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America jails ex-Honduras president Orlando Hernandez



America jails ex-Honduras president Orlando Hernandez

A New York court sentenced former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez to 45 years in prison on Wednesday, June 26, after convicting him of assisting cartels in trafficking hundreds of tons of cocaine into the United States. Alongside the prison term, Hernandez received an $8 million (roughly €7.5 million) fine.

The 45-year sentence, though substantial, fell short of the life sentence prosecutors had sought. Given Hernandez’s age of 55, he is expected to spend the rest of his life behind bars. Judge P. Kevin Castel emphasized that the sentence should serve as a warning to “well-educated, well-dressed” individuals who believe their power and status can shield them from justice.

Hernandez, through an interpreter, maintained his innocence, declaring, “I was wrongly and unjustly accused,” and indicated his intention to appeal the conviction.

Protesters gathered outside the New York court, holding banners calling for an end to the drug trade and displaying pictures of people who had died due to it in Honduras. U.S. federal prosecutors accused Hernandez of transforming Honduras into a “narco-state” during his presidency from 2014 to 2022.

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In March, Hernandez was convicted of facilitating the trafficking of approximately 500 tons of cocaine from Colombia and Venezuela to the U.S. via Honduras.

Prosecutors detailed Hernandez’s involvement in the drug trade, which allegedly began in 2004, long before he became president. They claimed he used drug money to enrich himself, finance his political campaigns, and commit electoral fraud in the 2013 and 2017 presidential elections.

America jails ex-Honduras president Orlando Hernandez

Hernandez was extradited to the U.S. in 2022 shortly after leaving office, with Honduras’ top court approving the extradition.

In court, Hernandez portrayed himself as a combatant against drug trafficking, claiming to have collaborated with three former U.S. presidents.

Judge Castel dismissed this portrayal, accusing Hernandez of using “considerable acting skills” to present himself as an ally of the U.S. in fighting the cocaine trade while actually using the country’s police and military to protect it. The judge labeled Hernandez a “two-faced politician hungry for power.”

Hernandez joins a list of Latin American former heads of state convicted of narcotics trafficking in the U.S., including Panama’s Manuel Noriega in 1992 and Guatemala’s Alfonso Portillo in 2014.