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Honduran high court OKs Hernández extradition in boost to Biden's Central America project

Elmer Martinez
Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez in handcuffs and chains in Tegucigalpa last month after the U.S. requested his extradition on drug-trafficking and weapons charges.

Honduras' decision to send ex-President Juan Orlando Hernández to the U.S. on drug charges may help reduce corruption in — and illegal migration from — the region.

The Honduran Supreme Court has OK’d the extradition of former President Juan Orlando Hernández to the U.S. to face drug charges — a decision that's likely a big boost to President Biden’s efforts to reduce illegal immigration from Central America.

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It took just six weeks for Honduras’ high court to approve Hernández's extradition late Monday after the U.S. requested it last month. Hernández left office in January after eight years as president.

During that time, the authoritarian right-wing leader's name frequently appeared in U.S. court documents as a drug-trafficking “co-conspirator.” He allegedly demanded million-dollar bribes from narco-kingpins like Mexico’s infamous “El Chapo.”

Hernández denies the charges, which include weapons trafficking. But his brother Tony is now serving time in a U.S. prison for cocaine trafficking.

Hernández’s extradition could have a broader effect. One of President Biden’s chief foreign policy projects is reducing criminal corruption in Central America’s violent and impoverished Northern Triangle — El Salvador, Guatemala and especially Honduras.

That corruption, and the ubiquitous drug-gang violence it encourages, is a major driver of migration and the crisis on the U.S. southern border. Many of those migrants end up in Florida.

Sending a former president to the U.S. to face narco-charges may send a stronger signal to Northern Triangle political and business leaders that they’re more legally vulnerable now.

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