Tuesday, February 15, 2022

U.S. requests JOH extradition (Feb. 15, 2022)

The United States has asked Honduras to arrest former president Juan Orlando Hernández for his eventual extradition to the U.S., yesterday. National Police and soldiers surrounded the neighborhood around Hernández’s home last night. The Supreme Court is scheduled to meet this morning to choose a judge to consider the extradition request, reports the Associated Press.

There has been widespread speculation over whether Hernández would be charged after finishing his term last month, as U.S. prosecutors repeatedly implicated him in his brother’s 2019 drug trafficking trial, alleging that his political rise was fueled by drug profits. His younger brother, former congressman Juan Antonio ‘Tony’ Hernández was convicted of drug trafficking and related weapons charges and is now serving a life sentence in prison. Hernández was also named as a co-conspirator in two other cases in New York. Honduras changed its constitution in 2012 — while Hernández was president of the congress — to allow the extradition of Hondurans facing drug trafficking charges. (UnivisiónProcesoCriterio)

Hernández's lawyers argue that the former president has a certain level of immunity from prosecution as a representative to the Central American Parliament (Parlacen). But that point is disputed by other experts, Luis Javier Santos, Honduras' best known anti-corruption prosecutor, said on Twitter that "there is no impediment to his extradition." (Reuters)

In an early morning message on social media Hernández said he was willing to collaborate with the judge the Supreme Court assigns to the case. Criterio reports that Honduras' foreign ministry has sought preventive detention for Hernández due to fear that he could escape.

Until he left office on January 27 after two-terms as president, Hernández had been protected from prosecution by a Department of Justice policy to not indict sitting heads of state, notes Univisión. The existence of an extradition request means that an indictment has been filed in a U.S. court against that person. In a diplomatic note to the Honduran foreign ministry the United States says Hernández “is wanted to stand trial in the United States for drug trafficking and firearms offenses.”

The extradition request so quickly on the heels of a president leaving office is unusual, and will most likely send a pointed message to other governments in the region that the U.S. is willing to pursue high-level corruption cases, according to the New York Times. It is a significant move in support of the Biden administration's stated goals of strengthening anti-corruption efforts in Central America, a policy aimed at tackling the "root causes" of migration.

While many citizens celebrated the potential extradition yesterday, it is likely to become an explosive issue in Honduras, where Hernández’s National Party still exercises significant political power, notes the Washington Post. Many of the Supreme Court judges were named by Hernández.

More Honduras
  • Several Guapinol environmental activists remain in jail after a Supreme Court decision last week ordered their release from pretrial detention. Radio Progreso and Honduras Now delve into the legal complications. (See last Friday's briefs.)
News Briefs

Regional Relations
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is traveling to Russia, despite messages from the U.S. that the timing of the trip is inopportune given the potential Ukraine invasion. At least two of Bolsonaro’s Cabinet ministers said privately they have been trying since last week to convince him to call off the trip, reports the Washington Post.

  • In the midst of rising tensions over Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin is stepping up engagement and building ties to an expanding swath of the Western Hemisphere — including to countries, like Brazil and Argentina, that have traditionally been close to Washington, reports the New York Times. At the same time, Latin American leaders have their own political agendas, and may be using Russia to gain leverage with the United States. (See last Wednesday's briefs, among others.)

  • The U.S. suspended avocado imports from Mexico, disrupting a $2.4 billion industry after threats to a U.S. agricultural inspector in Michoacán. (Guardian)
  • An El Faro investigation revealed that a former confidant of President Alejandro Giammattei testified under oath that the Guatemalan leader negotiated a bribe of $2.6 million USD from construction firms to fund his 2019 campaign. In return, Giammattei promised multimillion-dollar infrastructure contracts to a ring of construction firms run by former Minister of Communications José Luis Benito, according to the witness.
  • Mexico must seek alternatives to detention and asylum for migrants, especially ahead of an anticipated increase in arrivals this year, the U.N. refugee agency's representative for the country said Friday. (Reuters)
  • Bolsonaro issued two decrees that will drive gold prospecting with a focus on the Amazon rainforest, yesterday. One creates a program supporting small-scale mining, while the other simplifies regulations for prospecting requests. Environmentalists say they will exacerbate pollution and Amazon deforestation. (Associated Press)

  • Brazilian lawmaker Kim Kataguiri said he will legally pursue high-profile public intellectuals who accused him on social media of "apology for Nazism." He said the accusations, which come after his appearance on a controversial podcast in which Kataguiri said he was against the criminalization of Nazism in Germany, were false. (Folha de S. Paulo, see yesterday's briefs on the podcast and debate it has provoked in Brazil.)
  • Venezuelan opposition parties staged one of their largest rallies in years on Saturday. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó urged hundreds of supporters gathered in Caracas to unify and push for an early presidential election ahead of the currently scheduled vote in 2024, reports the Associated Press. He urged opposition activists to embrace a "key pillar ... that has given us the victory in the past: unity."
  • Truckers angry over the the alleged slaying of a driver at the hands of undocumented migrants blocked major highways in northern Chile on Friday, reports the Associated Press. They lifted the blockade on Saturday after Chile's interior minister announced a state of emergency in the north of the country and stepped up police patrols, reports Deutsche Welle.
  • A Mexican law meant to protect and safeguard the cultural heritage of Indigenous and Afro-Mexican peoples and communities is off to a messy start, and could fail to have meaningful applications, reports the Verge.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... 

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