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Brother of Honduran President Is Arrested for Cocaine Trafficking as Migrants Flee Violent Drug War

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The brother of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández has been arrested in the United States for drug trafficking and weapons offenses. Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman accused Tony Hernández of being “involved in all stages of the trafficking through Honduras of multi-ton loads of cocaine that were destined for the U.S.” Hernández is also accused of providing heavily armed security for cocaine shipments transported within Honduras, including by members of the Honduran National Police and drug traffickers. We speak with Dana Frank, professor emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her new book is titled “The Long Honduran Night: Resistance , Terror, and the United States in the Aftermath of the Coup.”

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: As the United States continues to face criticism for tear-gassing asylum seekers on the U.S.-Mexico border, we turn now to look at the crisis in Honduras and why so many Hondurans are fleeing their homeland. Honduras has become one of the most violent countries in the world because of the devastating drug war and a political crisis that stems in part from a U.S.-backed 2009 coup.

In a major development, the brother of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández was recently charged in the United States for drug trafficking and weapons offenses. Tony Hernández was arrested in Miami on Friday. Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman accused Tony Hernández of being, quote, “involved in all stages of the trafficking through Honduras of multi-ton loads of cocaine that were destined for the U.S.” Hernández is also accused of providing heavily armed security for cocaine shipments transported within Honduras, including by members of the Honduran National Police and drug traffickers. Tony Hernández reportedly ran cocaine labs in Honduras and Colombia, where he stamped packets of drugs with his initials, “TH.”

The arrest of Hernández comes a year after a U.S. judge sentenced the son of the former Honduran president, Porfirio Lobo, to 24 years in prison for conspiring to import cocaine into the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, in other news, Honduran police opened fire on protesters earlier this week, marking the first anniversary of last year’s disputed election that kept Juan Orlando Hernández in power despite calls by the Organization of American States to redo the vote. Honduras has been in a political crisis for nearly a decade following the U.S.-backed coup that ousted democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya in 2009. Since then, right-wing forces have led a campaign targeting activists in Honduras, including the prominent activist Berta Cáceres, who was gunned down in 2016 in her home in La Esperanza, Honduras. Eight men are currently on trial for involvement in her murder. A verdict could come as early as today.

To talk more about Honduras and why so many migrants are fleeing the country, we’re joined by Dana Frank, professor emerita of the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her new book is just out. It’s titled The Long Honduran Night: Resistance, Terror, and the United States in the Aftermath of the Coup. She recently wrote a piece for Jacobin headlined “In Honduras, ’We’re Supporting the Axe Murderers.’”

Professor Frank, thanks so much for being with us. Why don’t you start off by talking about the significance of the current president, a highly contested race that many considered fraught with irregularities, the current president’s brother arrested in Miami for drug trafficking?

DANA FRANK: Well, we’ve known for a long time—two years now—that Juan Orlando’s brother Tony was involved in drug trafficking. He was in fact named in U.S. federal court two years ago. And we know that there are drug traffickers from top to bottom in the Honduran government. So, for Hondurans, this is no surprise. What’s important is that he actually was arrested and is going to be presumably brought to justice.

What this signals, though, is what people call an outsourcing of the criminal justice system. Why was he not brought to justice in the United—excuse me, why was he not brought to justice in Honduras? It shows that there’s complete breakdown of the Honduran criminal justice system that this man wasn’t brought to justice a long time ago in Honduras.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Dana Frank, according to the federal indictment, the authorities actually have videotape and audio recordings of Tony Hernández receiving a $50,000 payment from drug dealers for his work on their behalf. Is it conceivable that all of this occurred and the brother of Tony Hernández, the current president, knew nothing about it?

DANA FRANK: No. And, of course, there’s also testimony where people have said that Juan Orlando himself is involved in drug trafficking. There’s evidence about his sister, who died in a helicopter accident a year ago, was involved in drug trafficking. So, this is not just an isolated incident. We have evidence of drug traffickers top to bottom throughout the Honduran government, including in the current Congress.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think it’s fair to say Honduras is coming close to a narco-state?

DANA FRANK: Well, you know, I think that it’s a narco-state. I mean, I guess it depends on your definition of a narco-state. Certainly, it’s not like you can say, “Here’s the Honduran government fighting the good fight against drug traffickers.” That doesn’t work—there’s a lot of people who say, “Well, we’ll pour this money into the Honduran security forces, and they’ll fight drug trafficking”—because the Honduran military is very much involved in drug trafficking, as well. And so, it’s certainly infiltrated with drug traffickers from top to bottom.

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“It Is Not a Natural Disaster”: Dana Frank on How U.S.-Backed Coup in Honduras Fueled Migrant Crisis

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