U.S. declassifies blacklisting of former Honduras leader Hernandez

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Honduras' President Juan Orlando Hernandez presents his national statement as a part of the World Leaders' Summit at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain November 1, 2021. Andy Buchanan/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

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WASHINGTON, Feb 7 (Reuters) - The United States placed then-Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez on a blacklist last year, denying him entry for corrupt or anti-democratic actions, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday, as the listing was declassified.

Blinken cited in a statement "credible" reports that Hernandez "has engaged in significant corruption by committing or facilitating acts of corruption and narco-trafficking, and using the proceeds of illicit activity to facilitate political campaigns."

Hernandez, who left office last month, has denied such allegations.

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The former president was also named in sworn testimony in a U.S. federal criminal proceeding as having received proceeds of drug trafficking as part of his campaign funding, Blinken said.

The State Department included Hernandez on the Corrupt and Undemocratic Actors List effective July 1, 2021, but was now declassifying and publicizing the decision, Blinken said.

Inclusion on the list "generally makes the listed individuals ineligible for visas and admission to the United States," Blinken said.

Hernandez, in a response published as an open letter, touted his achievements in reducing street crime and curbing the trafficking of narcotics bound for the United States.

The former president said it was surprising that the U.S. decision was taken based on media reports and statements by confessed drug traffickers and murderers who were extradited by his government.

Last year, a U.S. judge sentenced Hernandez's brother to life in prison plus 30 years for drug trafficking.

Hernandez's eight-year rule ended on Jan. 27, when Honduras swore in its first woman president, Xiomara Castro.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to the Central American country for Castro's inauguration, a sign of a U.S. desire to boost a leader whose assumption of power had been clouded by political turmoil.

U.S. officials want to work with Castro to curb illegal immigration from Central America and shore up international support for Taiwan. Honduras is one of the few countries in the world maintaining diplomatic ties with Taipei.

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Reporting by Simon Lewis, Kanishka Singh and Rami Ayyub; Additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia; Editing by David Gregorio, Robert Birsel

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