Ex-Honduran president sentenced to 45 years for trafficking drugs to U.S.


NEW YORK — Former Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández was sentenced by a U.S. judge on Wednesday to 45 years in a federal prison and an $8 million fine for running his Central American country as a “narco-state” that formed a critical passageway for South American cocaine flowing to the United States.

Hernández, 55, who was convicted of federal drug and weapons charges in March, built his political career on millions of dollars in bribes from traffickers in Honduras and Mexico, U.S. prosecutors said. During his two terms as president from 2014 to 2022, they said, he protected key traffickers from extradition and prosecution. He allegedly helped move at least 400 tons of cocaine to the United States.

During his presidency, the U.S. government portrayed him as an ally. In 2015, then-vice president Joe Biden hosted him at the White House. In December 2019, then-president Donald Trump praised him for his cooperation, saying the countries were “stopping drugs at a level that has never happened.”

But the Justice Department was investigating him as part of a broader probe into drug trafficking allegations against the Honduran political elite. His brother, Tony Hernández, was convicted of federal drug trafficking charges in 2019 and sentenced to life in prison. Prosecutors named Juan Orlando Hernández an unindicted co-conspirator in that case.

At the request of the United States, Honduran police arrested Hernández within weeks of his departure from office in January 2022, and he was extradited to face federal charges in New York.

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His prosecution has raised questions about whether the U.S. government ignored his alleged criminal activities as they sought his help in slowing migration toward the southwest border.

Former U.S. diplomats have denied that. They’ve said the case illustrates Washington’s bureaucratic dysfunction: State Department officials were left in the dark about the Justice Department investigation.

Hernández has maintained his innocence. He has accused jailed drug dealers of giving false testimony against him in exchange for reduced sentences; he is expected to appeal.

“Mr. Hernández did more to combat narcotrafficking in Honduras than any Honduran President before or since,” his lawyer, Renato Stabile, wrote in a request for the mandatory minimum sentence, 40 years in jail.

Federal prosecutors had requested a life sentence.

“As a direct result of the defendant’s crimes, Honduras became one of the world’s largest transshipment points for United States-bound cocaine and one of the most violent places in the world,” they said in their written submission.

Hernández’s conservative National Party assumed the presidency of the country of 10 million in 2009 after leftist president Mel Zelaya was toppled in a coup. But the party was weakened by corruption and drug-trafficking scandals. It lost the presidency in 2021 — to Zelaya’s wife, Xiomara Castro.



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