing on Honduras as being kind of the paradigm of the militarization of U.S. foreign policy and what happens when you give the Pentagon the ability to [have] the ultimate veto,” Andersen says. “There is no reason for this over-militarization.”
Honduras has seen the increased presence of U.S. military assets over the decades following the Cold War, and it currently hosts the U.S. military due to the country’s geo-strategic position.
The illicit actions of U.S. allies is not something that is unknown within intelligence circles, Andersen reflects. One problem that contributes to these issues being lost is that there is a breakdown between analysts and the leadership.
“The problem is that they don’t listen to analysts,” Andersen says. “There isn’t a lot of creative thinking.”
U.S. support for these administrations and the militarization of the region corrupts the United States’ promotion of democracy in the region, as it justifies the human rights violations in the region while criticizing U.S. rivals for similar actions. The result of this failure is that millions face deteriorating situations due to the rise in influence of drug traffickers and gangs in the governments at every level.
Migration becomes the only option as impunity reigns.