Friday, October 23, 2015

Randy Jorgensen, the Canadian “Porn King”, To Appear in Honduran Courts for Illegal Possession of Garifuna Lands for Tourist Projects

Randy Jorgensen will appear in Honduran courts under charges of usurpation, related to the illegal possession of Afro-indigenous, Garifuna lands in Trujillo, Honduras. Jorgensen, also known as the Canadian Porn King, is a major investor in various tourist projects in the Trujillo Bay area along Honduras’ northern Caribbean coast, including the ‘Banana Coast’ cruise ship terminal, and various gated-community projects. Charges against Jorgensen involve the illegal purchase and on-going use of land within a community land title belonging to the Garifuna communities of Cristales and Rio Negro, located in Trujillo Bay.

Photo caption: The Banana Coast cruise ship terminal, in the Rio Negro neighborhood in Trujillo. Local residents no longer have free access to the beach.

The legal hearing will take place on November 13 and the charges come after years of investigation of the illegal land sales. In June of this year, an arrest warrant for Jorgensen was issued by the Honduran Attorney General’s office. The majority of the alleged “land sales” in Rio Negro were made under threat of expropriation and repression, given the tense political environment following the June 2009 military coup in Honduras.

The Garifuna are an Afro-indigenous people that have lived for over 200 years along the Caribbean coast of Honduras, on lands now threatened by the foreign and national tourism industry. In the Trujillo region, Garifuna communities are also being evicted from their ancestral lands amid the possible construction of an Economic Development and Employment Zone (ZEDE) or Model City. Jorgensen’s investments are seen as the seed of a future ZEDE or parts of what could grow into a free trade, special development zone in the region.

Slow Tourism-Related Ethnocide

The Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH by its Spanish acronym) has been publicly condemning tourism-related repression and illegal land sales for years. In December 2011, Rio Negro and Cristales, accompanied by OFRANEH, “filed a lawsuit demanding absolute nullity of several fraudulent land sales made in favor of Randy Roy Jorgensen. … Jorgensen, in the midst of the Honduran political tragedy in 2009, managed to suddenly obtain environmental licenses to build in an area declared a buffer zone of the Capiro and Calentura National Park.” Regarding the recent charges, OFRANEH released a statement that can be found here.

Photo caption: The ruins of a house in Rio Negro, with one of the last houses standing in the backdrop at the location where the Banana Coast cruise ship terminal is now located. Picture taken in 2011.

The piece of land that Jorgensen is illegally occupying consists of over 76 manzanas [approximately 132 acres] within the Rio Negro land title dating back to 1901. Upon obtaining the land, Jorgensen has since built the ‘Banana Coast’ cruise ship terminal that received over 50 international cruise ships last season. The Garifuna community of Rio Negro has largely been ‘disappeared’ by the project and the few houses remaining are regularly affected by severe flooding caused by the design and construction of the cruise ship terminal adjacent to their houses. Residents of Rio Negro and surrounding Garifuna communities have also lost access to the beach, a lifeline for the Garifuna that rely on fishing for local consumption.

Tourism, Dispossession and Repression

In her excellent article about Canadian tourism interests in Trujillo, journalist Dawn Paley reports that Jorgensen was nicknamed the ‘Canadian Porn King’ in a 1993 publication of MacLean’s magazine in Canada. The nickname is a play on how Jorgensen earned his fortune by distributing and selling pornographic films in ‘Adults Only Video’ (AOV) stores across Canada and online. Upon moving to Honduras in 2007, the Porn King has since become the major promoter and investor of a Cancun-style tourism economy in Trujillo Bay. Besides Banana Coast, Jorgensen owns another company, Life Vision Developments that is selling small lots of land to North Americans through various real estate firms based in Canada, and a money-making scheme known as Fast Track Group based in Alberta, Canada. These lots – many of which were illegally purchased by Life Vision Developments and are inside Garifuna land titles – are located within gated-communities Campa Vista, Coroz Alta, Alta Vista, and New Palm Beach.

Photo caption: The entrance of NJOI Trujillo.

Other North American projects have since begun construction and land sales in the last few years, following in Jorgensen’s footsteps. NJOI Trujillo and NJOI Santa Fe, owned and managed by Canadians Gino and Cristina Santarossa, and Paul and Lucio Todos, are real estate, resort-style projects for sale. Canadian journalist Sandra Cuffe writes about NJOI’s projects built illegally inside land owned communally by the Garifuna community of Guadalupe.

It is likely that many, if not all of these tourism-related investments are in serious risk, given that most, if not all recent tourism investment projects, going back to before the 2009 military coup, and particularly since the coup, are being constructed on Garifuna lands and territories that have been illegally acquired, in one fashion or another. Garifuna community and human rights defenders believe, and hope, that the usurpation charges against Randy Jorgensen are only the first of many legal challenges to come.

Jorgensen’s Legal Problems, Past and Present

The current charges against the Porn King are not Jorgensen’s first run-in with the Honduran legal system. In 2001, Jorgensen and his father, Roy Jorgensen, fought charges of proxenetismo de menores or prostitution of minors, all the way to the Honduran Supreme Court. There are concerns of corruption related to how the charges were ultimately dropped. Then in 2011, Jorgensen reported to the Honduran press that Honduran banks had closed his accounts for “unknown reasons”. Locals in Trujillo Bay also report that Jorgensen has strong ties to the Lobo family that have been accused of drug trafficking. Fabio Lobo, the son of former Honduran President Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo, was arrested in May of this year by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency on drug trafficking charges in connection to the drug cartel operating in the Trujillo area, known as “Los Cachiros.” Lobo was extradited to stand trial in the U.S.

The most recent usurpation charges against Randy Jorgensen come as a surprise given the high levels of corruption and impunity in the Honduran judicial system. Although the recent charges seem hopeful, many are skeptical that the charges will proceed, if at all, in Honduran courts.

Photo caption: Randy Jorgensen (left) with Ramon Lobo (center) and former President Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo (right). Photo from Life Vision Development.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

What's going on with the Rosenthals?

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) indicted three members of the Rosenthal family - Jaime Rolando Rosenthal, Yankel Antonio Rosenthal, Yani Bejamin Rosenthal - for money laundering related to illicit activities and international drug trafficking. Jaime Rosenthal and family have since published two communiques denying the charges and declaring their innocence. The news of the Rosenthal bust hit the press yesterday when the DEA prevented Yankel Rosenthal from boarding a flight from Miami destined for Tegucigalpa. The sanctions against the Rosenthals are a very surprising move by the U.S. as the Rosenthal family is one of the wealthiest and most prominent of the Honduran elite with strong ties to the Liberal Party, one of the two traditional political parties that have controlled and dominated the Honduran Congress for decades.

Jaime Rolando Rosenthal is a former Vice President of Honduras, and a major, if not THE major player, in the Liberal Party of Honduras. He owns Banco Continental, a large, national bank in Honduras, and the center-right newspaper, El Tiempo, which he founded in 1970 after a conflict as a founding investor in the national newspaper La Prensa, owned by Jorge Larach. The extent of the Rosenthals' investments managed under their company, Continental Group (Grupo Continental) are vast and include businesses in the coffee, banana, cacao, sugar industry, live stock, various residential and real estate companies, amongst many others. The Rosenthal family is a media magnate owning the El Tiempo newspaper, Canal 11 (together with Gilberto Goldstein), and Cable Color. According to Honduran journalist Manuel Torres Calderon, "through his Jaimista Movement, Rosenthal has been considered - in the liberal governments - as an "owner" of a quota of power in the National Congress, Supreme Court of Justice, ministries and key dependents of public administration, among them the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL)."

His son, Yani Rosenthal, also sanctioned by the U.S. OFAC for "money laundering and drug trafficking activities" is a former Presidential candidate for the Liberal Party, and heavily involved in his family's businesses. His cousin, Yankel Rosenthal stopped in Miami by the DEA, is married to the daughter of another very prominent and wealthy business man, Gilberto Goldstein. Yankel is President of the Rosenthal's soccer club, Club Marathon, based in San Pedro Sula. When he appeared in court yesterday with his wrists handcuffed to a chain at his waist, Hondura's Channel 6 reported that he "could not stop his tears when seeing his daughter in the Miami court."

An interesting commentary about Yankel breaking down in court, is circulating around social media was made by former public prosecutor and lawyer representing the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ by its Spanish acronym), Victor Fernandez:

"I have seen so many poor people crying when their family member is sent to prison (or subject to police or miitary force), but the poor have always been closer to jail and all of its respective abuses. I imagine that this family (Rosenthal), with so much power and money in this country, will feel that the world is falling in on them, and now, will live what many Honduras live day to day. But the biggest impact that this news should generate, is the confirmation (because we all knew it) that Honduras, for years, has been governed by gangs."

The sanctioning of the three Rosenthals raises tons of questions and lots of speculation. I've outlined a few theories that have been circulating in the social media:

1. Banco Continental may have been involved in the narco activities and money laundering schemes of the Los Cachiros drug cartel. The Rivera Maradiaga brothers handed themselves over the U.S. authorities in the Bahamas and its possible that as part of the negotiations of their arrest, that they would hand over information that incriminated individuals in the Honduran government and prominent businesses, including Honduran banks involved in laundering. Its possible that Banco Continental was connected somehow to Los Cachiros.

Other points to consider: Various Honduran banks are thought to be involved in narco and money laundering activities, although none other than Banco Continental are being touched by U.S. authorities. A recent complaint was filed in Panama against Camilo Atala, owner of the largest Honduran bank, Banco FICOHSA for alleged money laundering and conspiracy to commit a crime. Banco FICOHSA was also flagged and now under investigation by the International Financial Corporation, the private-arm of the World Bank, for its involvement in loaning money to Dinant Corporation linked to hundreds of campesino killings and human rights abuses in the Aguan Valley.

From what has been reported, the complain against FICOHSA in Panama seems not to have anything to do with the U.S. government or respective U.S. investigations. Banco FICOHSA recently bought out City Bank Honduras, and in general it is suspected that under the new loan signed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Honduran banking system is becoming increasingly integrated into the global market, including strong, parent ties to big U.S. banks. As the 2013 HSBC scandal has taught us, U.S. banks themselves aren't innocent in money laundering activities related to Latin American drug cartels either.

2. The Rosenthal bust is simply a blow against Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez's political enemies and critics. Since Jaime and Yani Rosenthal were both prominent politicians and actors in the Liberal Party of Honduras, some say that the Rosenthal family is being targeted because of its open criticisms of the Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH) government and the National Party via their newspaper, El Tiempo. With major Liberal Party actors out of the picture, the U.S. move will further strengthen the JOH government as decommissioned property or assets will be in the hands of the party that controls the Honduran state, the National Party.

Other points to consider: Although Jaime and Yani Rosenthal are both big time Liberal Party politicians and supporters, Yankel had just ended his relationship with the Liberals and joined the National Party ranks. In 2013, Yankel publicly threw his support behind JOH's Presidential candidacy and in February 2014 until June 2015 was the Ministry of Investment Promotion. A brief video interview circulating on social media, shows Yankel stating that "we" [and its unclear who "we" is] support him [JOH] in his conviction, economically, and we are going to support him with a vote as well." So although Jaime Rosenthal is the definitely the big name in the family and the Liberal Party, at least one of the three Rosenthals accused by the U.S. is sympathetic to JOH.

Photo caption: Yankel Rosenthal (left) with Ana Garcia Hernandez and current Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez.

Something else to consider when examining the argument that going after the Rosenthals is in short, strenghening JOH's regime, is that the National Party has suffered some drug busts as well. For example, the Valle Valle family, thats members have been captured and extradited to the U.S. as well, were major financiers of JOH's campaign, and Los Cachiros have strong links to the National Party. Fabio Lobo, the son of former National Party President Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo was allegedly captured in Haiti by the DEA on charges of drug trafficking linked to Los Cachiros. Some people in Honduras believe that Lobo was actually arrested in Honduras and then taken to Haiti and 'officially' captured in order to lower the political impact of the charges.

In short, there is lots of speculation about the recent arrests and accusations against the Rosenthals. Time will tell how it will play out. Regarding the U.S. government's role in the last few years of money laundering scandals and arrests related to drug trafficking, are a few points that are clear to me:

** The U.S. are cherry-picking criminals - going after some while not touching others that are just as bad if not worse than the Rosenthals.

** Who gets extradited, how, and where they are captured or handed over to the U.S. is clearly being negotiated between the U.S. government and some institution(s) or group(s) in Honduras behind closed doors. The U.S. seems to be calling the shots and dragging Honduran investigative bodies and institutions along for the ride.

** The U.S. continues its obsession over cracking down on (some) drug trafficking and illicit activities in the name of the War on Drugs, that is inherent to the neoliberal political and economic system in Honduras. The drug war is used as a justification to militarize and terrorize Honduran society while homicide rates and insecurity remain alarmingly high. If you ask Hondurans from the social movement if they are surprised about the U.S. naming the Rosenthals as criminals, they will likely tell you that everyone knows the Honduran elite are involved in illicit activities of some sort, but that they are surprised that the U.S. is taking out one of its historically important allies - a prominent and wealthy Honduran family.

** The long-term support by the U.S. for the Honduran oligarchy has assisted in generating and expanding the power and influence of a handful of Honduran political and economic elite. The U.S. support for the June 2009 military coup being the most recent example. The coup led to skyrocketing homicide rates and insecurity, and allowed for drug traffickers and criminals to operate in almost a complete state of impunity. It is this state of impunity that has generated more drug trafficking, higher levels of insecurity, and mass corruption including the multi-million dollar Social Security scandal (IHSS) that has had a tremendous impact on Honduran society as well.

Photo caption: JOH "I have a little gift for you, a trip to Miami with you whole family, everything paid," Ricardo Alvarez [JOH's alleged political rival within the National Party] "No thanks, its better to give it to Callejas [former Honduran President accused of multiple acts of corruption], I'm busy reading 'Never Enter Miami' [a book written by Honduran writer Roberto Quesada]."

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Great Posts This Week on Honduras Resiste

Vicki Cervantes, from La Voz de los de Abajo in Chicago and also the U.S.-based Coordinator of the Honduras Solidarity Network is in Honduras and blogging daily about her travels around the country.

La Voz has worked for over a decade in Honduras supporting campesino and human rights struggles around the country. Read their posts including yesterday's piece about the violent eviction in Villanueva on September 23 and the killing of a young 16-year old boy by the police and military.