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On Honduras As US Omits JOH From List of Corrupt Actors Inner City Press Asks Zuniga

By Matthew Russell Lee, Patreon Song Filing
BBC - Guardian UK - Honduras - ESPN

SDNY COURTHOUSE / UN Gate July 1 – Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernandez took a briefcase of cash and said he would stuff drugs up the noses of the gringos, a jury was told on March 16, 2021.  Inner City Press live tweeted it, morning here and then the afternoon, about the video(s), here and below. Geovanny Fuentes was found guilty, and his lawyer told Inner City Press he thinks JOH will be or has already been indicted.

 But when the U.S. State Department on July 1 released its Section 353 List of Corrupt and Undemocratic Actors for Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, Juan Orlando Hernandez was not on the list.

 At 4:30 pm on July 1 the State Department held a press call with Special Envoy for the Northern Triangle Ricardo Zúniga. Others asked about Guatemala and El Salvador (and China) - then Inner City Press asked about Honduras, noting that while Pepe Lobo and Oscar Najera are on the list, JOH is not, despite evidence presented by US DOJ in the Tony Hernandez and Geovanny Fuentes Ramirez cases, below.

Envoy Zuniga replied that the US uses a variety of tools and will only work with leaders who are committed to anti-corruption. What? Transcript here:

MR PRICE:  We’ll go the line of Matthew Russell Lee. 

QUESTION:  Sure.  Thanks a lot.  And thanks, thanks for doing the call.  I wanted to ask about Honduras.  In looking at the list, you have former President Pepe Lobo, you have current Congressman Oscar Najera, and you mention this Cachiros.  But being here in the Southern District of New York court and covering the trials of the brother of the current president and of Geovanny Fuentes Ramirez, it’s clear that President Juan Orlando Hernandez is mentioned repeatedly by Department of Justice prosecutors as not only getting campaign contributions from drug traffickers but perhaps being involved in it himself.  So I’m wondering:  On this specific case, can you say what the reasoning is of not having him on the list? 

MR ZUNIGA:  So for questions about U.S. criminal prosecutions, we obviously refer you to the Department of Justice.  We do – this list is intended to demonstrate that we have a commitment to the rule of law and to fighting impunity in Honduras.  We’ve made that clear in our communications with governments across the region, including Honduras, and we’ve made clear that leaders who seek a close relationship with the United States have to demonstrate a commitment to combating corruption.  We use, again, a variety of tools for promoting accountability and combating impunity.  This is one – this list is one of several tools that we use for that purpose.  We do work with other actors in Honduras in government, in civil society, in private sector, and – but again, our primary commitment is to leaders who demonstrate a commitment to combating corruption.

 On May 10, in the parallel case of US v. Lobo,  Honduras police officer Ludwig Criss Zelaya Romero was being sentenced by Judge Schofield. Inner City Press live tweeted it here:

Inner City Press video stand up afterward here.

This case is US v. Lobo, et al., 15-cr-174 (Schofield)

A question still: Does the right to access to Federal court proceedings extend to listen-only telephone lines, in the time of COVID and beyond? Should it?

 The question has been further raised in the ongoing Honduras narco-trafficking case US v. Geovanny Fuentes, which Inner City Press has been covering in-person in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, where it is "in-house press."

   On the morning of March 13, Inner City Press filed a challenge to the cut-off of audio access to the US v. Fuentes trial, citing the First Amendment, COVID and real-world politics, see here and below.

  Late on the evening of March 14, the US Attorney's Office filed a three page letter into the docket, specifically arguing the the call-in line be eliminated for two entire Witnesses and everything they say. US Attorney's Office's letter, now uploaded on Inner City Press' DocumentCloud, here.

 Inner City Press has immediately responded in opposition, here, stating among other things that "the US Attorney's Office seeks to specifically ban public access to two of their Witnesses, while saying that a transcript would be available at some unspecified date afterwards. Given that the Office has yet to unseal improperly redacted portions of their filings, there is little reason to have confidence in the speed of transcription, or that such transcripts would not be too expensive for the public or media. 

Inner City Press after its first filing waited nine hours, including this song, here, to report about it. Full first letter on Inner City Press' DocumentCloud, here.

  Inner City Press itself obeys all existing rules and is grateful for the additional access as in-house media (particularly since it is banned from covering the UN, which now Constitutional rights such as the First Amendment exist).

  But others have rights too - including journalists and regular citizens of Honduras. If the SDNY prosecutors are going to exercises essentially universal jurisdiction for any wire transfer that passes through lower Manhattan, how ever briefly, they should not oppose access to their trials by those impacted, for better and worse.

Judge Castel is a good judge, in Inner City Press' experience. When petitioned he has ordered the unsealing of certain court documents, in a North Korea crypto-currency conference case and the tech / child sex sentencing of Peter Bright former of ArsTechnica, both of which Inner City Press covered and requested. And Judge Castel is certainly in the mainstream in his March 12 psoition. But should it be rethought? Is there a right? Should there be? Watch this site.

The case is US v. Diaz, 15-cr-379 (Castel).


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