Will Convicted Drug Money Launderer Run for President in Honduras?

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A powerful business tycoon jailed in the United States for laundering drug money may soon be a presidential candidate in Honduras following his release this month.

At least 14 lawmakers from the opposition Liberal Party are reportedly urging Yani Rosenthal to run for president when he returns to the Central America nation on August 7, according to Criterio. One of them, Juan Carlos Ávila, said they believe Rosenthal is the “only one” able to unite the political opposition ahead of the 2021 general election.

Rosenthal, a former politician and presidential candidate in 2009 and 2013, comes from one of Honduras’ most wealthy and politically-connected families. In July 2017, he pleaded guilty to laundering drug money for the notorious Cachiros criminal clan, for which he was handed a three-year prison term in the United States as part of a plea agreement.

As one US attorney put it, Rosenthal “moonlighted as a money launderer for a ruthlessly violent drug trafficking organization.”

SEE ALSO: How Elites and Narcos Do Business, Politics in Honduras

The Rosenthal family has longstanding connections to both politics and organized crime.

Yani’s father, Jaime, had established the family’s relationship with criminal groups long before he died in 2019. Himself a former vice president and major business figure, Jaime sold cattle and land to “clients” such as the Cachiros’ Rivera Maradiaga family, which were purchased with drug proceeds, according to documents included in the US drug trafficking trial of Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, the former congressman and brother of President Juan Orlando Hernández.

Yani’s cousin, former investment minister Yankel Rosenthal, also admitted in 2017 to having helped drug traffickers launder money through the “purchase of US real estate, political contributions in Honduras, and even investment in a professional soccer team,” according to the Justice Department.

The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned all three Rosenthal men in 2015 and added them to the agency’s list of “Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers.”

InSight Crime Analysis

Latin America is rife with cases that show how political elites are interconnected with organized crime. The current political landscape in Honduras may be the most flagrant example today.

The sitting president, Juan Orlando Hernández of the National Party, has ties to corruption networks and is an alleged co-conspirator in an international drug trafficking conspiracy directed by his brother, which included the Cachiros.

What’s more, the National Party’s likely pick to succeed Hernández, Mauricio Oliva Herrera, has also been tied to the Cachiros through a number of properties he allegedly acquired from a shady business associate.

SEE ALSO: Narco-Politics Cast Shadow on Honduran Presidents

Before President Hernández took office, the National Party’s Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo allegedly handed out state contracts to Cachiros members during his time as president. In addition, his son, Fabio Lobo, was hit with a 24-year prison sentence in 2017 for the “huge quantities” of cocaine he trafficked alongside the Cachiros, all while using his father’s political connections for protection.

Yet, the opposition Liberal Party seems committed to rallying support behind a man who has openly admitted to laundering drug money for the Cachiros, one of the country’s most infamous crime groups.

Whether or not Yani ends up running, the fact that he has secured the backing of over a dozen lawmakers before even returning to the country after having been jailed is damning evidence of the depth of narco-politics in Honduras.

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