- Associated Press - Monday, March 22, 2021

NEW YORK (AP) - A Honduran man was convicted of drug trafficking in U.S. federal court Monday in a trial that also raised allegations against Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernández.

A jury found Geovanny Fuentes Ramírez guilty on all counts, including conspiracy to traffic cocaine, arms possession and conspiracy to use arms.

Witnesses in the two-week trial told of Hernández accepting bribes from Fuentes Ramírez and other drug traffickers from his time as a presidential candidate up through at least 2019.

Hernández has repeatedly denied any connection to drug traffickers and he has not been charged with any crime. Federal prosecutors, however, have become increasingly outspoken in connecting his political rise to funding from drug trafficking and he was named as a “co-conspirator” in the Fuentes Ramírez case. One of his brothers, Tony Hernández, was convicted of drug trafficking in 2019 and is scheduled to be sentenced next week.

On Monday, Juan Orlando Hernández again pointed to his record of falling drug trafficking through Honduras as evidence that the accusations are false and made up by drug traffickers trying to reduce their sentences.

During the trial, Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, former leader of the Cachiros cartel, testified that he had sent $250,000 to Hernández in 2012 through his sister in exchange for protection of his smuggling business and to avoid extradition. An accountant testified that he twice witnessed Hernández receiving bribes from Fuentes Ramírez in 2013.

Hernández had been president of Honduras’ congress and then launched his candidacy for the presidency. He took office in January 2014.

U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel, who heard the case, will also sentence the president’s brother.

Eric Olson, director of policy at the Seattle International Foundation, said the verdict will have more impact on the people of Honduras than on President Juan Orlando Hernández.

“The Honduran people become more skeptical, more pessimistic, more hopeless about their future in their country when they look at their political leaders as corrupt officials,” Olson said.

“It is another piece of evidence against Juan Orlando but it is also another piece of evidence for the Honduran people that their government, their country is not able to respond to their needs and is probably why we are seeing so many Hondurans fleeing,” Olson said. “This particular case is serious, but is just another nail in his (the president’s) political coffin.”

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