Wednesday, March 10, 2021

JOH accused of protecting drug traffickers (March 10, 2021)

 The trial of alleged Honduran drug-trafficker Geovanny Fuentes Ramírez, whose case implicates Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández and other high-ranking officials, started in the U.S. this week. Fuentes has pleaded “not guilty” to charges of conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the United States and related weapons charges. 

But much of the evidence in the case involves Hernández, known as JOH, who prosecutors said helped Fuentes Ramírez’s drug-trafficking along with other high-ranking officials, reports the Associated Press. U.S. federal prosecutors accused Hernández, who has been president since 2014, of using Honduran law enforcement and military officials to protect drug traffickers, reports Al Jazeera. Hernández maintains his innocence.

In January, U.S. prosecutors filed motions in the Fuentes Ramírez case, saying that JOH took bribes from drug traffickers and had the country’s armed forces protect a cocaine laboratory and shipments to the United States. The documents say JOH — identified as “Co-conspirator 4" — expressed a desire to “‘shove the drugs right up the noses of the gringos’ by flooding the United States with cocaine.” (See Jan. 11's post.)

According to prosecutors in the case this week, Hernández told Fuentes that his fight against drug trafficking was a bluff and that he planned to get rid of the extradition policy and swamp the United States with cocaine. The president allegedly also said he was embezzling aid money from the United States using fraudulent organizations, and siphoning money from the country’s Social Security system, according to the documents.

Journalist Jeff Ernst is covering the details of the Fuentes trial on Twitter -- including incriminating photographs linking Fuentes' family members to JOH.

Hernández is a key United States ally in the region, and the investigation could jeopardize the bilateral relationship and complicate the U.S. Biden administration’s efforts to invest $4 billion in Central America to address violence and corruption, reduce poverty and bolster the rule of law in an effort to stem migration to the United States, reports the New York Times.

JOH has also been implicated in other recent criminal prosecutions, including the conviction of his brother in 2019 in Federal District Court in Manhattan on cocaine trafficking charges, as well as a recent criminal complaint against a former Honduran police chief.

The Fuentes Ramírez case could also impact presidential primaries taking place in Honduras this month ahead of November’s election, according to Al Jazeera.

News Briefs

Regional Relations
  • The U.S. administration is fine-tuning its plans for $4 billion in aid to Central America. Roberta Jacobson, President Joe Biden's senior official for southwest border affairs and an expert on immigration, told the Los Angeles Times that the government will sharply limit how much money will go directly to the governments of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. 
  • Biden plans to ensure that as little aid as possible goes to the notoriously corrupt central governments of the three countries until he is satisfied criteria are met, according to Jacobson. Greater amounts will go to nongovernmental organizations and programs for single mothers, youth training and similar groups, “so that in the end, you are strengthening the societies and not enriching these governments.”
  • The Biden administration is reviewing its predecessor's last-minute decision to designate Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism. But a broader Cuba policy shift is not currently among Biden’s top priorities White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said yesterday. (Reuters)
  • More than 11,000 people have been displaced from their homes by fighting between Colombian armed groups so far in 2021 - equivalent to seven people every hour - according to Colombia's human rights ombudsman Carlos Camargo. "There were 16 urban mass displacements events and 14 rural mass displacements events which affected a total of 4,062 families, 11,150 people. 90% (of those displaced) belong to ethnic communities from the Colombian Pacific," he said in a statement. (Reuters)
  • Activists are warning of a looming humanitarian crisis on the border between Chile and Bolivia as growing numbers of migrants brave the harsh terrain of the Chilean altiplano to cross the frontier on foot. Chilean authorities have reported a surge in irregular crossings, mostly caused by Venezuelan migrants fleeing economic instability and political turmoil at home, reports the Guardian.
  • Brazil broke its record for new daily Covid-19 deaths yesterday, 1,972. The figure has been rising steadily over the past two weeks. (AFP)
  • Cuban health authorities reported 1,041 new Covid-19 contagions, the second highest figure during almost a year of pandemic. (EFE)
  • Paraguay declared a health "red alert" amid an increase in coronavirus cases. (Infobae)
  • Women in Venezuela have been forced to dubious online markets for abortion drugs, which are illegal, in the midst of widespread shortages of common birth control methods, which are inaccessible to nearly 90% of the population. (Guardian)
  • Legislation pushed by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador would curtail private investors in the energy industry and possibly reverse gains in lowering carbon emissions, reports the New York Times.
  • Two special committees of Mexico’s Lower House of Congress approved a draft bill to decriminalize marijuana and sent it on to the full chamber, this week. The bill easily passed the Senate in a November vote in November and would create a huge new legal market for marijuana, reports Reuters.
  • The U.S. Biden administration wants Lopez Obrador's government to focus more on money laundering. That's something AMLO promised in his campaign but has yet to deliver, according to the Latin America Risk Report.
  • Officials at the International Monetary Fund see some benefit in delaying a $45 billion loan agreement  renegotiation with Argentina until after the country's midterm election in October, according to Bloomberg. Sources say the IMF believes Argentina could take more ownership and make bigger policy commitments once the pressure of a key legislative vote is off.
  • OECD countries and their dependencies are responsible for 68 per cent of the world’s corporate tax abuse, according to this year's Corporate Tax Haven Index. The index documents the ways in which global corporate tax rules set by the OECD failed to detect and prevent corporate tax abuse enabled by the OECD’s own member countries – and in some cases, pushed countries to roll back their tax transparency. (Tax Justice Network, h/t Primera Mañana)
  • Countries graded by the OECD as “not harmful” are responsible for 98% of the world’s corporate tax abuses risks, the report said, adding that the UN should take over the role of fostering global tax rules. (Guardian)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... Latin America Daily Briefing

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