Ex-President Made Honduras a Safe Haven for Drug Gangs, Prosecutors Say

Brick after brick of cocaine flowed for years into the United States from countries like Venezuela and Colombia, all of it funneled through the tiny Central American nation of Honduras.

Aircraft flown from clandestine dirt airstrips and smuggler vessels disguised as fishing trawlers found a safe haven there, U.S. officials said. And the ruthless gangs that operated them, the officials said, had a partner and protector in the country’s two-term president, Juan Orlando Hernández.

Opening arguments in Mr. Hernández’s trial on conspiracy to import narcotics are scheduled for Wednesday in Federal District Court in Manhattan. He is accused of taking part in a scheme that lasted more than 20 years and brought more than 500 kilograms of cocaine into the United States.

Mr. Hernández used proceeds to finance his presidential campaigns, U.S. officials said, then directed the Honduran police and military to protect the smugglers who paid him off. One accused co-conspirator was killed in a Honduran prison as part of an effort to protect Mr. Hernández, according to an indictment.

When he was extradited to New York in 2022, U.S. officials said Mr. Hernández sanctioned violence and reveled in his ability to flood America with cocaine. The former president’s brother was said to have told a trafficker that Mr. Hernández was going to “stuff the drugs right up the noses of the gringos.”

That brother, Tony Hernández, who had served in the Honduran Congress, was convicted in 2019 of conspiring to import cocaine into the United States and sentenced to life imprisonment.

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