Change of fortune
The U.S. has formally asked Honduras to arrest and extradite former President Juan Orlando Hernández on drug trafficking charges, The Associated Press and The Washington Post report, citing Honduran officials and documents from the government of President Xiomara Castro to the Supreme Court of Justice. Castro was inaugurated in January, replacing Hernández.
Honduran national police and soldiers were filmed surrounding Hernández's neighborhood in Tegucigalpa, the capital, on Monday night, setting up barriers.
"Honduran officials said they were not attempting to arrest him, but to prevent him from fleeing," possibly to Nicaragua, the Post reports. "The extradition request is likely to become an explosive issue in Honduras, where Hernández's party still exercises significant political power, waging influence over the country's Supreme Court. It is members of the court who under Honduran law will rule on the U.S. request. The judges are scheduled to meet Tuesday morning."
Accusations that Hernández took bribes from drug cartels and facilitated the safe passage of drugs through Honduras have mounted in U.S. courts for years. Notably, he was named as a "co-conspirator" in the trial of convicted drug trafficker Geovanny Fuentes Ramírez and played a big role in the trial of his brother, Tony Hernández, a former Honduran congressman sentenced to life in prison on drug trafficking charges.
"With a weak and co-opted Honduran justice system, Hondurans' hope for justice had rested for years with U.S. federal prosecutors in New York, where a string of revelations against Hernández was closely followed back home," The Associated Press reports.
Hernández has argued that the allegations against him should be discarded because some of them come from drug traffickers he extradited to the U.S., and his lawyer argues that Hernández has immunity because he represents Honduras in the Central American Parliament. Honduras changed its constitution to allow extradition to the U.S. in 2012, when Hernández was president of the congress.
"We have to wait for the Supreme Court to rule," a senior official in the Castro government told the Post. "The judges on the court are people Hernández appointed, so it's difficult to know what kind of choice they're going to make."