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A Tale of 10,000 Sanctioned and Starving Crocodiles

The U.S. froze a wealthy Honduran family's assets after they were accused of drug trafficking. Now the family's 10,000 crocodiles are starving.

TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY NOE LEIVA
Hungry crocodiles in the pool of a private farm in the San Manuel municipality, Cortes department, 220 km north of Tegucigalpa on November 1, 2015. Thousands of  crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus) are starving since weeks ago after the owner of the farm was accused of drug trafficking in the United States. Several member of the prominent  Honduran Rosenthal family, including businessman and former vice president (1986-90) Jaime Rosenthal, were accused in the U.S. of drug trafficking and money laundering.      AFP PHOTO/Orlando SIERRA        (Photo credit should read ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY NOE LEIVA Hungry crocodiles in the pool of a private farm in the San Manuel municipality, Cortes department, 220 km north of Tegucigalpa on November 1, 2015. Thousands of crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus) are starving since weeks ago after the owner of the farm was accused of drug trafficking in the United States. Several member of the prominent Honduran Rosenthal family, including businessman and former vice president (1986-90) Jaime Rosenthal, were accused in the U.S. of drug trafficking and money laundering. AFP PHOTO/Orlando SIERRA (Photo credit should read ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)

Seven lions and more than 10,000 crocodiles owned by the family of Jaime Rosenthal, the former vice president of Honduras, are starving to death on a 70-acre farm in the Honduran town of San Manuel.

The reason? Sanctions slapped on members of the elite Rosenthal clan by the U.S. Treasury Department, which last month accused the multimillionaires of money laundering and drug trafficking.

The former vice president, his son Yani, and his nephew Yankel had their assets frozen on Oct. 7, one day after Yankel was arrested in Miami. His cousin and uncle remain at large, and the family’s crocodile farm, Cocodrilos Continental, was not one of the family’s seven businesses targeted by the United States.

But the spillover effect was unavoidable: The accounts that pay for workers salaries’ and the crocodiles’ food were blocked as part of the freeze.

Their family-run bank, Banco Continental, has taken one of the biggest hits — it’s now being liquidated at the orders of Honduras’ National Banking and Insurance Commission. The Rosenthals also own a football club and a newspaper, Tiempo, which reportedly stopped printing last week.  

According to the Treasury Department, all businesses targeted by the assets freeze were “specially designated narcotics traffickers” under the U.S. Kingpin Act, which intends to prevent drug traffickers from interacting with the U.S. financial system.

And the Rosenthal relatives are allegedly some of the wealthiest and most influential drug traffickers of them all, running one of the largest narcotics operations in Latin America. In Honduras, the political elite are often considered untouchable, and in recent years, the country’s drug trade has worsened. In certain areas, gangs and drug rings have more control than elected officials or police, who are often in cahoots with the criminals.

That makes the sanctions on one of Honduras’ wealthiest and most influential families even more significant.

“[The men] provide money laundering and other services that support the international narcotics trafficking activities of multiple Central American drug traffickers and their criminal organizations,” the Treasury Department said in a statement last month.

But Jaime and Yani released a statement denying all charges. “We have never been involved in illegal acts, much less in drug trafficking or money laundering activities,” they said.

Whether the Treasury Department knew the effect the sanctions would have on the family’s innocent crocodiles remains unclear, and Treasury did not immediately respond to a request from Foreign Policy to comment on the matter.

Cocodrilos Continental costs at least $1 million a year to run, and workers on the farm aren’t willing to stay much longer if they don’t receive their paychecks and can’t do their jobs.

“The crocodiles and lions are dying of hunger, and we are too because we haven’t been paid the last two weeks,” a farm worker using the pseudonym José told Agence France-Presse. “Forty animals have already died. They were taken away in boxes by trucks to be buried.”

On Friday, the Honduran Forest Conservation Institute donated around 3,000 pounds of poultry to feed the hungry reptiles, which are bred for their skin and meat. And on Wednesday, a different Honduran firm donated another few thousand pounds of cow entrails.

But that’s enough for only two or three days worth of meals, and workers are unwilling to feed the animals until they’re guaranteed they’ll be paid. “The 3,000 pounds doesn’t amount to much because a crocodile eats the equivalent of half a horse in a day,” José told the news service.

Photo credit: ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images

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