Trial of an alleged Honduran drug-trafficker, Geovanny Fuentes Ramirez, whose case implicates Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez and other high-ranking officials kick started in New York on Monday with a jury selected.
Ramirez, 50, was arrested trying to leave Miami in 2020 and has pleaded “not guilty” to charges of conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the United States and related weapons charges.
References to President Hernandez appear frequently in the filings against Fuentes Ramirez, as well as in a drug-trafficking case against Hernandez’s brother Tony, who was convicted of drug trafficking and related weapons charges in October 2019.
In that trial, US prosecutors said the honduran president had accepted millions in bribes from drug traffickers, though the president has repeatedly denied the allegation.
In Fuentes Ramirez’s case documents, federal prosecutors accused Hernandez, who has been president since 2014, of using Honduran law enforcement and military officials to protect drug traffickers.
Hernandez was a key ally to the US under both the Obama and the Trump administrations.
The investigation could not only affect future bilateral relations but also complicate the new Biden administration’s efforts to invest $4bn in Central America, including Honduras, to address the causes of migration.
Democratic US senators in late February introduced a bill that would sanction Hernandez for alleged drug trafficking and corruption and cut off financial assistance and ammunition sales to Honduran security forces.
In addition to potentially shedding light on the extent of corruption and official involvement in drug trafficking in Honduras, revelations from Fuentes Ramirez’s trial could affect presidential primaries taking place in Honduras this month ahead of November’s election.
Previous court filings show that the US Drug Enforcement Administration began investigating Hernandez and others for drug trafficking and money laundering around 2013, the year he was elected president after heading the parliament, or Congress.
He was re-elected in a contested ballot in 2017 to hold office until early 2022.