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Hondurans in Mexico cautiously optimistic over arrest of former president on US drug charges

The arrest of the man accused of turning Honduras into a narco state is good in and of itself, they say, but what they are really hoping for is change in their home country.

MEXICO CITY (CN) — Hondurans in Mexico who left home during the term of former President Juan Orlando Hernández applauded his arrest on Tuesday in response to a U.S. request for extradition.

Hernández is accused of helping move over 500 tons of cocaine to the United States, according to Vice, which saw a copy of the extradition request.

But the Honduran nationals who spoke to Courthouse News refrained from excessive celebration, citing previous letdowns in the country’s troubled history. 

“I can shout and laugh and jump for joy, whatever … but what really concerns me is the country’s recovery,” said Nidia Tejada Mejía.

“If Juan [Orlando Hernández] is arrested, and the people continue to be submerged in misery, what’s good is it?”

Although she herself did not flee Honduras as refugee from the extreme violence that has plagued the country for more than a decade, Tejada, 46, has spent much of her eight years in Mexico serving migrants in shelters along the border. 

“People are happy about his arrest, but I think they’re confused. Sure, he’ll pay for what he did, but we have to get our country back, recover the wealth and natural resources that were taken. That’s what’s important.”

Critics blame Hernández for the much of the instability and insecurity that escalated during his eight years as president and continue to afflict the country to this day.

Apprehensions of Hondurans by U.S. Customs and Border Protection rose dramatically during Hernández’s two terms, especially the second from 2018 to 2022, according to the Brookings Institution.

The 2018 spike in migrants from Honduras coincides with Hernández’s violent crackdown of protests to his reelection in 2017, a win the U.S. recognized despite allegations of fraud in the press and by the Organization of American States, according to Brigitte Gynther, program coordinator at School of the Americas Watch, an organization that monitors the effects of U.S. policy and military intervention in the region. 

“With that support, he deployed his so-called security forces, the military and police, to literally shoot and kill so many people in the street,” said Gynther.

In addition to integrating his government with drug trafficking gangs, Hernández also continued the privatization of the country’s natural resources that began after the 2009 coup that ousted the democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya.

The perpetrators of that coup were graduates of the School of the Americas, a military training school at Fort Benning, Georgia, which is now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. 

“The post-coup regimes, with the support of the United States every step of the way, violently and forcefully implemented extreme neoliberal economic policies that essentially sold off much of the country,” said Gynther.

Water, mineral, mining and timber concessions were sold to the highest bidder, and the state responded with violence to any citizens who spoke out. 

“Time and time again, we’ve seen U.S.-trained, U.S.-financed, U.S.-backed military and other security forces shooting demonstrators as they’re defending their land, livelihood and rights,” said Gythner. 

Migrant activist Tejada said Honduras’ “trampled-on" natural resources are what need to be recovered now that Hernández was replaced by newly elected President Xiomara Castro less than three weeks before his arrest. 

She and others have hope in Castro, the wife of ousted President Zelaya, but history has taught them not to get those hopes up too high.

“I’m hopeful, but I don’t want to be disappointed. I just hope there isn’t another coup. I hope the media tells the truth, that people can have good jobs with good salaries again. So many things, but above all security,” she said. 

Yessenia, a migrant who left Tegucigalpa in 2019 after threats to her daughters’ safety, expressed similar hesitation. 

“How are we going to have hope when we’ve seen that pretty much all presidents are the same?” said the 36-year-old mother of five whose name Courthouse News has refrained from printing due to safety concerns.

“We hope she turns out to be a good president, but what we really want is to be able to back to our country,” said Yessenia. “That’s what matters to us.”

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