While visiting Honduras this year, acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf called President Juan Orlando Hernández “a valued and proven partner” for “promoting security” in Central America.
So forgive me if I looked a tad confused this week when U.S. prosecutors in New York alleged that seven years ago a Honduran drug kingpin bribed Hernández, then a presidential candidate, to protect his cocaine business if Hernández were elected.
That’s not just mixed signals from the Trump Administration. That’s two federal freight trains colliding at a railroad junction. And it raises equally loud doubts about two of President Trump’s core re-election planks: reducing immigration and – especially important in South Florida – confronting authoritarian Latin American leaders who are a security threat to the U.S.
According to the feds in Manhattan, Hernández is not a security promoter; he’s a coke accomplice. In a federal trial in New York last fall, his brother and former Honduran congressman Tony Hernández was found guilty of cocaine trafficking and weapons smuggling. President Hernández was implicated (but not charged) as a co-conspirator, or "CC-4." (He denies any links to narcos.)
Cartel witnesses told of funneling millions of dollars to his presidential campaign via Tony. Now the feds say another alleged Honduran gangster, Geovanny Fuentes, directly paid then candidate Juan Orlando Hernández $25,000 in 2013 for a promise to keep cops away from his cocaine laboratory near Puerto Cortés on Honduras’ Caribbean coast. Fuentes was arrested this week at Miami International Airport and charged with importing coke and guns into the U.S.
U.S. prosecutors say Juan Orlando Hernández at the time “expressed interest in access to [Fuentes’] cocaine laboratory because of its proximity to a major commercial shipping port, agreed to facilitate the use of Honduran armed forces personnel as security for [Fuentes’] drug trafficking activities, and instructed [Fuentes] to report directly to [Tony] Hernández for subsequent drug trafficking activities.”
Let that second item sink in – that Juan Orlando Hernández allegedly agreed to lend out Honduran soldiers to a narco-posse. I really want to believe that when acting Secretary Wolf read that part of the feds’ statement this week, he blanched. I hope he then called the White House to suggest not only that President Hernández actually ain’t a “proven” security partner – but that he’s also a potential political liability for Trump (since that argument will catch Trump’s attention.)
I'd urge Wolf to remind the West Wing that President Hernández’s 2013 campaign – by his own admission, though he denies knowing about it – also pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars in embezzled health care funds. (Repeat: health care funds.) And that, after trashing Honduras’ constitution to allow presidential re-election, he won a second term two years ago in balloting so fraudulent the Organization of American States called for a new vote.
In other words, I hope Wolf – or someone, anyone in the Trump Administration – finds the fortitude to admit President Hernández is just a right-wing version of the corrupt, authoritarian, left-wing security threats the Trump Administration has made a point of squeezing in places like Venezuela.
And if that doesn’t work, perhaps he can point out that coddling President Hernández is actually creating more illegal immigration pressure from Honduras – not less.
After all, Trump has been giving President Hernández a pass because last year the Honduran leader agreed to let his country become a holding pen for migrants seeking U.S. asylum. It was a win for Trump’s draconian anti-immigration agenda because it’s reduced the flow of asylum-seekers on the U.S. border – for now.
But will that last until November? Or will the deal’s illogical nature be exposed because President Hernández’s venal rule is actually driving more Hondurans to leave – which could lead to yet another tsunami of migrants at the U.S. border?
Consider that when President Hernández took office in 2014, the driving force behind mass migration from Honduras – its drug gang-fueled murder rate, then the world’s highest – was dropping. Today it’s back up – in no small part because those narcos, like Geovanny Fuentes, feel more emboldened under his government. Other migration engines like poverty – more than two-thirds of Hondurans live in it – are also ticking upward.
Not surprisingly, in the past couple months so is the number of so-called migrant caravans forming in Honduras.
So if U.S. praise for President Hernández keeps ringing out, Trump should hope another Honduran migrant crisis doesn’t break out in the next eight months. This time it could be U.S. voters as well as U.S. prosecutors slamming his train-wreck judgment in Central America.
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