Honduran officials referred to the measure as a “law of deterrence” that could allow security forces to shoot down “narco jets” or force them to land so that traffickers can be arrested. Many of those jets originate in Venezuela, whose government the United States has accused of narcoterrorism.
“We are bringing the fight to the skies and will stop anyone trying to bring drugs to or through Honduras,” the country’s president, Juan Orlando Hernández, said in a statement.
The State Department congratulated Honduras on the passage of the law.
“We welcome the steps taken by the Honduran Government, including the passage of the revised Honduran Air Sovereignty Law, to seek to meet the U.S. legal requirements that must be satisfied in order for the United States to resume certain currently restricted counternarcotics assistance,” said a State Department spokesperson for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs who was not authorized to be quoted by name.
The State Department would not comment on which specific changes allow for the resumption of assistance.
Last year, Hernández’s brother, former congressman Juan Antonio Hernández Alvarado, was convicted of drug trafficking in a New York court after being extradited from Honduras. The president was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the case.
President Hernández and other members of his administration deny those accusations and say they are continuing to cooperate with the U.S. government to crack down on drug trafficking. “The president’s brother was never a part of the administration or any government institution,” Luis Suazo, the country’s vice minister of security, said in an interview. Suazo and other officials said they also had doubts about some of the information used in the case.
“The great majority of information presented as evidence [in court] was from people extradited from Honduras, or who could be extradited, and preferred to make an agreement,” he said.
After taking office in 2014, Hernández extradited several leaders of Honduran drug cartels to the United States. Since then, the United States has dispatched aid to Honduras to train special anti-narcotic units within the security forces.
Suazo and other Honduran officials say that the administration is proud of its track record on combating drug trafficking and that the case against Hernández’s brother should not detract from that record.
In April, a former police chief who worked under President Hernández, Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares, was charged in the federal district of New York with shipping tons of cocaine into the United States. Again, the president was named as a co-conspirator.
Still, in its yearly International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, the U.S. State Department said, “The political will of the Honduran government to combat drug trafficking in coordination with U.S. law enforcement agencies continues, but significant challenges to success remain.”
“Approximately 4 percent, or 120 metric tons (MT), of cocaine shipments from South America made a first stop by air or by sea in Honduras in 2019,” the report said.
Last year, Honduras’s defense force destroyed 32 clandestine runways used by jets trafficking cocaine. When those jets land, the drugs are typically taken by land through Mexico to the U.S. border.
“Our results in the fight against drug trafficking have been successful, and the State Department has recognized them,” Suazo said.