Brother of Honduras president arrested for drug dealing, U.S. implicated
Antonio "Tony" Hernandez Alvarado, brother of the right-wing Honduran president, Juan Orlando Hernandez, was arrested recently in Miami on major drug trafficking charges. | Tony Hernandez Diputado/Facebook

During the last several days, the Central American country of Honduras, population 9,300,000, has loomed large in news reports.

First, there is the mounting tragedy of the refugees from the caravan, now stuck in Tijuana, Mexico, across the border from San Diego, California. Though they have been treated with warm hospitality by the inhabitants of Mexican towns and villages along the route of their march to the U.S. border, the situation is different in Tijuana.

The city’s mayor (technically, municipal president), Juan Manuel Gastelúm, is from the right-wing National Action Party (PAN). Evidently, he is trying to bolster his flagging popularity by stoking up the same kind of anti-immigrant nationalism that Trump, whom he admires, is famous for—-except that in this case it is Mexican nationalism. In addition to wearing a red baseball cap with the slogan “Make Tijuana Great Again,” Gastelúm has echoed Trump’s rhetoric about the refugees being “riffraff.” Taking the hint, right-wingers in Tijuana have protested against the migrants.

Facing interminable processing delays at the border, a small group of desperate refugees tried to rush across. This led to a reprehensible scene, condemned worldwide, of U.S. border agents lobbing tear gas at terrified women and children. As was to be expected, the Trump administration simply used this incident to continue to slander the refugees as an invading army of criminals and moochers.

But there was another item in the news that helps to elucidate what the real situation in Honduras is. On Friday November 23, U.S. authorities in Miami arrested Antonio “Tony” Hernández Alvarado on major drug trafficking charges. A former member of the Honduran Congress, Hernández Alvarado is accused of working with corrupt elements in the Honduran police to import mind-boggling amounts of cocaine into the United States.

There is nothing new about this sort of thing unless you take into account that Tony Hernández is the brother of Juan Orlando Hernández, the president of Honduras. Both belong to the right-wing National Party.

When the legally elected progressive president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, was overthrown by a military coup in June of 2009, the United States broke with hemispheric consensus and pushed for a scheduled presidential election to go ahead. The rest of the nations of the Americas had wanted Zelaya to be restored to his presidency before any such an election could take place, but the United States did not support this, and the election took place on November 29, 2009, with troops in the streets suppressing the opposition.  Declaring that no election could be seen as valid under such repressive circumstances, much of the opposition boycotted the vote. The victor was Porfirio Lobo Sosa, from the right wing National Party.  Lobo, whose surname means “wolf” in Spanish, ruled Honduras from 2010 to 2014, when he was replaced by the current president, also from the National Party. Lobo’s tenure was characterized by a sharp rise in repression and general societal violence.

Corruption and involvement with the drug trade also flourished, but eventually, the chickens began to come home to roost. In September of 2017, Fabio Lobo, ex-President Lobo’s son, was sentenced to 24 years in prison by a U.S. District Court judge, for conspiring with Los Cachiros, a Honduras-based drug cartel, to import cocaine into the United States.  Other high ranking Honduran politicians have also been caught for their involvement with Los Cachiros.

That’s not the end of it.  Earlier this year, Rosa Elena Bonilla, wife of ex-president Lobo, was arrested by special anti-corruption authorities for embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars in funds meant to be used to help the poorest Hondurans.  Investigations of involvement of Porfirio Lobo himself with Los Cachiros have been ongoing.

The current president, Juan Orlando Hernández, came to power after a very fishy election in November of 2013.  There were credible complaints of fraud, but Hernández, in his old job of President of the National Congress, had managed to pack the Electoral Tribunal with his own supporters, and was declared the winner, with Xiomara Castro, wife of ex-president Zelaya and candidate of the leftist LIBRE party as the runner-up.

Hernández’ term should have been up at the beginning of this year, but in a blatantly unconstitutional move, he managed to get the Honduran Congress to authorize him to run for reelection.  The November 26, 2017 election was even more brazenly fraudulent than the 2013 one, and when Hernández was declared the winner over a centrist supported by the left, Salvador Nasralla, there were mass protests which were violently suppressed by the country’s militarized police force.  There were deaths, and some people arrested after the demonstrations are still in prison.

The Lobo and Hernández presidencies have been characterized by corruption, violence, declining living standards and the looting of the country’s resources to benefit the country’s own elites as well as foreign corporations.  All of these things are so scandalously obvious that there has even been movement in the U.S. Congress to block aid to Honduras. These are the immediate causes of the massive movement of refugees to the U.S. border, including the latest caravan.

The fingerprints of U.S. corporations, and the U.S. government, are all over this.  During most of the 20th Century, successive U.S. administrations have used Honduras as a base to fight against left-wing guerrillas in neighboring countries.  The United States has a major military base at Cano Soto, and its continued presence depends on a friendly (right wing) government being in power in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa. When President Manuel Zelaya began to orient Honduras’ foreign policy toward the ALBA group of left-led countries, all this was threatened. Zelaya’s restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba was seen as a danger sign, and during the George W. Bush administration, there was an increased focus on destabilizing Honduras, which involved well known right-wing Republican operatives such as Otto Reich.

But this goes back earlier. The authoritative National Security Archive has published documents which show how the Reagan administration abetted the Honduran military in the commission of abuses against the opposition, again with the purpose of maintaining a government in power in Tegucigalpa that could be relied on to help the United States fight against left-wing governments, political movements and guerrilla insurgencies region-wide. Such governments were also guaranteed to be friendly to major U.S. investors, going back to the heyday of United Fruit. Such companies could rely on right-wing governments in Tegucigalpa to suppress labor organizing and to guarantee high rates of profit. Today, the same thing goes on, with poor farmers being pushed off their land to make room for African palm cultivation and other corporate controlled enterprises.

Left out of the past week’s news stories, at least in the United States, were the continuing protests of the Honduran people against the Hernández government. On November 22, a lively anti-corruption protest in the Choluteca region in the South of the country was violently suppressed by militarized police. There have been other demonstrations during the past week, including a major one in Tegucigalpa on November 27 in which ex-President Zelaya participated. The demonstration was called because this week is the first anniversary of the fraudulent reelection of Juan Orlando Hernández. Eyewitnesses reported that the demonstration was met not only with tear gas but with live ammunition which wounded two people.

To properly evaluate the caravan situation and Central American migration in general, people here need to know these things. When President Trump accuses the migrants of drug dealing and violence,  people in the United States need to say: “Wait a minute? Aren’t our government’s ‘friends’ in power Honduras, in fact, up to their necks in drug dealing and violence? And doesn’t that drug dealing involve cocaine imports to the United States?  So why is our government propping up regimes like that of Juan Orland Hernández, while tear gassing and arresting men, women, and children trying to flee from his gangster government?”

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Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.