Juan Antonio Hernandez, a 40-year-old former ruling party lawmaker and brother of the Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez, was arrested in Miami’s airport Friday on drug trafficking charges, as reported by local media and confirmed by the Honduran government.
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To avoid being linked to his brother’s wrongdoings, President Hernandez offered a press conference in his hometown of Gracias, western Honduras, stating that every individual is “responsible for his own actions” and that his government would “fight against corruption and crime without distinctions.” The statement also pointed out that in 2016, amid increasing rumors of his brother’s involvement in drug trafficking to the U.S., the president declared publicly that “no one is above the law.”
The president's brother is the latest in a string of prominent Hondurans, including three congressmen, who have been charged in the United States for involvement with drug trafficking.
"This is a heavy blow for the whole family," said the president. "I hope the justice system gives him the room to defend himself, and as a family, we will do what we can to support him."
In 2017, the discharged Captain Santos Orellana said he and Hernandez were being accused by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of plotting with drug kingpin Wilter Blanco to kill U.S. Ambassador in Tegucigalpa James Nealon. They both denied the accusations and the then captain declared he feared for his life and the security of his family, even asking the human rights commission for protection.
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“I was forced to testify against Tony Hernandez and Wilter Blanco for planning an attack against the U.S. ambassador,” said Orellana in an interview.
At that time, Hernandez said that he made an appearance at a court in Miami to personally verify there were no legal actions being made against him.
Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, a former drug-lord now in custody, declared in 2017 at a court in New York to have bribed Hernandez in exchange for cooperation, when he was a member of the congress. His cartel, known as ‘Los Cachiros,’ is accused of trafficking tons of cocaine into the U.S. before being dismantled by the DEA.
Rivera mentioned Hernandez during testimony against Fabio Lobo, brother of the ex-president Porfirio Lobo, sentenced to 24 years in prison for collaborating with the cartel. He also accused the government of using the cartel’s money laundering services through a company called Inrimar.
Last year, one of Lobo's sons pleaded guilty before a U.S. court for conspiring to import cocaine into the United States and was sentenced to 24 years in prison.
The Honduran president, a conservative lawyer who came to power in 2014, has reined in homicides with a tough policy against drug cartels and street gangs, a stance that has been supported by the United States and criticized by human rights groups.