Fate has decreed that the first person former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández saw when he opened his door to surrender to police at noon on Tuesday was Security Minister Ramón Sabillón. Until a few weeks ago, Sabillon was another fugitive from justice who had served as police chief until 2016, when he fled the country for fear that Hernández’s men – whom he had labeled ‘state violence’ – don’t rule him and his family out for the part he played in bringing down cartel bosses and exposing his superiors for complicity in the drug trade. Sabillon went into exile with his family after being forcibly expelled under the shadow of charges ranging from theft to involvement in drug trafficking in an attempt to bring him down and prevent his return to Honduras.
However, the new era inaugurated by the coming to power of Xiomara Castro on January 27 allowed Sabillón to return to the country and the new president decided to make him the symbol of a new beginning. A few days later, Sabillón had the opportunity to remove a long-standing thorn in his side.
So when the door of the elegant residence in the Las Palmas de San Ignacio neighborhood in Tegucigalpa was opened, Sabillón approached Hernández and, without removing his face mask, said coldly: “We respect all your guarantees. . He put a bulletproof vest on the former president, put hand and foot cuffs on him – a humiliation normally reserved for gang members – and escorted him to a police station where he was presented to the waiting media.
After Castro was elected president and sworn in on January 27, Hernández’s freedom lasted exactly 18 days. It ended when the United States issued an extradition warrant for his alleged involvement in trafficking thousands of pounds of cocaine into the country. As Hernández was arrested on Tuesday, the police chief said fireworks and street parties spontaneously broke out in some neighborhoods of San Pedro Sula. In accordance with legal protocols, Hernández was brought before the Supreme Court of Justice at 10 a.m. Wednesday, where Judge Edwin Ortez Cruz was to decide on the next steps, including a possible challenge to the U.S. order. However, there is every reason to believe that Hernández will be extradited in the coming days thanks to a reform of Honduran law approved by his own administration.
The U.S. Embassy’s extradition request was sent to the Department of Foreign Affairs for transmission to the Supreme Court of Justice, which issued a warrant stating that Juan Orlando Hernández is wanted for trial in the United States for drug trafficking and firearms offences. U.S. prosecutors have called the case “state-sponsored drug trafficking,” given that Hernández was allegedly part of a “violent drug trafficking conspiracy” that smuggled approximately 500,000 pounds from Honduras to the United States.
Given the gravity of the charges, the operation to detain Hernández focused on his own safety. The former president spent his first night in solitary confinement, under close surveillance in a cell in the barracks of Los Cobras, the Honduran special forces. As for what Hernández can expect from here, experts believe will largely depend on the level of cooperation he offers the United States, but his sentence could be anywhere from 10 years to life imprisonment. . According to Salvador Nasralla, Castro’s vice president and avowed enemy of Hernández, the former president will likely negotiate with US authorities by offering to reveal smuggling routes used by cartels, front men and other figures involved in drug trafficking in an attempt to reduce his sentence.
While the level of Hernández’s alleged involvement in the cartels is under scrutiny, another former president will not sleep easy in the coming days: Porfirio Lobo Sosa, who was in power from 2010 to 2014. 14 pages sent to the Honduran Ministry of Foreign Affairs exposing the charges against Hernández also mention his predecessor, alleging that Hernández and Porfirio Lobo received huge sums of money from Amílcar Alexander Ardón Soriano, alias “Chande”, for their protection.
“In or around 2009, Hernández’s political ally, Porfirio Lobo Sosa, alias Pepe Lobo, launched a campaign to become president of Honduras. Around this time, Hernández and Lobo Sosa worked together to get around $2 million. [€1.76 milion] in the drug trafficking profits of Ardón Soriano, alias Chande, a former Honduran drug trafficker and at the time mayor of El Paraíso, a ranching town in the department of Copán,” the document states.
Ardón ultimately became key to the former president’s arrest, as he told a jury early in the trial of Hernández’s brother, Tony Hernández, that he had been present at a 2013 meeting during from which Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán donated $1 million (€880,000) in cash for Hernández’s presidential campaign. Ardón detailed various payments to politicians, including Lobo Sosa, which served to end a political dynasty of drug traffickers that extended to the highest echelons of the National Party of Honduras, which has ruled Honduras for the past few years. decades.
When Sabillon showed up on Hernández’s doorstep, it wasn’t hard to imagine he was one of the happiest men in the world at the time.