TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — After years of speculation in Honduras, the United States has officially requested the arrest and extradition of former President Juan Orlando Hernández less than three weeks after his departure.
Honduran security forces surrounded the neighborhood of Hernández on Monday evening and the Supreme Court of Justice has scheduled an urgent meeting on Tuesday morning to select a judge to handle the extradition request. A stalemate ensued.
In a video posted by Hernández’s legal team apparently inside his home, attorney Félix Ávila said everything should wait until the Supreme Court appoints a judge on Tuesday to hear the case. “In the meantime, it is understood that no arrest warrant exists.”
However, at a neighborhood police barrier, Rasel Tomé, the newly elected vice president of the National Congress, said Hernández had to surrender or he would be captured at 6 a.m. Tuesday.
It was a long-awaited downfall for a leader reviled in his home country, who enjoyed support from the Trump administration but was held at bay by a Biden White House targeting rampant Central American corruption as a root cause. of migration.
The specific charges against Hernández are not known, but federal prosecutors in New York had previously named him a co-conspirator in a drug trafficking case, alleging his political rise was fueled by drug profits. Hernández has long denied any wrongdoing.
Nicole Navas, spokeswoman for the US Department of Justice, declined to comment.
Hernández left office on January 27 with the swearing in of President Xiomara Castro. On the same day, he was sworn in as Honduran representative in the Central American Parliament.
His lawyer, Hermes Ramírez, told local media that his client enjoyed immunity as a member of regional parliament and said government forces were not following proper procedures. He said Hernández was inside the house.
Various national police contingents, including special forces, as well as military police were present in the Hernández neighborhood on Monday evening. Barriers at all entrances prevented media and even residents from entering.
Members of the security forces entered the area with weapons, wearing balaclavas and handcuffs dangling from their bulletproof vests. Some neighbors said the house was dark and they thought it was unoccupied.
Hernández has often pointed to the fact that Honduras began allowing the extradition of Hondurans accused of drug trafficking while he was president of congress as part of his defense.
But US prosecutors have alleged he was taking bribes from drug traffickers on a promise to protect them once he is president of Honduras.
US prosecutors in New York have repeatedly implicated him in his brother’s 2019 drug trafficking trial, alleging his political rise was fueled by drug profits.
That brother, Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, himself a former Honduran congressman, was sentenced to life in prison for drug and arms trafficking in March 2021. During his sentencing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Laroche called the crimes “state-sponsored drug trafficking”. ”
Juan Orlando Hernández took office on January 27, 2014. Hernández used a friendly Supreme Court to overcome Honduras’ constitutional ban on re-election and won a second term in 2017 in a flawed election.
Around midnight Monday, Jorge Arturo Vega, 56, a supporter of Castro’s Freedom and Refoundation party, stood in front of a police barricade in the Hernández neighborhood to celebrate.
“It’s a party we’ve been waiting for a long time,” Vega said, reflecting on the dozen years since Hernández arrived in Congress. “We couldn’t stand his drug dealer, criminal, killer in the presidential house any longer.”
Associated Press writer Marlon González reported this story in Tegucigalpa and AP writer Christopher Sherman reported from Mexico City. AP videojournalist Elmer Martínez in Tegucigalpa and AP writer Claudia Torrens in New York contributed to this story.