US Court Finds President’s Brother Guilty Of Drug Charges

Man Bags 15 Years In Prison For N5.2m Fraud

 

A New York court found the brother of the president of Honduras guilty of drug trafficking Friday, in a blow to the leader of the Central American country.

Juan Antonio Hernandez, known as Tony Hernandez, was convicted by a jury on all four counts, a spokesperson in the Manhattan prosecutor’s office told AFP.

Hernandez, a former Honduran congressman, was arrested at a Miami airport in November 2018 on charges of conspiring to import cocaine into the United States, weapons offenses and making false statements.

He is the brother of President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who tweeted Friday that his brother had been convicted with “testimony from confessed murderers.”

Sentencing is due on January 17. Hernandez, 41, faces from five years to life in prison.

The US government argued that Hernandez was a large-scale drug trafficker who worked from 2004 to 2016 with others in Colombia, Honduras and Mexico to import cocaine into the US by plane, boat and submarine.

The prosecution also said Hernandez, who served as a member of the Honduran Congress from 2014 to 2018, was involved in at least two murders of rival drug traffickers in 2011 and 2013.

Some of the cocaine he was transporting was labeled with his initials “TH,” prosecutors argued.

The trial also featured compromising allegations against the president himself.

The prosecution claimed that several candidates from Honduras’ ruling National Party accepted campaign funding from Tony Hernandez, including former president Porfirio Lobo and the current president, who was elected first in 2013 and again in contested elections in 2017.

The Manhattan prosecutor’s office filed a motion in August alleging that President Hernandez received at least $1.5 million in drug money from one of the prosecution’s cooperating witnesses for his first campaign, and $40,000 for the second.

President Hernandez and Lobo have both rejected the accusations, and neither has been formally charged by the US judicial system.

The high-profile trial lasted just under two weeks.

US prosecutors have aggressively pursued current or former Honduran public officials and their relatives over drug trafficking allegations.

The verdict comes after Mexican kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the 62-year-old former co-leader of Mexico’s feared Sinaloa drug cartel, was convicted in New York in February of smuggling hundreds of tons of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines and marijuana into the United States.

He has been jailed for life, a sentence he is appealing.

Three Killed, Seven Injured In Honduras Soccer Riots

National riot police officers patrol around the Tiburcio Carias Andino stadium, where fans rioted in Tegucigalpa, Honduras on August 17, 2019./ AFP

 

At least three people died and seven were injured in riots Saturday night between rival soccer fans ahead of a national championship game in Honduras, a hospital treating the victims said.

Supporters of Olimpia and Motagua teams — bitter local rivals — rioted outside National Stadium in the capital Tegucigalpa.

Julieth Chavarría, a spokesman for Hospital Escuela, told AFP that “seven people were admitted, three of them died and four are still being treated in the emergency room.”

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The riot is believed to have started when a bus carrying Motagua players was attacked, leaving three players injured, club president Pedro Atala said on social media.

Emilio Izaguirre, Jonathan Rougier, and Roberto Moreira were briefly treated in hospital.

“Bottles, stones were thrown at us and the players threw themselves on the floor screaming,” Motagua coach Diego Vásquez told local media.

Olympia president Rafael Villeda said the violence was “unfortunate”.

Following the incident, the game was suspended by the National Football League.

Roughly 10,000 fans who had made it inside the stadium were injured in a stampede to leave, and then caught up in police tear gas outside.

Fans had had high expectations for the match — the first confrontation between Vásquez and the new coach of Olimpia Pedro Troglio — but police called the event high-risk and deployed some 5,000 officers in and outside the stadium.

The Ultra Faithful wing of Olympia supporters, known for their violent tactics, was also banned from entering the stadium.

27 Dead As Fishing Boat Sinks Off Honduras

 

At least 27 people died and nine were missing Wednesday when their fishing boat sank off the Caribbean coast of Honduras, the country’s military said.

Armed forces spokesman Jose Meza said that 55 people survived when the vessel sank off the remote coastal Mosquitia region.

Ninety-one people were aboard the boat, the 70-tonne “Wallie,” when it set sail from Cabo Gracias a Dios — on the country’s easternmost point bordering Nicaragua — after a seasonal ban on lobster fishing was lifted.

The boat sank near Cayo Gorda, a tiny island just northeast of their point of departure. The cause of the disaster was not immediately clear.

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Meza added that the bodies and the survivors would be taken to Puerto Lempira, the main city in eastern Honduras.

Hours before the “Wallie” sank, an overloaded fishing boat in the same area went under.

Meza said that 49 people were rescued from that boat, the “Miss Francely,” which had a capacity to carry 31 people.

The head of the Honduran Merchant Marine, Juan Carlos Rivera, told HCH television that reports from the remote region were incomplete, but that experts will begin to look into what happened to prevent such deadly accidents from taking place again.

Rivera said that authorities have suspended navigation permits for up to three years for boats whose owners bring on too many fishermen.

The captain of the vessel sent out the SOS just before dying, local media reported.

AFP

Five Killed In Honduras Plane Crash

This handout picture shows Honduran firefighters at the site of an accident where a light plane crashed into the sea at the Isla Bonita Area, in Roatan, Honduras on May 18, 2019.  HO / Honduran Firefighters / AFP

 

Four Canadians and an American pilot died Saturday when their small plane plunged into the sea off the Honduran island of Roatan where they were vacationing, firefighters said.

The plane crashed near the town of Dixon Cove, a few minutes after taking off from the island’s airport, rescuers said.

The dead were identified as Bradley Post, Bailey Sony, Tomy Dubler, and pilot Patrick Forseth. The other Canadian pilot, Anthony Dubler, briefly survived the crash but died at the Roatan hospital of his injuries.

The causes of the crash and the registration information for the aircraft were not immediately available.

It occurred as the tourists were headed toward the city of Trujillo, about 77 kilometers (48 miles) from Roatan.

AFP

White House Defends Trump’s Aid Cut To Central America

 

The White House on Sunday defended President Donald Trump’s decision to cut off aid to three small Central American countries, insisting they weren’t doing enough to stop the flow of migrants to the United States.

Trump announced the aid cut-off to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala last week and threatened once again to close the US border with Mexico in response to the migrant surge.

“If we’re going to give these countries hundreds of millions of dollars, we would like them to do more,” White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

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The aid has gone to fund programs to combat gangs and foster development in the three countries, with the aim of addressing the root causes of the mass migration.

“If it’s working so well, why are the people still coming?  Why these historic numbers again, 100,000 people will cross the border this month alone,” Mulvaney said.

“It’s not working well enough to help us solve our border crisis.  And that’s what the president’s focused on,” he said.

Critics warned, however, that US funding cuts are likely to worsen conditions, possibly adding to the migrant flow. And they said Trump’s threat to close the border with Mexico if carried out, would hurt the US economy.

Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, dismissed the threat to close the border as “a totally unrealistic boast” by Trump.

“We need to focus on what’s happening in Central America where three countries are disassembling before our eyes and people are desperately coming to the United States. The president cutting off aid to these countries will not solve this problem,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

White House counsellor, Kellyanne Conway spoke on “Fox News Sunday,” insisted Trump’s threat to close the border “certainly isn’t a bluff.”

On Saturday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that, at the president’s direction, the State Department was ending its foreign assistance programs for the three Central American countries for 2017 and 2018.

The State Department did not say how much unspent money was involved in the step, which could be largely symbolic.

In comments to reporters Friday, Trump suggested as much as $500 million is at stake.

“We were giving them $500 million. We were paying them tremendous amounts of money, and we’re not paying them anymore because they haven’t done a thing.”

AFP

Six Americans Injured In Honduras Plane Crash

A police officer uses a fire extinguisher at the site of an accident after a plane went off the runway at Toncontin International airport and collapsed over a busy boulevard in Tegucigalpa on May 22, 2018.  Orlando SIERRA / AFP

 

At least six Americans were injured Tuesday when a plane crashed while landing at the Honduran capital’s international airport and split in two. 

The commercial jet from Austin, Texas left the runway and veered into a ditch, Carlos Cordero, deputy head of Honduras‘s disaster relief agency Copeco told local media.

Firefighters arrived at Toncontin airport in Tegucigalpa and used foam to extinguish flames coming from the wreckage.

Local businessman Pedro Atala said he and his employees had helped put out the flames with fire extinguishers, and that he had helped five men and a woman, all of whom were “practically unharmed.”

“Miraculously” the accident hadn’t been worse, he added.

President Juan Orlando Hernandez said on Twitter that all of the wounded were in a stable condition.

Surrounded by mountains and with a very short runway, the Toncontin airport is considered one of the world’s most treacherous.

In May 2008 a Taca Airlines plane skidded off the runway and crashed into a building, leaving five people dead.

The government is constructing a new international airport about 50 kilometres (31 miles) from the capital, near the Palmerola military air base.

AFP

Honduras Roads Blocked In Protests Against Election Results

Supporters of the presidential candidate for the Honduran Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship, Salvador Nasralla, clash with riot police and soldiers in a protest in Tegucigalpa on January 20, 2018. PHOTO: Orlando SIERRA / AFP

Activists blocked roads and clashed with police in Honduras on Saturday as part of nationwide protests against the contested re-election of President Juan Orlando Hernandez.

Dozens of people have been killed and hundreds jailed since Hernandez was declared the winner of the November 26 run-off election — after a three week stretch of often-interrupted ballot counting that stoked tensions and sparked accusations of fraud in the Central American country.

The left-wing Alliance in Opposition against the Dictatorship is heading a protest campaign insisting that the election was stolen from its candidate, former TV anchor Salvador Nasrallah.

The opposition called for a “national strike” on Saturday to block the country’s main roads ahead of the start of the president’s new term in office on January 27.

The government deployed police and soldiers to confront protesters.

One demonstrator was shot dead Saturday, opposition leader and former president Manuel Zelaya told AFP, identifying the victim as Anselmo Villareal, 60.

Seven other demonstrators were detained and two police were hurt, police spokesman Jair Meza said.

A military spokesman, Lieutenant Jose Coello, told AFP that some highways had been blocked “but they are being cleared in a peaceful manner.”

Coello said police confiscated tires, presumably to be set ablaze, that protesters were carrying in their vehicles.

Protesters blocked the country’s main highway between Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula at a point about 100 kilometres (65 miles) north of the capital, local media reported.

In Tegucigalpa, police fired tear gas at protesters trying to block a road and burn tires. The demonstrators responded by hurling rocks.

Hernandez has implicit backing from the United States, which is pouring millions of dollars into Honduras and neighbouring Guatemala and El Salvador to improve security conditions there.

Those three countries, collectively known as Central America’s “Northern Triangle,” are the biggest source of undocumented migrants heading to the United States.

AFP

Honduras Opposition Bid To Annul President’s Re-Election Rejected

Honduras soldiers carrying election materials for the Presidential polls on November 26, 2017 Photo Credit: AFP

Election officials in Honduras on Friday rejected the opposition’s appeal demanding the annulment of President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s re-election, which was lodged over voter fraud allegations in the bitterly disputed poll.

The country’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), in a statement, cited a lack of evidence and dubbed the opposition’s actions “groundless.”

Election officials declared Hernandez the victor after he narrowly defeated leftist opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla in the November 26 vote.

Speaking on television Nasralla vowed a new appeal before the Supreme Court of Justice as well as a Saturday march protesting the ruling.

Nasralla conceded on December 22 shortly after Honduras’ key ally Washington endorsed Hernandez’s re-election, following a month of deadly street clashes.

But he then came back with the Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship to demand the election results be annulled.

International monitors from both the OAS and the European Union noted irregularities in the election process, which the former said had been of “poor quality.”

According to election officials, the final results showed the conservative Hernandez winning with 42.95 percent of the vote, over Nasralla’s 41.42 percent.

Hernandez, 49, stood for re-election against Nasralla, a 64-year-old former TV presenter, despite a constitutional ban on presidents serving more than one term.

He plans to officially begin his second term January 27 with a “simple ceremony.”

AFP

Honduran President’s Sister Dies In Helicopter Crash

Soldiers and firefighters recover the body of Hilda Hernandez, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s sister, and the bodies of the rest of the people who died the day before in the helicopter that crashed in the mountains of Yerbabuena, Rincon de Dolores, Lepaterique municipality, 60 km northwest of Tegucigalpa, on December 17, 2017. Hernandez, an engineer and former communications and press minister in her brother’s government, died in a helicopter crash along with the pilot, copilot and three other people. ORLANDO SIERRA / AFP

A sister of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez died Saturday when the helicopter she was riding in crashed into a mountain near the capital, in an incident that killed five others.

“God has in his bosom Hilda Hernandez, tireless fighter of the National Party,” the ruling party’s president Reinaldo Sanchez tweeted in confirming the tragedy.

The AS35 B-3 Honduran Air Force helicopter had taken off from the capital’s Toncontin airport and it went off the radar due to adverse weather conditions.

“No survivors were found” at the crash site on Yerbabuena Mountain, the armed forces said in a statement.

The other victims of the crash were pilot lieutenant Ivan Vasquez Portillo, co-pilot second lieutenant Gerson Diaz Nolasco, Army captain Patricia Valladares and two members of the minister’s security detail: Nahum Lagos and Marcos Banegas.

The 51-year-old communications minister had also served on the campaign team of her brother, who is locked in a controversial bid for reelection.

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal has yet to declare a winner in the hotly contested election, held nearly three weeks ago, amid heightened political tensions.

After learning of his sister’s death, the president posted a photograph of her and an image of a black ribbon on his Twitter account, without any additional message or comment.

“We send our solidarity and condolences to the president and his family,” said former president Manuel Zelaya, who is leading the opposition leftist alliance that has claimed victory in the elections for its candidate, television host Salvador Nasralla.

Election authorities are reviewing and recounting votes before giving a final verdict on the result after the opposition claimed fraud.

AFP

Honduran President Declared Winner Of Disputed Poll

Honduras President, Juan Orlando Hernandez

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez was declared on Sunday the winner of a heavily disputed presidential election held three weeks ago, despite mounting protests and opposition claims of fraud.

Electoral authorities made the announcement the day that Hernandez’s leftist opponent, Salvador Nasralla, departed for the United States to highlight what he said was ballot tampering in the November 26 poll.

The declaration could deepen a spiral of violence that has occurred since the election, as anti-Hernandez protesters and police have squared off repeatedly.

Police have counted three deaths in the unrest. But the opposition says 20 people have died, and Amnesty International registered 14 fatalities.

The ballot was deeply contentious.

Hernandez, 49, stood for re-election against Nasralla, a 64-year-old former TV presenter, despite a constitutional ban on presidents having more than one term.

His conservative National Party said that rule was scrapped by a 2015 Supreme Court ruling.

But the opposition insists ballots were tampered with after the election, and says unusual breaks in the count that dragged out the tally over more than a week were suspicious.

The leftist opposition alliance said it was not recognizing Hernandez’s win, and called for protests.

International observers also said they noted “irregularities.”

– Call for new vote –
The Supreme Electoral Tribunal had previously declined to name a victor, despite saying that its count of the ballots showed a slight margin in favor of Hernandez: 43 percent to 41 percent for Nasralla.

But it had to do so by a December 26 deadline, or risk the entire election being invalidated.

Nasralla, the candidate of the leftist Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship, is standing firm on his claim that he won the election, and that only fraud made it look like Hernandez had the edge.

He is insisting the entire vote be held again, with greater international scrutiny.

Ex-president Manuel Zelaya, part of the opposition alliance, said the armed forces and police should recognize Nasralla as the winner, as he said the Honduran people had.

“This election is null and void; we are not respecting it,” Zelaya told reporters.

On Sunday, Nasralla left for the United States to call attention to the fraud he said was perpetrated.

He was to meet the head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, officials from the US State Department and human rights groups.

The US visit “may be decisive in finding a solution to the crisis brought about by fraud and to restore calm to the nation,” he told journalists in Tegucigalpa before leaving.

Going into the election, the United States gave implicit support to Hernandez, who has presided over a crackdown on vicious gangs that are rampant in Honduras.

The country is beset by violence, poverty and corruption and provides many of the undocumented migrants headed to the United States.

Hernandez himself was in mourning over the death of his 51-year-old sister in an air force helicopter crash on Saturday that also killed five others.

Hilda Hernandez had served as the president’s communications minister.

AFP

Amnesty International Condemns ‘Dangerous And Illegal’ Tactics By Honduras

Amnesty International Declares Interest In Death Of Desmond Nunugwo

Authorities are using “dangerous and illegal” tactics to silence dissent in Honduras, where at least 14 people have been killed since a hotly-contested presidential vote last month, Amnesty International said Friday.

The opposition says the November 26 election was rigged, and the country’s electoral authority has yet to declare a winner even though the final count gave incumbent Orlando Hernandez a narrow edge over challenger Salvador Nasralla.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets on Friday to condemn the prospect of another term for Hernandez, a day after thousands of his supporters demonstrated to back his claim of victory.

“At least 14 people died, most of them from bullet wounds, and dozens were injured in the context of largely peaceful demonstrations since the elections,” Amnesty said in a statement, citing human rights defenders and public servants.

Security forces personnel have also tear gassed and arrested protesters, the rights group said.

“Halting all use of illegitimate or excessive force against protesters by security forces, ending arbitrary detentions, and investigating all instances of human rights violations would be a good start to undo some of the many wrongs we have documented in recent days,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty’s Americas director.

International observers have expressed reservations over the poll, which the Organization of the American States said was marred by irregularities that cloud the results.

Nasralla has refused to recognize the current results, while Hernandez has claimed victory.

AFP

Opposition Candidate Leading Honduras Presidential Poll

Honduran President and presidential candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez waves to supporters in Tegucigalpa after the general elections on November 26, 2017. RODRIGO ARANGUA / AFP

Initial results of the Honduran presidential vote released early Monday showed opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla leading current President Juan Orlando Hernandez, after an evening that saw both men declare themselves victorious.

With 57 percent of the ballots counted, the leftist Nasralla had claimed 45.17 percent of votes compared to Hernandez’s 40.21 percent, according to the country’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE).

The opposition has denounced the Constitutional Court’s decision to allow Hernandez to run for re-election despite a one-term limit, a move that has sparked fears of a crisis in the crime-racked country.

Hernandez, 49, declared himself the winner before official results were announced — and his top rival did the same.

“The result is more than clear: we won this election,” he told supporters who cheered him in the capital Tegucigalpa.

Following that announcement, 64-year-old Nasralla, representing the Alliance Against the Dictatorship coalition, told supporters he was in the lead and could not be caught.

“I am the new president of Honduras,” he said.

An estimated six million people were eligible to cast ballots, electing not just a president but also members of Congress, mayors and members of the Central American Parliament.

Though both candidates proclaiming themselves president had stoked fears of unrest, election observers said the vote was smooth.

“What we have seen so far has been positive,” said Marisa Matias, a European parliament observer from Portugal, one of 16,000 monitors.

– ‘Between dictatorship and democracy’ –

Hernandez’s conservative National Party — which controls the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government — contends that a 2015 Supreme Court ruling allows his re-election.

“Thanks to everyone for strengthening democracy,” Hernandez said on Twitter. “We are leading and we are going to win decisively.”

The opposition has denounced his bid, saying the court does not have the power to overrule the 1982 constitution.

Hernandez’s main rivals — former TV anchor Nasralla and Luis Zelaya, 50, of the right-leaning Liberal Party — had both said before the vote that they would not recognize a Hernandez victory.

“It’s an atypical electoral process with an illegal re-election,” said Zelaya after voting.

Nasralla, while visiting voting stations around the capital to rally his supporters, urged them to be vigilant for signs of fraud.

“They are out here offering poor people food, roof tiles or cement in exchange for their vote,” he complained.

“I tell them that that’s how they are going to stay poor. I am going to create jobs for them.”

Hernandez cast his vote early in his home town of Gracias, in the country’s mountainous west, accompanied by his daughter and several National Party deputies.

“Four more years!” supporters chanted as he arrived. Hernandez told reporters he had been up early, messaging with organizers to be sure the elections would take place smoothly.

Honduras, in the heart of the “Northern Triangle” of Central America where gangs and poverty are rife, has one of the highest murder rates in the world, though it has fallen during Hernandez’s tenure.

What credit he claims from that progress is counterbalanced by tensions from a 2009 coup.

That year, then-president Manuel Zelaya was deposed by the armed forces, with backing from the right and from powerful businessmen, for nudging closer to Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.

Zelaya — no relation to the Liberal Party candidate — was accused of wanting to change the constitution to seek a second term.

The streets of Tegucigalpa were festooned with the main parties’ colors over the weekend.

– Tensions could boil over –

But some analysts warned the calm was deceptive and tensions could boil over because of the president’s desire to hold on to power.

“For the first time, it’s not a race between conservatives and liberals, but between a dictatorship and democracy,” said Victor Meza, a political analyst at the Honduras Documentation Center.

Hernandez’s top rivals accuse the electoral board of preparing poll fraud to declare the incumbent president the victor. The TSE denies that.

“I hope you won’t get discouraged when false information starts going around. We need to stay vigilant,” Nasralla told his supporters on Friday.

Apart from the presidential election, Sunday’s balloting will also decide the country’s three vice presidential posts, the 128-seat congress, 20 representatives in the Central American Parliament and the mayors of 298 municipalities.