February 23, 2022 3:30 pm
The images of the former president of Honduras Juan Orlando Hernández in handcuffs and surrounded by dozens of policemen will remain the indelible symbol of the end of a man who believed he could deceive everyone and forever, who put the Honduran state at the service of drug trafficking and who has done everything to stay in power.
No wonder his arrest, which took place in Tegucigalpa on February 15, or his more than likely extradition to the United States, where he will face drug trafficking charges before the same court that sentenced his brother and many of his old partners. Hernández was arrested much sooner than some of us would have expected: until a few weeks ago he was still president of the country and apparently had such tight control over the system that his peaceful removal from power (this time without tricks) and the passage unresponsive deliveries to his political rivals seemed part of a plan to save his own skin.
After all, if Hernández falls, many can fall with him. In a narcostat – and Honduras is – the hard part is finding someone who can throw the first stone.
Many Hondurans are celebrating the arrest of a president who had distributed the national territory among the members as if it were his property and who replaced the weak state institutions with criminality. So there are very good reasons to rejoice and in fact thousands of people are doing it.
But there is one aspect of this story that nobody wants to see, because it is uncomfortable and could ruin the party: if, as expected, Hernández’s arrest in Honduran territory leads to an extradition to the United States, we will find ourselves. in the face of a legal contradiction, moreover common in the region. The United States accuses him of drug trafficking, a crime that, if confirmed, the former president would have committed in Honduran territory and with the complicity of other authorities in the country. In short, Hernández should be tried for drug trafficking and other possible corruption charges, first of all in his own country.
They all conspired with Hernández during the eight years of his mandate and are his accomplices
Honduras will not try him, because it does not have the political or judicial capacity to organize an independent trial against a figure of this magnitude. His conviction would have repercussions on the top of the army and the police, on former public officials, large entrepreneurs, mayors and parliamentarians. They all conspired with Hernández during his eight years in office and are accomplices of him. Some have been called into question in New York and others, including the son of former president Porfirio Lobo and the brother of Juan Orlando Hernández, are already in prison. Former President Manuel Zelaya, now the husband of President Xiomara Castro, was also called into question.
Honduras is a drug trafficker: not just a place where many live from drug trafficking, but a country where institutions act on the basis of crime. Juan Orlando Hernández has fallen, but the same cannot be said for the others who have benefited from this system. It is unimaginable that a trial with high standards and guarantees can be held in Honduras when the stakes are so high for the most powerful people in the country. The United States wants the former president, and the former president will be extradited.
The principle of equality in diplomatic relations and international agreements, including extradition, exists only on paper
Perhaps it is right that someone (even if it is the United States) punish the thieves, looters and liars who have caused so much damage to Central Americans. Unfortunately today it does not seem that there are others capable of doing justice for us. But our aspirations should be different.
Hernández will be tried by the authorities of the same country that protected him for eight years, which helped him stay in power even when it meant violating the Honduran constitution, when he was already under investigation for drug trafficking and was known to run one of the networks. biggest criminals on the continent. Not only that: a former president of a sovereign country will be tried in another country, the United States, which does not allow any foreign court to try its own former officials (hello, Mr. Kissinger) and who did not even want to be part of the International Criminal Court. In short: Honduras has accepted that the United States put a former Honduran president on trial, when Honduras could not try a former US official. The principle of equality in diplomatic relations and international agreements, including extradition, exists only on paper.
There is a paradox that seems unsolvable: if it is not desirable that they be tried there and if they cannot be tried here, how can we get justice? How can we punish in an exemplary way the various Central American Hernándezes so that those who come after them think twice before imitating them? The only possible answer is the international community. The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Cicig) has already done so: it helped clean up the judicial system and dismantle criminal and corrupt networks in Guatemala, leading to the arrest and trial of businessmen and officials, including President Otto Pérez Molina when he was still in office.
This is why in 2019 the corrupt Guatemalan state expelled Cicig. This is why Juan Orlando Hernández authorized the creation of the Mission to support the fight against corruption and impunity in Honduras (Maccih) not under the aegis of the UN but of the Organization of American States (Oea), which has less power , and then dismantled it; this is why Salvadoran leader Nayib Bukele agreed to set up the commission of inquiry against corruption and impunity with the OEA, but dismantled it even if the results were poor.
We must insist on the need to expand the presence of the international community, otherwise we will remain at the mercy of local impunity or the political will of the United States, an eventuality to be avoided even when their interests coincide with our needs, as in the case of arrest. by Hernández. Ultimately, the United States was complicit in building a militarized, authoritarian state that violated human rights.
But there is another element even more important: the other Central American presidents similar to Hernández (Daniel Ortega, Nayib Bukele and Alejandro Giammattei) are following events in Honduras closely. They are probably thinking that the best way to avoid such a fate is to stay in power, because Hernández fell out of favor when he left the presidency. In this too, Guatemala offers a great lesson: only Cicig has been able to put an incumbent president on the ropes, with the support and agreement of the entire international community. To do something like this, however, would take too long, and it is clear that today there is a lack of political will.
For now we will have to settle for US-style justice and, in any case, celebrate: a people who have been abused and have been hit and looted will see one of the perpetrators before a court.
(Translation by Francesca Rossetti)
This article appeared in the Faro, an independent Salvadoran news site.
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