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Senator Menendez urges Biden Administration to designate ex-Honduran president a drug kingpin

Juan Orlando Hernandez
Jacquelyn Martin
/
AP
Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez during a visit to Washington D.C. in 2019.

The Senate Foreign Relations chairman says evidence implicating Juan Orlando Hernández in narco-trafficking means he "endangered U.S. security."

Updated 7 pm

For years, former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández has been implicated in U.S. court records for taking part in drug trafficking. WLRN has learned the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman will ask the Biden administration on Thursday to designate Hernández a drug kingpin.

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Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) is urging the administration to revoke Hernández’s U.S. visa and list him as a “significant foreign narcotics trafficker" under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. He also recommends the Honduran politico be included in the State Department's roster of corrupt and undemocratic actors in Central America.

"It is long past time for the U.S. Government to pursue accountability measures against Juan Orlando Hernández," Menendez writes, adding he has "endangered U.S. national security and the prosperity of the Honduran people."

Hernández was president of Honduras for eight years before leaving office last week. In a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, obtained by WLRN, Menendez points out several U.S. court cases have identified Hernández as a narco “co-conspirator.”

Those include the case of Hernández’s brother Tony Hernández, a former Honduran congressman, tried in New York. A U.S. judge sentenced him to life in federal prison last year for cocaine and weapons trafficking. Trial testimony said then President Hernández ordered his brother to accept a $1 million bribe on his behalf from the infamous Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán, known as El Chapo.

In another Honduran trafficker's case tried in New York, then President Hernández — listed in testimony as a co-conspirator — was alleged to have pocketed bribes to protect drug cartel operations from the police and military.

Hernández has long denied any ties to drug trafficking. But Menendez says U.S. officials deem the evidence against him credible. And he argues holding Hernández accountable is crucial in light of President Biden’s efforts to fight corruption and violence in Central America — and in turn mass migration from the region.

Narco-gang terror and deep poverty force tens of thousands of Hondurans to flee the country each year — making the country the largest source of asylum-seekers on the U.S. southern border.

Hernández isn't the only former Honduran president under U.S. scrutiny. Last year the State Department barred Porfirio Lobo, Hernández's predecessor and National Party mate, from entering the U.S., alleging he too had accepted cartel bribes.

Five years ago Lobo's son Fabio was sentenced to 24 years in prison in the U.S. for drug trafficking.

A State Department spokesperson said the allegations against Hernández are taken "very seriously" and that "combating corruption and narco-trafficking are at the center of the U.S. government’s commitment to addressing the root causes of irregular migration and improving conditions in the region."

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.