Monday, January 11, 2021

JOH accused of aiding drug traffickers, again (Jan. 11, 2021)

 New filings by U.S. federal prosecutors accuse Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández of aiding a drug trafficker to deliver tons of cocaine to the U.S. in exchange for hefty bribes. It is not the first time JOH has been implicated in a U.S. drug trafficking case, but the allegations are particularly explosive: The documents quote Hernández as saying he wanted to “shove the drugs right up the noses of the gringos by flooding the United States with cocaine." (Associated Press)

The filing alleges Hernández boasted of looting the country’s social security fund as well as U.S.-donated relief funds through fraudulent nongovernmental organizations, reports the Wall Street Journal. The filing alleges that Hernández accepted bribes while running for the presidency in 2013, and in exchange offered military support and the use of the country's armed forces "as security" for drug running operations, reports CNN.

The Honduran government denied the accusations yesterday, on the executive's official Twitter account. The government said the accusations are a revenge-motivated "smear campaign" by drug traffickers. (AFP)

Hernández is referred to in the filing as CC-4, or co-conspirator four, but is identified by his post and his relationship to his brother, Juan Antonio Hernández, who was convicted in the U.S. in 2019. During that trial JOH was accused of accepting more than one million dollars from the Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán – an accusation repeated in the new motions. JOH has not been charged and denies the accusations.

The claims underscore the difficult challenge posed by Honduras to the incoming U.S. Biden administration, according to the Wall Street Journal. Prosecutors wrote in the filing that the allegations of corruption illustrate a "broader criminal plan of the defendant, CC-4, CC-10, and others, to use drug trafficking to help assert power and control in Honduras."

News Briefs

  • Venezuela is savagely (albeit quietly) transitioning to a deregulated market, after year's of a state-run economy. Nonetheless, analysts say the "neoliberal" turn remains subject to government whim, and that the economy is deeply dysfunctional, reports the Financial Times.
  • Current criminal charges against women alleged abortions will be dropped in Argentina, after the country passed a landmark abortion legalization bill last month. While it's not clear how many women could be affected, arecent report – by Argentine human rights group CELS, abortion rights campaigners and San Martín University Centre – identified 1,532 abortion cases in the past eight years that could potentially be covered, reports the Guardian. Activists are now pushing for investigation into the cases of women who may have been prosecuted homicide in relation to abortions or obstetric complications.
  • Legalization could spur women from the region to seek abortions in Argentina, a trend that had already started among some Brazilian women before the Dec. 30 landmark law, reports the Associated Press.
  • Police operations in Rio de Janeiro have reportedly seized assets worth $150 million from militia groups in recent months, part of a push to seize control of legal businesses used by the criminal organizations to launder money, according to Insight Crime. Militia groups' control in Rio is such that they have developed complex criminal economies throughout the city, and residents in certain neighborhoods are often forced to rely on the militias to access essential services.
  • International pressure has not succeeded in deterring Brazilian deforestation -- which hit a 12-year high in 2020 -- but there is hope that the incoming U.S. Biden administration could help coax Brazil to implement better environmental policies, argues Oliver Stuenkel in Americas Quarterly.
  • Brazil passed 200,000 coronavirus deaths last week, the world’s second highest death toll, behind the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University’s database. The number contrasts with the holiday season's explosion of celebrations, reports the Associated Press.
  • Several Brazilian activists have begun online shaming Brazilians who party on as the country's Covid-19  epidemic again spirals out of control -- #Covidfest. (Guardian)
  • Brazil's government agreed to buy up to 100 million doses of China’s Sinovac coronavirus vaccine, despite President Jair Bolsonaro's earlier criticism of the Chinese initiative. The vaccine has been tested by a Brazilian state research center and has emerged as one of Brazil’s best bets to fight a pandemic, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • End-of-year celebrations have added to the Covid-19 toll in the region, and intensive care units at major hospitals in Peru and Bolivia are at capacity or near collapse, reports Reuters. In Mexico City, 89% of general hospital beds and 84% of hospital beds with ventilators are now filled, while the same is true for 82% of general hospital beds and 79% of beds with ventilators in the State of Mexico, reports Reuters separately.
Costa Rica
  • Costa Rica is reeling from the financially crushing side effects of the coronavirus, one of many heavily leveraged nations around the world in an economic danger zone due to the pandemic, reports the Washington Post. The country's social crisis is pushing officials to consider desperate solutions — including open-pit gold mining, even oceanic fracking.
El Salvador
  • El Salvador's government ignored public agency warnings against buying Chinese face masks -- ultimately half of the1.5 million masks purchased last year in midst of the pandemic were not medical grade, and the other half were never delivered, reports El Faro.
  • It is just one of several Covid-19 spending corruption scandals that threaten President Nayib Bukele's popularity ahead of next month's key legislative elections, according to World Politics Review. In recent months, journalists, prosecutors and opposition lawmakers have uncovered evidence of misallocated funds, bloated procurement contracts and other financial impropriety. The scandals have even implicated senior government officials.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's offer to grant asylum to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in the name of protecting a journalist puts the leader on a collision course with the U.S. It's also frustrating for Mexican press advocates, given that Mexico is one of the most dangerous places in the world for reporters, and the government has done little to improve conditions, argues Guillermo Osorno in a New York Time Español op-ed. (See last Tuesday's briefs.)
  • Covid-19 has taken an outsize toll on Mexico's poorly paid health-care workers, pushed by economic necessity to take on extra shifts, with concomitant risk to their health, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Suriname's vice president Ronnie Brunswijk has a turbulent past: he's been an elite paratrooper, a soccer player, a wanted bank robber, a guerrilla leader, a gold baron and a father to at least 50 children. Now he wants to be known as the man who will spread the country’s newfound oil wealth equitably -- New York Times Saturday Profile.
  • Uruguay is one of the most progressive Latin American countries when it comes to trans rights issues, a two-year-old law allows minors to petition to change their gender with a parent's or guardian's support -- AFP.
  • Labor initiatives aimed at reducing recidivism in Latin American women's prisons help with conditions within detention centers, but former inmates face significant challenges finding employment upon release, reports InSight Crime. According to the Washington Office on Latin American Affairs (WOLA), “once [the women] have served their sentences and are released, their criminal records make it harder to find a decent and legal job, which can perpetuate the vicious cycle of social exclusion and incarceration.”
  • In ¡Populista! Will Grant traces the rise (and fall) of several “pink wave” leftwing populist leaders in Latin America from 1999 to 2016: Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva, Evo Morales, Rafael Correa, Daniel Ortega, Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro. "English-language media often resorted to lazy generalizations about these leaders, and Grant goes to great lengths, drawing from more than a decade reporting on Latin America, to make clear the differences in political ecologies and how each was the product of his own society," according to the Guardian's review.

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...  

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