Honduras continues to fight a never ending battle against corruption. In a country with perpetual stories of corruption from politicians and law enforcement, this type of behavior has become normalized to figures in power. In recent news, a slew of prominent individuals have had charges brought against them for these exact reasons. In this case, multiple politicians have been extradited to the United States for drug trafficking.
Most notably the former president, Juan Orlando Hernandez, was arrested on drug charges. Hernandez was in office from 2014 to January of this year. While he denies the charges, he is accused of being involved in drug trafficking and receiving bribe money from the infamous drug lord, El Chapo leading to his extradition to the United States. US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken released a statement detailing that Hernanndez helped facilitate narco-trafficking and used illegal funds from these operations to help fund his campaigns. In his not guilty plea, he claims that he is being framed by drug traffickers and that there is a vendetta against him.
The US has also brought drug and weapon charges against the former police chief, Juan Carlos Bonilla Vallarades in beliefs that he conspired with Hernandez. The police chief allegedly received bribes in exchange for instructing police to allow drug shipments through security checkpoints. Throughout the trafficking of these illicit drugs to the United States Vallarades brought along machine guns along with other weaponry to use violence to facilitate these operations
The extensive corruption does not stop there, Juan Antonio (Tony) Hernandez, former congressman and the former president’s brother, has already been sentenced to life in prison due to drug trafficking charges. He was found guilty back in 2019 after it was discovered he had been running a cocaine lab in Columbia and using his government credentials to smuggle large amounts of the drug into the US. Additionally, Tony Hernadez was allegedly the individual who personally received the bribe from El Chapo to give to his brother Juan. Tony’s conviction makes it even more difficult for the former president to prove his innocence as he now has to prove that he had no knowledge of his brother being a part of these operations.
These clear examples of corruption are typical of authoritarian regimes but Honduras has made large progress in strengthening its democracy since the 1980s. Unfortunately, many large scale issues in the country that undermine these efforts still exist. By looking closer at the vast corruption occurring we can see that these instances resemble characteristics of democratic backsliding. Large drug trafficking schemes like these typically go hand in hand with violence. While the police chief was portrayed as the most involved in the violent components of the operation, the toleration of violence by executives is heavily linked to democratic erosion.
More concerning, while committing these crimes, former president Hernandez knew his executive power alone would not protect him. Instead he sought out another powerful figure, the police chief, in order to prevent any repercussions. By doing so he exercised the tactic of capturing the referees in order to consolidate power. Not only does this prevent him from getting caught in the first place but it also prevents any legal actions from being taken against him.
While this tactic was successful at first, Hernandez’s downfall was that the crimes he was committing were not just in Honduras, and when trafficking drugs into the United States he had no referees on his side. Additionally by carrying out these crimes into the United States it made it even more difficult for him to carry out the strategies that follow which include, injuring the players meaning taking down the opposition, and changing the rules meaning changing laws. Now out of office and extradited to the United States, the former president and police chief likely face the same fate as Tony Hernandez.
While all three of the prominent individuals involved in this case are no longer in office, what does this mean for Honduras? Honduras recently elected its first female president, Xiomara Castro. In wake of the former president’s extradition she ran on a platform of cleaning up the country’s politics. Castro continues to promote democratic practices given the nation’s recent history with authoritarianism. Just in 2009 a coup seized power from her husband and former president Manuel Zelaya.
So far Castro has maintained her promises and worked to eliminate corruption in the government. Most notably she has brought a UN backed anti-corruption commission into the country, a campaign promise of hers. While the actions being taken by Castro are beneficial, decreasing corruption in the country will likely take time. Given the country’s history, and the number of prominent figures who were involved in the drug trafficking scheme, there were likely many more involved. Therefore in order to ensure that backsliding does not worsen, it is critical that oversight and investigations continue.