By Gustavo Palencia
TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) -Handcuffed and shackled, former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez arrived at his first extradition hearing on Wednesday, where he was met by dozens of boisterous fans as well as emboldened critics who assailed what they called his narco-dictatorship.
Hernandez governed the Central American nation for eight years until last month and now faces a U.S. extradition request issued Tuesday that seeks to force him to face drug trafficking charges in U.S. courts.
“You are not alone! There is a great political party that supports you,” one supporter of Hernandez’s right-wing National Party told local broadcaster TSI.
A scuffle broke out between both supporters and critics in front of the justice ministry where Hernandez’s hearing took place, including pushing and shoving plus some rock throwing, but police quickly separated them.
The judge overseeing the extradition case has scheduled an evidentiary hearing on March 16, according to Judiciary spokesman Melvin Duarte.
The judge ordered that Hernandez remain detained until then at a police special forces base.
Hernandez, 53, was arrested by police on Tuesday, in a spectacle carried live on local television, after the ex-president and one-time Washington ally pledged his cooperation.
A U.S. Embassy document seen by Reuters alleged that Hernandez was part of an operation to transit massive amounts of cocaine from Colombia and Venezuela via Honduras to the United States. The document further claims that he received millions of dollars in bribes in exchange for providing protection to traffickers.
Hernandez has denied all wrongdoing and has previously sought to cast aspersions on prosecutors’ evidence while also highlighting his past support from U.S. officials.
Last year, a U.S. judge sentenced Hernandez’s brother to life in prison plus 30 years in a major cocaine trafficking case.
“Yes we did! Yes we did! They’re taking the corrupt narco-dictator,” said a member of the leftist Libre party of new President Xiomara Castro, who gave his name only as Manuel.
(Reporting by Gustavo Palencia; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)