Honduras President's Fate U.S.

FILE - In this May 31, 2019 file photo, demonstrators burn tires at the U.S. embassy to protest the government of President Juan Orlando Hernandez in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Three days after Hernández was labeled a co-conspirator with drug traffickers in August 2019, the top U.S. diplomat in Honduras tweeted that he had met with Hernández "to reaffirm the collaboration and cooperation between the U.S. and Honduras on important bilateral issues." (AP Photo/Elmer Martinez, File)


TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — In a closet-sized underground hip-hop studio in one of the deadliest neighborhoods in Honduras’ capital, Leonardo Sierra believes nothing will change in his country until the United States decides it should.

In the 28-year-old’s assessment, it is Washington — fearing a leftist alternative in this Central American country important to U.S. drug and migration policy — that is keeping unpopular President Juan Orlando Hernández propped up even as U.S. prosecutors call him a co-conspirator in his brother’s drug-trafficking case and protesters call for him to step down.

From the depths of Tegucigalpa’s gang-controlled La Travesía neighborhood to the halls of the nation’s congress, Hondurans wonder how long the U.S. government can stick with Hernández. While their president jets off to Washington for meetings and photo ops, average Hondurans are glued to the slow drip of revelations coming from a federal courthouse in Manhattan.

Hernández has said the allegations in the U.S. come from drug traffickers seeking revenge against him, but U.S. prosecutors promise will provide evidence in a trial scheduled for October showing that Hernández harnessed his brother’s drug-trafficking connections to propel his own political fortunes.

“Particularly in this country the influence of the United States is decisive,” said Raul Pineda Alvarado, a political analyst and former three-term congressman from Hernández’s National Party.

If the U.S. decides Hernández is more trouble than he is worth his days will be numbered; if it doesn’t, he could finish his term, Pineda said. Many Hondurans still cite the U.S. government’s decision to not pressure for the restoration of left-leaning President Manuel Zelaya when he was ousted in a 2009 coup as a demonstration of its role as kingmaker in Honduras.

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