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Ex-Honduran President Hernández is extradited to the U.S. on drug charges

Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández (center) is taken in handcuffs to a waiting aircraft as he is extradited to the United States, at an Air Force base in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on Thursday.
Elmer Martinez
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AP
Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández (center) is taken in handcuffs to a waiting aircraft as he is extradited to the United States, at an Air Force base in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on Thursday.

Updated April 21, 2022 at 5:58 PM ET

ANTIGUA, Guatemala — A disgraced former Honduran president was extradited to the U.S. on Thursday to face drug and arms charges.

A handcuffed Juan Orlando Hernández, the once powerful former president, boarded an airplane with agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to face legal proceedings in New York City.

Hernández's transport via helicopter under heavy guard, from the police base where he was held to the airport, was covered live by local television outlets, The Associated Press reported. Some Hondurans stood outside the airport fence to watch the former president board his plane. When it took off, some were seen jumping in celebration.

It has been a spectacular fall from grace for a leader who was once one of the United States' strongest allies in Central America. Hernández served as president for eight years — a time most Hondurans recall for its government oppression and corruption. He left office in January after eight years.

It wasn't until Hernández's brother Tony, a former Honduran congressman, was arrested in the U.S. on drug charges that the former president's history as the director of a narcostate was scrutinized more seriously. Tony Hernández was given a life sentence for cocaine trafficking in 2021.

On Nov. 1, 2021, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández delivers his national statement during day two of the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.
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Juan Orlando Hernández served as Honduras' president for eight years — a time most Hondurans recall for its government oppression and corruption. Here, the former president delivers a statement during the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, on Nov. 1.

U.S. prosecutors accuse the pair of facilitating an international drug network that moved hundreds of tons of cocaine from Venezuela and Colombia, via Honduras, to the U.S.

Prosecutors say they took in millions of dollars from drug cartels, including from notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, and allege Hernández used the money to finance his political campaigns and engaged in voter fraud in the 2013 and 2017 Honduran presidential elections.

"In return, drug traffickers in Honduras were allowed to operate with virtual impunity," U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said Thursday. "We allege that Hernández corrupted legitimate public institutions in the country — including parts of the national police, military and national Congress."

Hernández has repeatedly denied the allegations, saying he's the victim of drug traffickers that his government prosecuted.

"Drug trafficking fuels violent crime and addiction; it devastates families, and it ravages communities," Garland said. "The Justice Department is committed to disrupting the entire ecosystem of drug trafficking networks that harm the American people, no matter how far or how high we must go."

Current President Iris Xiomara Castro won elections last November. She accused Hernández of turning Honduras into a "narco-dictatorship" and pledged to overhaul corruption, which has reportedly led to a mass migration of citizens to the United States.

However, Castro has already been accused of favoritism herself, appointing several family members to serve in her government. Her allies in Honduras' National Congress also passed a law that would effectively grant immunity to members of the administration of her husband, former President Manuel Zelaya.

Last year, it was reported that Hondurans represented the largest nationality crossing the southern U.S. border asking for asylum — more than 200 families a day, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. In addition to poverty and corruption, two hurricanes in 2020, Eta and Iota, were particularly destructive for Honduras. The White House plans to spend $4 billion over four years in the region.

This report includes material from The Associated Press.

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