- Thousands of protestors took to the streets of Honduras to call for President Juan Orlando Hernández to resign after U.S. prosecutors filed court documents accusing him of receiving $1.5 million in drug money during his campaign for president.
- In November, the president’s brother was arrested in Miami and charged with trafficking thousands of kilograms of cocaine to the U.S.
- The U.S. has strongly supported Hernández’s government and given them millions of dollars to stop the flow of drugs from South and Central America.
- Hernández has faced increasing pressure recently, with some arguing he has become more authoritarian, noting that he changed the constitution so he could be re-elected to another term in 2017, in an election that many said was fraudulent.
Protests in Tegucigalpa
Thousands of protestors in Honduras took to the streets of the capital city Tegucigalpa Monday calling for President Juan Orlando Hernández to step down after allegations surfaced accusing the president of receiving drug money to secure power.
The demonstrations became violent when protestors clashed with the police. Police fired tear gas and water cannons at protestors who reportedly responded by attacking authorities with sticks and stones.
It was also reported that three businesses caught fire during the protests.
The protests come days after U.S. federal prosecutors filed a document in the Southern District of New York alleging that President Hernández received $1.5 million from drug traffickers during his campaign for president in 2013.
According to the Associated Press, the court filings say that Hernández co-conspired with his brother, former congressman Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, and former President Porfirio Lobo “to use drug trafficking to help assert power and control in Honduras.”
The AP also reported that prosecutors claim both the president and former president received money from drug traffickers in the form of “cash bribes to Honduran officials as well as gifts and favors to local politicians,” adding the court filing “also alludes to multiple payments of $1 million or more from drug dealers to Lobo.”
Regarding former President Lobo, AP additionally noted that his son was sentenced to 24 years in prison in the U.S. for drug trafficking in 2017.
Hernández’s office responded to the allegations on Saturday, writing on their official Twitter account that Hernández “categorically denies the false and perverse accusations.”
Later that same day, Hernández himself responded to the filings in a press conference, where he claimed that the allegations were made by drug dealers who were trying to retaliate against him.
“The drug traffickers are looking for revenge against the only president who’s done what he’s needed to do,” the president said. “These are false accusations made by a drug trafficker.”
The allegations in the new court filing are serious, but they also do not come as a complete surprise.
Back in May, U.S. federal court documents revealed that Hernández and some of his advisers were the subjects of a Drug Enforcement Administration investigation. That announcement was significant because it caused many to cast doubt the U.S.’ relationship with Honduras.
The U.S. government is a strong supporter of Hernández and his administration and has given the country millions of dollars to stop drugs from going from Central and South America to the U.S
Another reason the filings should not come as a surprise is that they are part of the pre-trial documents in a case against the current president’s brother, Tony Hernández, who was arrested in Miami in November 2018 and charged with trafficking thousands of kilograms of cocaine to the U.S.
Prosecutors reportedly described Tony Hernández as a “violent, multi-ton drug trafficker” who has a lot of influence and power over high-level officials in Honduras.
They claimed that he had directed Honduran National Police to escort his cocaine through international waters and airspace.
They also alleged that the president’s brother orchestrated the murders of rival drug-traffickers, and in one instance, instructed a member of the police to carry a murder. That officer was later appointed as chief of police.
Since the arrest of his brother, President Hernández has come under increased pressure.
In fact, Monday’s protests are not the first demonstrations against Hernández, or even the first protests calling for him to step down.
In April protestors in Tegucigalpa launched anti-government demonstrations opposing proposed health and education reforms, which the protestors said could lead to mass lay-offs of teachers and doctors.
Those protests became violent and hundreds of people had to be evacuated from buildings in the capital that had been set on fire.
Then in June, Hernández deployed the military after protests in the capital against the reforms again became violent. A few weeks later, the military received backlash after they opened fire on students protesting the same reforms and calling for Hernández to resign.
Others have also criticized Hernández as becoming increasingly authoritarian in recent years, specifically noting the fact that he changed the constitution so he could be elected to another four-year term in 2017.
After that election, the U.S. State Department still certified that Honduras met good governance benchmarks, despite the fact that Honduras was in turmoil over what many believed was a fraudulent election.
The U.S. State Department also formally recognized Hernández as president following his re-election, despite calls from Congress and the Organization of American States to hold new elections.
According to reports, at least 30 people died in a wave of protests accusing Hernández of corruption and electoral fraud in the weeks before and after his inauguration.
Hernández responded with the promise that he would fight against corruption and drug trafficking, but instead, he has increased the repression of his critics and human rights activists.
See what others are saying: (Reuters) (BBC) (Associated Press)
Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders
Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.
Azovstal Waves the White Flag
Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.
A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.
The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.
It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.
Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.
Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.
Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.
Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.
Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands
After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.
The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.
Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.
The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.
The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.
It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (BBC)
Convoy of Up to 1,000 Vehicles Evacuates Refugees From Mariupol as Russian War Effort Stalls
Russia may have lost a third of its ground invasion force since the war began, according to British military intelligence.
Hundreds Make It Out Alive
A convoy of between 500 and 1,000 vehicles evacuating refugees from the southern port city of Mariupol arrived safely in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday.
People have been trickling out of Mariupol for over two months, but the recent evacuation was the single biggest out of the city thus far. Russian troops, who control most of the city, did not allow the convoy to leave for days, but eventually, they relented.
The convoy first traveled to Berbyansky some 80 kilometers to the west, then stopped at other settlements before driving 200 kilometers northwest to Zaporizhzhia. Many refugees told reporters they took “secret detours” to avoid Russian checkpoints and feared every moment of the journey.
Nikolai Pavlov, a 74-year-old retiree, told Reuters he had lived in a basement for a month after his apartment was destroyed.
“We barely made it,” he said. “There were lots of elderly people among us… the trip was devastating. But it was worth it.”
63-year-old Iryna Petrenko also said she had stayed in Mariupol initially to take care of her 92-year-old mother, who subsequently died.
“We buried her next to her house, because there was nowhere to bury anyone,” she said.
Putin’s Plans Go Poorly
In Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters continue to hold the Azovstal steelworks, the only part of the city still under Ukrainian control.
On Sunday, a video emerged appearing to show a hail of projectiles bursting into white, brightly burning munitions over the factory.
The pro-Russian separatist who posted it on Telegram wrote, “If you didn’t know what it is and for what purpose – you could say that it’s even beautiful.”
Turkey is trying to negotiate an evacuation of wounded Ukrainians from the factory, but neither Russia nor Ukraine have agreed to any plan.
After nearly three months of war, Mariupol has been left in ruins, with thousands of civilians reportedly dead.
“In less than 3 month, Mariupol, one of Ukraine’s fastest developing & comfortable cities, was reduced into a heap of charred ruins smelling death, with thousands of people standing in long breadlines and selling their properties out to buy some food. Less than three months,” Illia Ponomarenko, a reporter for The Kyiv Independent, tweeted.
On Sunday, the United Kingdom’s defense ministry estimated that Russia has likely lost a third of its ground invasion forces since the war began.
Moscow is believed to have deployed as many as 150,000 troops in Ukraine.
The ministry added that Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine have “lost momentum” and are “significantly behind schedule.” Moreover, it said Russia failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the last month while sustaining “consistently high levels of attrition.”
“Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days,” the ministry concluded.
Sweden also signaled on Sunday that it will join Finland in applying for NATO membership.
See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (U.S. News and World Report) (The Hill)
Israel Moves to Build Over 4,000 West Bank Settlements as Palestinian Homes Demolished
The Israeli military is proceeding with a plan to evict at least 1,000 Palestinians from the West Bank.
Settlers Get Ready to Move in
On Thursday, a military planning body in the Israeli-occupied West Bank approved the construction of 4,427 housing units, according to the watchdog group Peace Now.
“The State of Israel took another stumble toward the abyss and further deepened the occupation,” Hagit Ofran, an expert at Peace Now, said via the Associated Press.
The plan is the largest advancement of settlement projects since President Joe Biden took office in the United States.
The U.S. opposes settlement expansion and said as much when the plan was first announced last week, but critics say Washington has done little to pressure Israel to stop.
In a statement, U.N. Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland called the settlements a “major obstacle to peace.”
“Continued settlement expansion further entrenches the occupation, encroaches upon Palestinian land and natural resources, and hampers the free movement of the Palestinian population,” he said.
In October, Israel approved some 3,000 settlement homes despite a U.S. rebuke. There are currently over 130 Israeli settlements in the West Bank harboring almost 500,000 settlers, in addition to the nearly three million Palestinians living in the territory.
Palestinians Pushed Off Their Land
On Wednesday, the same day Israeli soldiers allegedly shot and killed Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, the military demolished at least 18 buildings in the West Bank, including 12 residential ones.
Israel’s supreme court has also ruled that eight Palestinian hamlets can be expelled, potentially leaving at least 1,000 Palestinians homeless.
The area targeted is known as the Masafer Yatta, and its residents say they have been herding animals and practicing traditional desert agriculture there for decades, long before Israel took over the West Bank in 1967. Israel, however, claims there were no permanent structures there before the military designated it a firing zone in the 1980s
“What’s happening now is ethnic cleansing,” Sami Huraini, an activist and a resident of the area, told the Associated Press. “The people are staying on their land and have already started to rebuild.”