Honduras police seize Los Cachiros’ Joya Grande Zoo
By Dialogo December 05, 2013
Up to a few months ago, nobody talked about brothers Javier Eriberto Rivera Maradiaga and Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga who ran the Joya Grande Zoo in Honduras. But many Hondurans knew about their dealings.
“The owners of the zoo are narcos,” was the word whispered throughout the country. It was a not-so-secret secret.
In September the U.S. Treasury Department placed sanctions against the Rivera brothers, signaling them under the Kingpin Act as international drug traffickers and ring leaders of a band called “Los Cachiros” and eventually seized the zoo.
Other family members were designated as well for their participation in international trafficking activities.
“Los Cachiros is a violent drug trafficking organization in Honduras whose members plow illicit drug proceeds into businesses and properties in order to gain public legitimacy and launder their wealth,” according to a statement by Treasury's Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control Adam J. Szubin.
The other designated individuals apart from Javier Eriberto Rivera Maradiaga, 41, and Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, 36, are their parents Santos Isidro Rivera Cardona, 65, and Esperanza Caridad Maradiaga Lopez, 64; siblings Maira Lizeth, 38, and Santos Isidro Rivera Maradiaga, 28; and Bismarck Antonio Lira Jiron, 36, a cell leader in Nicaragua who was arrested last year.
The U.S. Treasury also identified businesses either owned, directed or controlled by the Rivera Maradiagas, among them a cattle and agriculture enterprise called Ganaderos Agricultores del Norte; an African palm oil producer known as Palma del Bajo Aguan; mining manufacturing company Minera Mi Esperanza; Inmobiliaria Rivera Maradiaga, focused on road construction; and zoo and eco-tourist park Joya Grande.
As the announcement was made, local authorities launched operations in Tocoa and Bonito Oriental, Colón, as well as in Santa Cruz de Yojoa in Cortés, to seize the properties.
The northeastern region where the Riveras operate is fertile. They began as cattle raiders, stealing and reselling animals in the departments of Colón and Olancho, police said. As their land holdings grew, so did their connections with suspected drug traffickers. By the early 2000s, police said they were moving drugs from South America to Mexican handlers in Guatemala.
Drugs came in through La Mosquitia, transported to Colón and they cut the drugs down to smaller portions, authorities said. They hired local gang members to carry packets in backpacks on motorcycles to raise less suspicion.
Authorities estimated the Cachiros earned between $2,000 and $2,500 per kilo transported. The Cachiros established themselves as the main coordinators for moving drugs to and from Honduras for Colombian and Mexican drug trafficking organizations, including the Sinaloa Cartel, employing land, air, and sea mediums, authorities said. Their activities have been linked to seizures of cocaine in Central America. Los Cachiros reportedly controls up to 90 percent of the clandestine airstrips in Honduras with assets worth at least $800 million.
The Rivera Maradiaga’s wealth became apparent in the new branches they ventured in, opening the businesses as money laundering venues, authorities said.
They stocked the northern markets with beef, they produced oil, they opened hotels, bought a soccer club and in 2010 opened Joya Grande Zoo, located 124 miles north of the capital Tegucigalpa. It shelters 58 species of animals, including a giraffe, zebras, llamas, kangaroos, camels, Siberian tigers, African lions, hippopotamuses and more, to complete a collection of 300 in total.
The zoo, still open to the public under the government’s office of confiscated assets, covers about 200 hectares. It is a reminder of other famous narcos’ proclivity for exotic animals both in Mexico and Colombia. Joya Grande is one of 61 properties seized by local authorities in an operation that involved at least 200 police officers and military elements.
By the end of September, the family’s lawyer, Kenneth Araujo, told reporters that the confiscated properties were obtained legally and that some of the properties didn’t even belong to the Rivera Maradiagas, like the zoo. “It never belonged to them,” he said.
Zoo employees claimed they did not know the park belonged to traffickers. The government, in turn, decided to hire everyone already working in the zoo and keep it open to visitors who pay the equivalent of $20 –just like in the past, to enjoy all the entertainment options offered in the grounds, from canopy rides to aquatic slides, in addition to the $150 cabin accommodations for those who wish to stay overnight.
“The loyalty of employees and members of the community is not surprising,” explains security analyst María Luisa Borjas. “These people employ hundreds of people. They established their businesses in remote areas with very little or inexistent governmental presence and they help locals in many ways. Neighbors are indebted to them and even resent it when authorities step in accusing their benefactors and altering the order of things.”
The seizure represents the first phase of the operation against Los Cachiros, said Honduran Police Chief, Juan Carlos Bonilla. “There will be a second phase,” he said. He didn’t provide details of what may come next.
Authorities have since confiscated 44 properties. All of them were vacated, police said.
At least 70 bank accounts –in Lempiras and Dollars, around a dozen commercial enterprises and 24 vehicles also were seized. The director of the government’s office of seized assets (Oficina Administradora de Bienes Incautados, OABI), Humberto Palacios Moya, confirmed no money was found in the accounts. “They were emptied with anticipation.”
In PARAGUAY, narcs and mobsters are presenting themselves as candidates for the traditional political parties...meaning, they don't have zoos...but they do buy political parties.