The recent U.S. sentencing of the Honduran president’s brother for drug trafficking highlights what happens when corruption runs amok in a country, with consequences that ripple out far beyond that territory’s own borders.
During his day in court last month, Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernandez unsuccessfully made his last attempt to squirm out of the grasp of his inevitable sentence of life in prison. Hernandez’s counsel claimed his client’s conduct caused no harm to U.S. citizens. “Frankly … I believe the citizens of this country have had a direct negative impact on themselves with their voracious appetite for illegal narcotics,” the counsel argued.
I’d heard this exact same argument before, when I lived undercover within the Medellín Cartel. The likes of Pablo Escobar always jokingly suggested, “If there was no demand, there’d be no supply.” But this proclamation was now delivered with a claim of honesty by an officer of the court.
It was one example of how Hernandez was unapologetic about his actions, despite being confronted with the damage they caused. He rattled on about how his lawyers had failed him and how he suspected the government had withheld evidence of his innocence.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Laroche hit back hard: “The defendant’s statements to the court were astonishing. Given a chance to show even the slightest bit of remorse or contrition for his abhorrent conduct, he instead spent his time complaining about his attorneys. That’s stunning, but also speaks to exactly who this individual is.”
Laroche defined Hernandez as a central figure in one of the largest and most violent cocaine trafficking conspiracies in the world. He added that, for 15 years, Hernandez and his coconspirators used social and political power to operate Honduras as a narco-state. “They were able to do so by conspiring with some of the most powerful individuals in that country, including his brother, the current president of Honduras,” he said.
Laroche noted the massive corruption promoted by Hernandez had real consequences for Honduras. It transformed the country into one of the principal transshipment points for cocaine in the world and caused the country to become one of the most violent places on the planet. He noted that, in 2013, the city of San Pedro Sula was the deadliest place in the world, and that two out of three Hondurans now live in poverty.
Looking beyond Honduras, U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel made some interesting observations about the 185,000 kilograms of cocaine Hernandez helped ship to the United States. He explained that, since one kilogram of cocaine provides 8,000 doses to users, Hernandez’s importations to the United States enabled 1.5 billion doses of cocaine. That’s enough for every single American to have 4 1/2 snorts.
Judge Castel compared the significance of Hernandez’s prosecution to the importance of America attacking the leaders of La Cosa Nostra in the 1970s. That initiative, Judge Castel said, led to the American mafia becoming a shadow of what it once was. It was the judge’s opinion that Hernandez’s sentence would begin that journey with the dismantling of the threat from the Honduran narco-trafficking syndicate.
After the sentencing, Judge Castel said he wished that, while in prison, Hernandez would reflect on his life and what he’d done. He hoped he would consider making decisions to turn his life around and do something good for his country. Hopefully, Hernandez heard that plea, because the people of Honduras and the United States have suffered greatly at the hands of his and his brother’s actions.
Robert Mazur, a federal agent for 27 years, is a court-certified expert in money laundering-related matters in both the United States and Canada. He is the New York Times best-selling author of “The Infiltrator,” a memoir of his life undercover as a money launderer within the underworld, and was an executive producer of the film by the same name. He is president of KYC Solutions, a company that provides speaking, training, consulting, and expert witness services globally.