Honduras' president at U.N. denies ties to drug trafficking

·2 min read
Honduras' President Juan Orlando Hernandez Alvarado addresses the General Debate during the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021, at UN headquarters. (Eduardo Munoz/Pool Photo via AP)

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — In a bizarre speech to the UN General Assembly, Honduras’ president defended his crimefighting chops and hinted that convicted drug traffickers testifying against him in the U.S. were doing so in exchange for favorable treatment.

President Juan Orlando Hernández touted his nation’s falling homicides rates in recent years and crackdown on organized crime, as well his government's collaboration with the D.E.A., F.B.I., U.S. Justice department, and U.S. Southern Command. He also highlighted the surreptitious recording of drug traffickers following his 2013 election, that he said was worthy of the Netflix show “Narcos” and proved he was not in cahoots with them.

“Speaking among themselves, they described their reality: the narcos complain in those recordings that despite their efforts they couldn’t arrange anything with me; that I’m not someone with whom they can work nor negotiate,” he said. “On the contrary, they know I would be implacable with organized crime. They even discuss how to try to kill me.”

The nearly half-hour address in New York marked the first time since his brother's sentencing that Hernández addressed allegations in a global forum that he took bribes from drug traffickers.

His brother, a former Honduran congressman, was sentenced to life in prison in a Manhattan federal court in March after prosecutors argued Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández was a central figure in one of the world’s largest and most violent drug conspiracies.

U.S. prosecutors in New York have signaled the president took bribes from drug traffickers to fund his political ascent, including as recently as 2019, but he has not been formally charged.

The president has denied any wrongdoing or having any ties to drug traffickers. And in July, when the U.S. State Department released a list of 50 current and former Central American officials suspected of corruption or undermining democracy, Hernández’s name was not among them.

Hernández told assembled diplomats at the U.N. that the drug traffickers, when first arrested by U.S. authorities, mentioned no connection with him, but later testified to the contrary. While he didn't say outright that prosecutors had offered them benefits in exchange for their testimony, Hernández questioned whether they might receive favorable treatment for changing their stories.

“If perjury is recompensed by the United States, if criminals have impunity to use false testimony in the federal court of the United States, that puts dangerous weapons in the hands of a mortal enemy – confessed assassins – weapons to be used against the people most effective in the alliance against transnational crime,” he said.

Hernández said he had worked with President Joe Biden when he was vice president, and expressed hope that U.S. authorities ultimately wouldn’t reward perjury.

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