Honduras' former president arrested as U.S. seeks extradition on drug charges Hondurans celebrated as former President Juan Orlando Hernández, who left office last month, appeared in court to face an extradition request from the U.S.

Honduras' ex-president is arrested as the U.S. seeks his extradition on drug charges

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LEILA FADEL, HOST:

In Honduras today, the man who was president until just a few weeks ago will now face a federal judge. The United States has asked that former President Juan Orlando Hernandez be extradited to stand trial on drug trafficking and weapons charges. It's quite the fall from grace for the longtime ally of the U.S. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: As the man who ran the country for the past eight years was escorted out of his home. Police officers lowered a bulletproof vest over his head, all broadcast on live TV.

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UNIDENTIFIED TV ANCHOR: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: With chains slapped on his wrists and ankles in the style of an international criminal, announced this TV anchor. Honduran Security Minister Ramon Sabillon told reporters in a raucous press conference that the arrest went off without incident.

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RAMON SABILLON: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "It was a success, an historic event," he said. Sabillon had actually been fired by Hernandez in 2014 after making some high-profile arrests of drug traffickers as head of the National Police. Sabillon said Hernandez conspired with cartels, causing great social harm to Honduras and its justice system. A U.S. Department of Justice official told NPR there was no comment regarding the case at this time. However, evidence had been mounting in recent years about Hernandez's involvement with international traffickers. In U.S. federal court proceedings, including last year's case against his brother, Tony Hernandez. The former president was described as a co-conspirator. Tony Hernandez was sentenced to life in a U.S. prison. Ex-president Hernandez has long said he's innocent and testimony against him was coerced by prosecutors.

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KAHN: Last night, in the Honduran capital, drivers honked horns, revelers waved Honduran flags and some held up pictures of the chained Hernandez with the words, thanks, USA and this is what we dreamed of. Reporter Paolo Cerrato interviewed several demonstrators for NPR.

GILBERTO SANABRIA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "This is a happy day," says 38-year-old teacher Gilberto Sanabria. But he says seeing that man chained is just a reminder of all the poverty and corruption he brought to our country. Hernandez's nearly decade-long tenure was marked by dramatic lawlessness, high homicide rates and record migration out of the country. Eric Olson of the Seattle International Foundation says corruption in Honduras didn't start with Hernandez.

ERIC OLSON: But the point is that it became much more acute, much more ingrained, much more systemic. And that means a recovery from that will take probably decades.

KAHN: And Olson says successive U.S. administrations, dating back to President Obama, long misjudged Hernandez. Harsher critics accuse the U.S. of turning a blind eye to Hernandez's corruption in exchange for stability and his help stopping Central American migration, a major priority during the Trump administration.

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FADEL: That was Carrie Kahn reporting.

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