An Ex-President on Trial May Use Trump's Praise in Defense

Ex-Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernández accused in drug conspiracy
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 21, 2024 12:45 PM CST
An Ex-President on Trial May Use Trump's Praise in Defense
Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, second from right, is taken in handcuffs to a waiting aircraft as he is extradited to the United States, at an Air Force base in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, April 21, 2022.   (AP Photo/Elmer Martinez, File)

Standing before Juan Orlando Hernández in December 2019, then-President Trump applauded the leader of Honduras for working "very closely" with the US to stop the flow of drugs "at a level that has never happened," per the Guardian. Indeed, both the Trump and Obama administrations considered Hernández an ally in the fight against drugs, the Wall Street Journal reports. But months before that 2019 meeting in Florida, prosecutors in New York had detailed Hernández's alleged role in a drug conspiracy case that resulted in a conviction and life sentence for his brother. Now his own drug trial begins in Manhattan federal court, some two years after his presidency ended and he was arrested and extradition to the US.

Hernández cites his cooperation with the US as evidence of his having acted against drug traffickers, not with them. US prosecutors instead say he turned Honduras into a "narco-state" while accepting millions of dollars in bribes from drug traffickers, including notorious Mexican cartel leader Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán. In what some in Honduras are calling "the trial of the century," Hernández stands accused of ordering the army to protect drug traffickers and informing traffickers about planned raids while helping move 500 tons of cocaine through Honduras, per the Journal.

He faces one count of conspiring to import cocaine to the US and two counts of carrying weapons "in furtherance of the cocaine importation conspiracy," per the BBC. Prosecutors claim to have a photo of a machine gun bearing his name and presidential title, the Journal reports. Hernández has pleaded not guilty. In a letter published Monday, the 55-year-old claims the allegations stem from cartels seeking revenge for his pursuit of them. The trial began Wednesday and is expected to last up to three weeks.

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Hernández could face a life sentence if convicted on all three counts—and apparently expects it. Speaking to a judge in Honduras weeks after his arrest in 2022, he stated a life sentence was guaranteed if his extradition to the US was approved, per the Guardian. Court filings indicate he may testify in his own defense, stressing the contradiction between the allegations and the praise he received from US officials, the Journal reports. The last former head of state to face drug-trafficking charges in the US was Gen. Manuel Noriega more than three decades ago. (More Juan Orlando Hernandez stories.)

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