Only three months after Honduran presideent Juan Orlando Hernández left office, Honduras extradited him to the United States to face drug trafficking and weapons charges, the Associated Press Reports. On Thursday, Hernández boarded a plane to face the charges against him in New York City. The former president was long touted as a U.S. ally in the war on drugs, but this week U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said Hernández “abused his position as President of Honduras from 2014 through 2022 to operate the country as a narco-state.” Hernández is charged with involvement in a “corrupt and violent drug-trafficking conspiracy” that moved more than 550 tons of cocaine to the U.S. and possessed machine guns. One reason for Hernández's involvement, the U.S. alleges, were kickbacks he received from drug kingpins, including Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. This money was allegedly used in his 2013 and 2017 presidential campaigns, when he is also suspected of having committed voter fraud. “In return, drug traffickers in Honduras were allowed to operate with virtual impunity,” Garland said. “We allege that Hernández corrupted legitimate public institutions in the country — including parts of the national police, military and national Congress.”
Hernández has maintained his innocence and appealed the Honduran court ruling approving extradition. However, Honduras' Supreme Court rejected his appeal in a move many people called historic. Henry Osorto Canales, a retired National Police commissioner, says the Honduran Supreme Court's decision is also significant due to what it signals about the court's policy on other members of Hernández's administration. “This is a start because it has begun with the largest political piece that the country had and logically the rest of the pieces are going to fall, at least those closest [to Hernández],” Osorto said. The former chief of the National Police, Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares, also known as “The Tiger,” is also expected to be extradited. U.S. authorities have spent years building cases against Hernández and his brother Tony, a former congressman who was sentenced to life on essentially the same charges as his brother faces. The downfall of Hernández began with his loss in a presidential election last year. Xiomara Castro campaigned on rooting out Honduras’ corruption, and a populace tired of gang violence and a lack of job opportunities voted him out.