Archive for December, 2014

The Indigenous Fight for Lands and Cultural Survival in Honduras

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Honduras is the country with the highest level of homicide of any nation not at war, where government violence and human rights abuses occur with almost total impunity. It is also the country contributing most to the flood of children who have been recently forced to migrate to the United States by violence and poverty — both, in part, a legacy of U.S. policy in the region.

Yet something else is afoot. A fierce social movement, composed of many sectors, is pushing back to protect democracy, lives, and political rights. Indigenous peoples — including the Garifuna, Lenca, Pech, Miskito, Maya Chortí, and Tolupan — are also asserting their human right to autonomy, territory, and cultural survival.

The Afro-Indigenous Garifuna people are organized through the EH, or OFRANEH by its Spanish acronym.

OFRANEH is at the forefront of an effort to protect Garifuna territory against theft by multinational corporations, the state, and the oligarchy — theft that the United States enables through strong political support for the Honduran government and funding for its brutal military and police. OFRANEH aims to defend the Garigunas’ ecologically rich lands, rivers, forests, oceanfront, and other pillars of their identity: autonomy, community solidarity, and indigenous knowledge.

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“In strength, the Garífuna community in Honduras fought to defend the country against invasion and, in strength, the Garífuna community fights today to defend our land,” said Carla Garcia, a human rights organizer with OFRANEH.

The group also preserves and bolsters modernity-threatened elements of traditional Garifuna culture, including their language, Garinagu; music and arts; ancestral spirituality; and ceremonial life. Moreover, members are preserving ancient practices in ecological farming and sustainable small-scale fishing practices.

“Our lands and identities are critical to our lives,” said OFRANEH coordinator Miriam Miranda. “For us, the struggle for our territories and our commons and our natural resources is of primary importance to preserve ourselves as a people.”

Garifuna lands are being grabbed — with government approval — for tourism, a naval base, a deep-water port, and for gas and oil extraction. This is a gross violation of Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and Honduras’ own constitution, which all guarantee free, prior, and informed consent to any projects in indigenous territories. Narco-traffickers have seized additional lands.

A major element of OFRANEH’s organizing and advocacy is to recover and consolidate the 2,500 acres of their territory of Vallecito on the north coast. They hope to use it as a base for Afro-indigenous resurgence.

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Narcos, long interested in the strategic characteristics of the land for clandestine drug running — including space for a runway, a hidden creek to the sea, and its remote location — had invaded the legally titled Garifuna lands. In 2012, the community reoccupied its land with drumming and ceremony, despite threats and automatic rifle fire.

Since then, however, a portion of the land has been re-invaded. OFRANEH’s strategy to win back Vallecito is to apply strong enough pressure, together with allies around Honduras and the world, that the governmental Agrarian Institute of Honduras will be forced to evict the illegal usurpers.

The future of Vallecito is complicated by the Honduran government’s plans for so-called “charter cities.” Know as ciudades modelos in Spanish, these are foreign enclaves shielded from Honduran sovereignty and financed by international investors, with their own security and laws. Vallecito is at the center of a large swath of Garifuna territory the government has in mind for this project. If it is consolidated, dozens of Garifuna communities could be displaced.

Regardless, OFRANEH plans to recover Vallecito and transform it into a center of Garifuna renewal. All community members dislocated from their lands, for whatever reason, will be able to resettle there.

Strengthening traditional Garifuna agriculture, aquaculture, and culture in general will be an integral part of the resettlement. Immediate plans include the construction of a Garifuna ceremonial and cultural center. Youth leadership development is another part of the plan, so that urban youth and young adults can learn the same skills and knowledge as Garifunas living in remote rural locations.

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Like other indigenous and non-indigenous Hondurans standing up for their rights, the Garifunas suffer continual violence, threats, and human rights abuses. Both the land grabs and the violence surrounding them are part of a political climate resulting from a coup d’état against President Manuel Zelaya on June 28, 2009. Then, with the help of the U.S. government, a clique of the top oligarchs of the nation swept to power.

Since then, the U.S. government has played an enabling role with a series of post-coup regimes, funneling more than $114 million to Honduran security forces, providing political cover, and looking the other way as human rights violations mount. Hundreds of assassinations of opposition organizers and their family members have marked Honduras in recent years, bringing to mind the death squads of the 1980s.

In addition to the government’s impunity and corruption, the illegally imposed congress has conceded valuable land and minerals to foreign investors. Beyond what is happening in indigenous communities, campesino land across the country is being grabbed by agribusiness — and in particular by Honduras’ richest man, Miguel Facussé, who presides over a thriving empire of African palm plantations planted to feed the craze for biofuel in the North.

“If you map out the conflicts that are threatening our country, you’ll see they reflect exactly where transnational capital is trying to take more resources from indigenous peoples,” said Miranda on a speaking tour in the United States last year. “We ask ourselves: Hmm, are we the ones consuming all this energy? If those in the North are the consumers, why are we in Honduras paying? Why are we being displaced to generate energy for others?

“If the problem is global,” she continues, “we have to have a global response. It’s time for every human being in the global North to take up his or her responsibility in respect to the use of resources, responsibility relative to waste and to consumption. The standard of living that you all have in the U.S. is unsustainable. You are the button-pushers. The time has come.”

Stephen Bartlett is the Latin America Liaison for Agricultural Missions. Beverly Bell is an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and Coordinator of Other Worlds. She has worked with indigenous movements in Honduras for 15 years. 

For more information, write to sbartlett@ag-missions.org and/or check out Agricultural Mission’s website and Other Worlds’ website. Also see the OFRANEH website and their blog.

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“I’ve Seen All Sorts of Horrific Things in My Time. But None as Detrimental to the Country as This.” U.S. conservatives are about to run a dangerous economic experiment in Honduras

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It’s lunchtime at Maritza Grande’s oceanside restaurant in the Fonseca Gulf of Honduras. She scurries from the kitchen, where she is frying fish and plantains and chopping lettuce, to the bar, where she pries caps off soda bottles. Teenage boys sit at the restaurant’s picnic tables, drinking cokes and listening to reggaeton on their cell phones while on their work break: They ferry tourists in thin motorboats from the Honduran mainland to their island municipality of Amapala in the Pacific Ocean.

At 11:30, Maritza’s husband Raul Garcia arrives. He’s on a work break, toofrom his first-grade classroom at a local public school. Of the nearly 13,000 municipal residents, Raul is one of 300 who have formal employment, according to the mayor’s estimate. The majority are self-employed fishermen who make 3,500 – 7,000 Lempiras (about $167-334.00) per month. Amapala, like many Honduran communities, relies on remittances from Amapalans who leave and work abroad.

Raul slides into a barstool beside Maritza. They talk about the Honduran government’s newest development plan, an idea from New York University economist Paul Romer: Charter cities. In 2013, the Honduran government passed a law based on many aspects of Romer’s idea, which is to create autonomous free-trade zones that are governed by corporations, instead of the countries in which they exist. The first Special Economic Development Zones (ZEDE, for its name in Spanish) is being conceived in Honduras, financed by $40 million from the South Korean government. It will likely be located in Amapala.

Maritza is unsure what to think about the ZEDEs. “I don’t know how much this project will really benefit us,” she says.

Raul shakes his head. “We need this,” he says. “Sure, it could have a dark side, but the truth is that in countries like oursthird world countriesthat’s a necessary evil if we want development.”

Like Raul, many Hondurans hope the ZEDEs will bring jobs. But many fear the “dark side” will outweigh potential benefits. Even economist Romer cut his ties with the ZEDE project in 2012 when the government abruptly signed with an investor group led by American libertarian activist Michael Stronga move Romer called “an overt act of deception.” Strong’s project later disappeared, but nine Americans remain key players in the ZEDEssix of whom served in the administration of former President Reagan.

According to Romer’s vision, the charter city should be established in abandoned territory because it is far more complicated to change an existing townlike Amapalathan to create a new one. Doing so would imply a “frontal attack on those who depend on the current system,” former Reagan speechwriter Mark Klugman has argued.

Danielle Mackey
Former President Mel Zelaya (center).

Romer isn’t the only one with doubts. Like Maritza, many wonder if charter cities will bring development to average citizens or only enrich wealthy investors. Many believe the project will allow multinationals to violate labor and environmental rights, and some argue that it’s unconstitutional and violates national sovereignty. According to the charter city law, Honduras will sell territory to investors; that territory becomes an autonomous region no longer governed by Honduran laws or police. “This is nothing more than a plan to get rid of the national debt by auctioning off the country,” ex-president Manuel Zelaya, overthrown in a 2009 coup, told me at a rally on the coup’s fifth anniversary.

In a post-coup Honduras gripped by violence, many fear the ZEDEs will become a tool for organized crime to strengthen its hold on the country. “What’s attractive to some about the ZEDE is the extreme extent to which it takes freedom,” said Eugenio Sosa, a sociologist at the country’s public university, the Autonomous National University of Honduras (UNAH). “But that’s the same part that will let in illicit groups and mafias.”

Sandra Maribel Sanchez has been a journalist in Honduras for 30 years. “I’ve seen all sorts of horrific things in my time,” she says. “But none as detrimental to the country as this.”

Danielle Mackey
A boy plays soccer on a beach in Amapala.

 

Octavio Sanchez is one reason charter cities came to Honduras. Harvard-educated and dimpled, Sanchez is young but powerful. As the chief of staff to ex-President Pepe Lobo, he searched for privatized solutions to national problems: impunity, poverty and violence.

Danielle Mackey
Octavio Sanchez

When Sanchez looks at his country’s history, he sees that times of peace came in periods where it seemed possible to make a profit at homeeven if that profit came by powerful multinational corporations, like the United Fruit Company. He believes that business is the surest way to peace, and a better life for his countrymen. “It’s the way to a police force that works, quality education and health care, and to overcome impunity,” Sanchez says.

Sanchez heard Romer’s argumentthat cities are the best, cheapest way to offer people a good life, and therefore building new cities for the world is a smart approach to solving povertyand he brought it home. Its Honduran and U.S. promoters compare the ZEDEs to Hong Kong, Singapore, and the Cayman Islands.

According to the ZEDE law, the project will work like this: An investor, either international or local, builds infrastructurea port, a mine, or a textile factory, for instance. The territory in which they invest becomes an autonomous zone from Honduras, like Hong Kong nominally is to China. The investing company must write the laws that govern the territory, establish the local government, hire a private police force, and even has the right to set the educational system and collect taxes.

For Sanchez, the money that may follow ZEDEs would be a collateral benefit to their true value: the chance to fix impunity. He believes ZEDEs override corruption by allowing foreign investors to set their own laws, essentially importing functioning legal systems. “The theme in Latin America is justice. If we’re able to create a system that works, this will become the most revolutionary process in the history of Latin America,” Sanchez says. “And if we have to bring justice from outside, we will.”

A central ZEDE government, called the Committee for the Application of Best Practices, oversees all of this. These people are responsible for deciding the bottom-line environmental, legal, and labor standards investors must follow. They also appoint one Honduran per ZEDE as on-site local administrators.

There are 21 people on the committee. Three are Honduran. U.S. members include Mark Klugman, speech writer for presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and image consultant to Honduran post-coup president Lobo; Grover Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform and vice president of Polaroid; Richard Rahn, vice president of the Chamber of Commerce during the Reagan administration and senior member of the Cato Institute; Loren A. Smith, federal judge and chief campaign advisor to Reagan in 1976 and 1980; Reagan’s son, Michael; and Mark Skousen, former CIA economic analyst and Forbes columnist. The list also includes a Danish banker, a Peruvian economist, and an Austrian general secretary of the Friedrich Hayek Institute.

That the ZEDE’s central government is stacked with libertarian foreigners causes skeptics to consider the plan yet another instance of neocolonial collaboration between U.S. and Central American elitesone that’s sold as “development,” but only concentrates wealth, says Roberto Ortiz, a lawyer from Tegucigalpa. He cites the United Fruit Company, which intervened in the early 1900s in Honduran politics to assure its own exorbitant profit, while the majority of Hondurans remainedand still remainvery poor. “There has been strong U.S. intervention in Honduras from the time of the bananeras until now,” he says. The ZEDEs “may be development, but only for a small group of Hondurans. And the majority will suffer the consequences.”

Whether the ZEDE project will be good or bad for Honduras isn’t only about whose interpretation of history is right, or whether the economic philosophy works. It’s also about the context that ZEDEs will enter: ubiquitous corruption and violence. This is a concern that even pro-ZEDE factions, like the libertarian magazine Reason, cite as a reason the project may fail.

Exhibit A is the way charter cities went from idea to reality in Honduras.

Oscar Cruz is a silver-haired 64-year-old lawyer in Tegucigalpa. “The coup in 2009 unleashed the voracity of the groups with real power in this country. It gave them free reins to take over everything,” Cruz says. “They started to reform the Constitution and many lawsthe ZEDE comes in this contextand they made the Constitution into a tool for them to get rich.”

In 2011, he submitted a claim of unconstitutionality to the Honduran Supreme Court on behalf of civil society groups that balked at the sweeping powers charter cities award to investors.

“We need international investment, yes,” Cruz says. “But why at the cost of our national sovereignty?”

On October 18, 2011, the constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court agreed with Cruz. Four of the five sitting justices ruled that the charter city law was a violation of sovereignty and the constitutionally established form of governance in the country.

What happened next made it clear to Cruz that powerful people in the country want the ZEDEs, badly.

“We need international investment, yes. But why at the cost of our national sovereignty?”

The president of Congress at that time was Juan Orlando Hernandeznow president of the country. Hernandez responded to the court’s ruling by calling lawmakers together at 1:35 a.m. Within two hours, Congress unseated the four justices who ruled against the charter cities. They kept the fifth justice, who ruled in charter cities’ favor; and when Hernandez became the country’s president, he nominated this judge to be the country’s attorney general.

Hernandez’s official explanation was that the four justices were unseated because days earlier they had rejected the use of polygraph tests to root out corrupt police. (In the majority opinion, the justices argued that the polygraph isn’t scientifically accurate enough, so using it would violate the constitutional rights of police officers subjected to the test.) But legal experts in the country felt that Hernandez illegally routed the law to force ZEDEs through. A former attorney general decried “the imminent dictatorship of Juan Orlando Hernandez.”

ZEDE supporters hailed Hernandez’s act as a brave, politically expedient move. In an article for the Caiman Financial Review, Klugman called Hernandez a “brilliant young politician” and described his handling of the Supreme Court as “a great testament to the legislative leadership of Mr. Hernandez.”

The congress, led by Hernandez, rewrote and re-passed the law.

One month earlier, officials in Tegucigalpa had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Korean government to begin the first ZEDE. The document, soon leaked, tasks the Honduran government with, among other things, “clearing all legal and political obstacles to the charter cities.”

On May 26, 2014, the new Supreme Court gave ZEDEs its blessing.

Danielle Mackey
A street in Amapala.

 

The island of Amapala is located in the state of Choluteca. Choluteca is rural, flatter, and warmer than the chaotic national capitol of Tegucigalpa. Main street isn’t divided into lanes, so cars drift lazily about the road like Labradors trotting on loose leashes. Few buildings stand taller than two stories. Cholutecans have lived there for generations; this is a place where residents give directions not by street names, but in relation to where the fish market is, or where the rubber tree used to be. They boast that their state is the only safe place left in the country.

Ricardo Espinoza sits in his sparse office off the main street. Espinoza has a Master’s degree in business management, and he helps Cholutecans living on $2 per day start small businesses with microloans. He believes in smart investment as a solution to poverty, and recognizes that his country needs more economic development. “But development is not just economic,” he says. “Poverty is not only a salary that’s too small. It’s also the lack of basic necessities like health, education, and the social exclusion of youth. Already, 40-50 percent of our youth are leaving for the U.S. or joining gangs.”

One cause for alarm, Espinoza says, is how little control the residents of Choluteca have over something that will change their lives. “Historically, Latin America has been a place for imported economic experiments. But experiments aren’t exciting for the people who live here; it’s different when it’s your house that’s being experimented with.”

Danielle Mackey
Saul Montufar

Saul Montufar, a fourth-generation artisanal fisherman, stands on the curb of the Choluteca highway and describes how he thinks this story will end. “Multinational companies won’t have to uphold any environmental standards they don’t want to. ZEDEs will destroy our livelihood,” says Montufar. “They will allow investors to kidnap the state.”

In June 2014, Amapala mayor Santos Alberto Cruz Guevara spent 15 days in South Korea to see charter cities first-hand. He came back cautiously optimistic. “In Korea, what I saw is a city that used to be poor but is now rich, so I feel that ZEDEs create employment opportunities,” the mayor told me in June.

But even after his visit, Cruz Guevara still didn’t know fundamental details about how the program would work. Who, for instance, would have authority to intervene if the private police hired by the investor harmed the Amapalans?

“I listen to my people, and they’re saying to me, ‘Mayor, they’re going to kick us off the land! Mayor, where are we going to go, we have no where else to go!,’” Cruz Guevara said. “And I tell them, ‘Calm down, nothing’s happening yet, we still don’t know anything.’ And as the mayor, my commitment above all else is to protect the best interest of the majority of my people.”

No one but the investors and the Honduran negotiators know how far into Amapala the autonomous charter city could reach. But Cruz Guevara seemed unaware that once the zone is established, he would have no authority within that land.

Danielle Marie Mackey is a freelance journalist based in New York and San Salvador.

Palm Oil and Extreme Violence in Honduras: The Inexorable Rise and Dubious Reform of Grupo Dinant

Monday, 08 December 2014 11:11 By Jeff Conant, Truthout | News Analysis

As one of the fastest growing global commodities, palm oil has recently earned a reputation as a major contributor to tropical deforestation and, therefore, to climate change as well.

About 50 million metric tons of palm oil is produced per year – more than double the amount produced a decade ago – and this growth appears likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Because oil palm trees, native to West Africa, require the same conditions as tropical rainforests, nearly every drop of palm oil that hits the global market comes at the expense of natural forests that have been, or will be, burned, bulldozed and replaced with plantations.

Owned by Miguel Facussé, one of the wealthiest men in Honduras, (Grupo) Dinant has been associated with the killings of over 100 peasant farmers,

With deforestation garnering headlines due to forests’ crucial role in regulating the climate, global commodity producers, from Nestle and Unilever in Europe, to Cargill in the United States to Wilmar International in Indonesia, are recognizing the need to provide products that are “deforestation-free.” Other corporate-led initiatives like the public-private Tropical Forest Alliance that promises to reduce the deforestation associated with palm oil, soy, beef, paper and pulp, and the recent New York Declaration on Forests signed at the UN Climate Summit in New York, suggest that saving the world’s forests is now squarely on the corporate sustainability agenda.

To see more stories like this, visit “Planet or Profit?”

But what is being left behind is the other significant impact of palm oil and other agro-industrial commodities – namely human rights. Commitments to protect forests and conservation areas can, if well implemented, address environmental concerns by delimiting the areas of land available for conversion to palm oil. But natural resource exploitation is inextricably linked to human exploitation, and such commitments do little to address this.

A case in point is Grupo Dinant, a Honduran palm oil company that declared last month that it has been awarded international environmental certifications for its achievements in environmental management and occupational health and safety. Dinant has also been making overtures toward joining the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), including hosting the RSPO’s 4th Latin American conference in Honduras in 2013. But, Dinant, which produces about 60 percent of the palm oil in Honduras, is at the center of what has been called “the most serious situation in terms of violence against peasants in Central America in the last 15 years.”

Owned by Miguel Facussé, one of the wealthiest men in Honduras, Dinant has been associated with the killings of over 100 peasant farmers, and appears to be involved in a virtual terror campaign to ensure control of a large swath of land in the Lower Aguan Valley near the Caribbean coast of Honduras.

While credible human rights groups like Human Rights Watch denounce the killings and note that “virtually none of the crimes are properly investigated, let alone solved,” Dinant continues to enjoy financing from the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, support from the United Nations Clean Development Mechanism, and brand relationships with multinational consumer goods companies such as Mazola Oils.

The Aguán Valley and the Introduction of Palm Oil

The Bajo Aguán Valley, one of the most fertile regions in Honduras, has long been a center of agrarian conflict. In her book Grabbing Power: The New Struggles for Land, Food and Democracy in Northern Honduras, researcher Tanya Kerssen reaches back to the 1950s to show how a struggle between farmers’ associations and multinationals Standard Fruit and United Fruit Company set the scene for the land concentration that reigns today. Decades of peasant struggle led to a brief period in the 1970s when the government distributed land to smallholder farmers from other parts of the country, who then formed cooperatives to bring crops to market. The embattled region became briefly known as the “capital of land reform” – but these reforms have long since been rolled back, in part due to the country’s need to pay back its foreign debt.

In a few years in the early ’90s, more than three quarters of the land in the Aguan Valley was re-concentrated into the hands of a few Honduran oligarchs.

In the 1980s, a combination of loans from the InterAmerican Development Bank (IDB) and bilateral aid allowed the Honduran government to construct a road network in the Aguan, as well as three palm oil processing plants and a modern port. Hoping to pay down its large debts to the IDB, the state-controlled mills bought palm from peasant cooperatives at rock-bottom prices, in return promising peasants eventual control over the processing plants. In the early ’90s, an “agrarian modernization law” was passed with support from the World Bank and the US Agency for International Development that again stimulated large land purchases and made the Aguan Valley the national poster child for re-concentration of land.

Land Re-concentration, Rise of Grupo Dinant

Over the next several decades, cooperatives and smallholders were coerced into selling their land to powerful landlords, often through intimidation and manipulation, from bribes of peasant leaders to threats and outright violence – tactics that continue to reign in the region to this day. Peasant farmers in the Aguan again found themselves as day laborers on large plantations, working hard for little pay. In a few years in the early ’90s, more than three-quarters of the land in the Aguan Valley was re-concentrated into the hands of a few Honduran oligarchs. One of these landlords was Miguel Facussé.

Human Rights Watch confirms that government security forces themselves have committed human rights violations including arbitrary detentions and torture.

Among the wealthiest men in Honduras – and now the richest – Facussé established a series of food commodity businesses, culminating in 2005 with Grupo Dinant. Dinant produces cooking oil, snacks, and other food products, as well as biofuels. To do this, the company took a $30 million loan from the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation and a $7 million loan from the InterAmerican Investment Corporation (IIC). Trade liberalization also enriched Facussé: Both Unilever and Proctor & Gamble gained important footholds in Central America by acquiring distribution networks and brands owned by Facussé. The profits and the status conferred on Dinant through such purchases enabled more land purchases in the Aguan Valley, furthering the concentration of land.

In 2001, farmers in the region organized as the Unified Peasants Movement of the Aguán Valley (MUCA), with the aim of reclaiming their land rights through the courts. With legal routes exhausted, in 2006 they began land occupations. In June 2009, they occupied one of the palm oil processing plants of Exportadora del Atlántico, part of Grupo Dinant, provoking then-President Manuel Zelaya to promise to investigate the land rights issue. However, Zelaya was removed in a coup later that month.

The Killing Years

While violence had long been present in the region, the months following the coup saw a dramatic increase in killings. As of October 2010, a year after the coup, 36 small-scale farmers had been killed. None of these cases were resolved or brought to court, but as a result of the escalating violence and murders, the government militarized the area. During this time, Dinant became implicated in the murder of dozens of peasants.

In 2011, FIAN, an international NGO working for food rights, produced a report on human rights violations in Bajo Aguán, documenting “evidence of the involvement of private security forces hired by Dinant and other companies owned by Miguel Facussé in human rights abuses and, in particular, in the murder of peasants in Bajo Aguán.”

The government was eventually forced to convene both MUCA and the company to negotiate a deal in June 2011. The government agreed to distribute some 30,000 acres to the farmers, including 12,000 acres where oil palm has been planted by Exportadora del Atlántico – not by giving the land back, but by selling it at market prices. The company agreed to the proposal, but later announced it wanted to renegotiate it. In protest, other peasant groups began land occupations, exposing themselves to violent evictions by state security forces.

A 2012 public hearing on the human rights situation in the peasant communities of the lower Aguán concluded that the agrarian conflict there is the “most serious situation in terms of violence against peasants in Central America in the last 15 years.” By April 2013, at least 89 peasant farmers had been killed in the Aguan Valley.

Killings have continued with complete impunity, the region around the plantations has been heavily militarized, and long-standing peasant communities have been violently evicted.

Precise numbers are difficult to verify however; to quote Human Rights Watch, “Honduras is notorious for ineffective investigations.” Former Attorney General Luis Alberto Rubi told the Honduran congress in 2013 that 80 percent of homicides go unpunished; of 73 killings recognized by the government to be linked to land conflicts, seven have been brought to trial, and none has resulted in conviction. Human Rights Watch affirms that government security forces themselves have committed human rights violations including arbitrary detentions and torture.

The Role of International Financiers

In 2008, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank approved a $30 million loan to Dinant, to be delivered in two tranches of $15 million each. When the June 2009 military coup ousted the democratically elected president and violence in the Aguán Valley escalated, the IFC put disbursement on hold, but the first tranche was eventually distributed.

In its assessment of the potential concerns under IFC’s Policy on Social and Environmental Sustainability, the IFC noted that “a limited number of specific environmental and social impacts may result which can be avoided or mitigated by adhering to generally recognized performance standards, guidelines, design criteria, local regulations and industry certification schemes. Land acquisition is on a willing buyer-willing seller basis, and there is no involuntary displacement of any people.”

This proved to be far from the case, as the IFC could have easily foreseen.

The Inter-American Development Bank approved a loan for $7 million in June 2009, but never signed the agreement with the company and never paid anything out. A spokesman for the IADB said at that time, “In the case of Dinant, there was a significant shift in a number of matters surrounding the project that led us to reconsider. The political turmoil Honduras experienced in 2009 was one of the aspects affecting this decision. Other considerations included . . . a controversy over real estate ownership.”

Following the coup, Dinant became implicated in the murder of dozens of peasants. Killings have continued with complete impunity, the region around the plantations has been heavily militarized, and long-standing peasant communities have been violently evicted.

When FIAN’s 2011 report was brought to the German development bank DEG, the bank confirmed FIAN’s findings and canceled a $20 million loan to Dinant, “with a view to the evolving agrarian conflict in the Bajo Aguán region.” French company EDF Trading also cancelled a contract to buy carbon credits from Dinant, indicating that it was “taking the situation in Honduras very seriously.”

Private security guards outnumber police in Honduras by a ratio of 5 to 1.

By contrast, the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation has been stubbornly defensive about its $30 million relationship with Dinant. IFC claimed in 2008 that: “Dinant understands the importance of having good relationships with their neighboring communities and are quite proactive in this regard.”

In April, 2010, the IFC requested that Dinant hire an international security consultant to assess its security program and to provide training for the company’s security forces. The IFC said that the consultant would “work with Dinant to develop a Corporate Security Policy and Code of Ethics based on the UN Voluntary Principles for Business and Human Rights.”

Given the impunity that reigns in the region, reform of Dinant’s security force would prove to be a challenge. Human Rights Watch investigated 29 killings in the Aguan Valley and reports that 13 of the 29 killings, and one disappearance, suggest the possible involvement of private guards. The same report notes that Honduras has more than 700 registered private security firms, and numerous unregistered firms; the UN working group on the use of mercenaries reports that private security guards outnumber police in Honduras by a ratio of 5 to 1.

In December of 2013, an independent audit by the CAO Ombudsman of the IFC, a semi-independent body charged with overseeing the environmental and social safeguards applied to IFC loans, issued a stinging critique of the IFC for having failed to follow its own requirements.

“According to civil society source,” the CAO investigation states, “there were at least 102 killings of people affiliated with the peasant movement in the Bajo Aguán between January 2010 and May 2013, with specific allegations being made linking 40 of these to Dinant properties, Dinant security guards or its third-party security contractor. Allegations in relation to the killing of at least nine Dinant security personnel by affiliates of the peasant movement have also been made.”

A lucrative agro-industrial crop like palm oil, in a context of entrenched corruption and an authoritarian regime, lends itself to land grabbing and agrarian violence.

Still, the IFC rejected several of the CAO findings. Despite a list of demands sent to the World Bank by 70  civil society groups, the World Bank has yet to withdraw funding from the project. Instead, the IFC put in place an “enhanced action plan,” which requires Dinant to adopt voluntary security protocols and to “engage stakeholders” in order “to better understand the issues currently impacting communities and to bring strategic focus and overall coordination to Dinant’s existing corporate social responsibility programs, such as funding for school teachers, clinics, and conservation programs.” Nothing in the plan considers turning over land to local communities, and there is no mention of sanctions, or loan withdrawal for failure to comply.

The problem is not the crop, but the agro-industrial model; decades ago with Standard Fruit, Honduras was the archetype of the banana republic; today with Dinant it’s an oil palm republic.

The IFC’s refusal to disengage is especially troubling in light of the World Bank’s recent safeguards review, which seeks to weaken the bank’s environmental and social safeguards and to shift responsibility toward borrowing governments themselves. In October, 2014, over 100 civil society groups denounced the World Bank’s efforts, but no concrete response has been forthcoming.

Flex Crops and Consumer Campaigns

The rise of Corporacion Dinant as a leading palm oil producer in Central America is inseparable from its history as part of a long, violent and ongoing backlash against agrarian reform in Honduras. But it is also indicative of the ways in which a lucrative agro-industrial crop like palm oil, in a context of entrenched corruption and an authoritarian regime, lends itself to land grabbing and agrarian violence.

Anecdotal sources suggest that most of Dinant’s palm oil is exported to Mexico, where it is bought by Grupo Bimbo . . . largely responsible for a vast increase in Mexican consumption of palm oil in junk foods.

Palm oil production relies on cheap labor and large expanses of land to turn a profit. In order to be economically viable, nearly 10,000 acres of land are required to feed a single palm oil mill. But the economy of scale that palm oil demands to reap a profit is generally true across commodities – while palm oil is the particular villain in the case of Grupo Dinant, the problem is not the crop, but the agro-industrial model; decades ago with Standard Fruit, Honduras was the archetype of the banana republic; today with Dinant it’s an oil palm republic. Researchers have recently introduced the term “flex-crops” for crops that can be used for food, feed, fuel or industrial materia, and which lend themselves to land grabbing due to growing demand and the land area required to grow them.

Thanks to years of campaigning by environmental and human rights groups, the palm oil sector is undergoing what may be a sea-change: Palm oil producers and traders like Wilmar International, Golden Agri-Resources, and Unilever are adopting voluntary policies to improve their practices; consumer-facing companies including Colgate-Palmolive, General Mills, Kellogg’s and Procter & Gamble have strengthened their palm oil sourcing policies.

But the pressure to make these companies change comes from consumer companies who fear the brand damage that comes from sourcing palm oil that threatens orangutans and Sumatran tigers, and from financiers who have certain, albeit minimal, standards to uphold.

Anecdotal sources suggest that most of Dinant’s palm oil is exported to Mexico where it is bought by Grupo Bimbo – the commodity food conglomerate largely responsible for a vast increase in Mexican consumption of palm oil in junk foods. A campaign targeting Grupo Bimbo could gain some ground, but given the massive crisis of instability and conflict in Mexico, it seems unlikely. Dinant holds the license to use the Mazola trademark in Central America, but it is unclear whether the North American Mazola brand has any legal ties to Dinant that make it susceptible to consumer pressure.

Dinant is financed largely by a Honduran bank also backed by the IFC, and no US and EU financiers appear to hold shares in the company. As long as the IFC refuses to withdraw its financing and to push the company toward reforms that are unlikely to address the root problem, Dinant will maintain some credibility and will continue to produce some of the world’s bloodiest palm oil.

Copyright, Truthout

Honduras: CIDH preocupada por amenazas a líderes campesinos en el Bajo Aguán

http://conexihon.hn/site/noticia/derechos-humanos/conflicto-agrario-y-minero/honduras-cidh-preocupada-por-amenazas-l%C3%ADderes

Washington, Estados Unidos (Conexihon). –  La Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH) expresó este lunes su preocupación por una serie de desalojos violentos que habrían ocurrido en la zona del Bajo Aguán en el contexto del conflicto agrario que existe en la región.  Así como por las amenazas y detenciones que habrían sido perpetradas en contra de varios líderes y lideresas campesinos beneficiarios de medidas cautelares otorgadas por la Comisión el 8 de mayo de 2014, presuntos hechos que habrían ocurrido desde el mes de mayo hasta la fecha.
La Comisión instó hoy al Estado a “investigar estos hechos de violencia y a procesar y sancionar a los responsables. Y urgió al Estado a adoptar en forma inmediata todas las medidas necesarias a fin de garantizar el derecho a la vida, la integridad y la seguridad de las defensoras y defensores de derechos humanos en el país”.
Según información de público conocimiento, el 21 de mayo de 2014, miembros de la policía y del ejército, así como guardias de seguridad privada habrían participado en el desalojo violento de las fincas La Trinidad y El Despertar, en el municipio de Trujillo, Colón. Según la información disponible, 300 familias afiliadas al Movimiento Auténtico Reivindicador Campesino del Aguán (MARCA) habrían sido desalojadas.
Presuntamente las fuerzas de seguridad habrían utilizado bombas lacrimógenas y spray pimienta y habrían realizado disparos al aire para amedrentar y desplazar a las familias que habitaban las fincas desde el mes de julio de 2012. De esta operación presuntamente habrían resultado heridos alrededor de 50 campesinos y 8 miembros de las fuerzas de seguridad.
Adicionalmente, 15 personas habrían sido detenidas y presuntamente golpeadas, entre los detenidos se encontrarían Walter Cárcamo, Jaime Cabrera y Antonio Rodríguez, beneficiarios de las medidas cautelares otorgadas por la Comisión semanas antes del suceso. Presuntamente Jaime Cabrera habría sido amenazado de muerte por miembros del ejército y de la policía, quienes supuestamente le habrían colocado un fusil en la oreja izquierda.
De conformidad con información recibida por la CIDH, el 3 de julio la Policía Nacional Preventiva, los miembros de la Fuerza de Tarea Conjunta Xatruch III y el 15 batallón de Fuerzas Especiales habrían llevado a cabo el desalojo de 350 familias del Movimiento Campesino “Gregorio Chávez” (MCRCG) que se encontraban en la finca  Paso Aguán desde el mes de mayo del presente año. Las familias presuntamente fueron desalojadas de forma violenta mediante el uso de gases lacrimógenos.
En esta ocasión, varios de los campesinos habrían resultado heridos y siete habrían resultado detenidos, entre los que se encontrarían dos de los líderes campesinos beneficiarios de las medidas cautelares otorgadas por la CIDH.
Persecución de defensores
Por otro lado, según información recibida por la Comisión, el 30 y 31 de julio los defensores de derechos humanos Martha Arnold, Irma Lemus y Rigoberto Durán, integrantes del Observatorio Permanente de Derechos Humanos del Bajo Aguán, habrían sido perseguidos por dos vehículos color blanco. Adicionalmente, el 19 de agosto el líder campesino Santos Torres, perteneciente al Movimiento Campesino Gregorio Chávez y beneficiario de las medidas cautelares otorgadas por la CIDH, habría sido amenazado por militares y guardias de seguridad en su domicilio, quienes presuntamente lo habrían apuntado a él y su esposa con armas de fuego. Presuntamente este mismo grupo de militares y guardias de seguridad se habría presentado en el domicilio de Glenda Chávez, integrante del Observatorio Permanente de Derechos Humanos de Aguán y lideresa de este movimiento campesino.
En la zona del Bajo Aguán, existe un conflicto de tierras de larga data entre campesinos y empresarios. Según una red de organizaciones nacionales e internacionales que dan seguimiento a esta situación, 112 campesinos y campesinas habrían sido asesinados en los últimos cuatro años en el contexto del conflicto agrario que aqueja a la región. La Comisión Interamericana se ha manifestado en reiteradas ocasiones sobre la situación en el Bajo Aguán, incluyendo en la sección sobre Honduras del Capítulo IV de sus Informes Anuales 2012 y 2013. La CIDH observa que la situación continúa siendo altamente preocupante.
En este contexto, el 8 de mayo de 2014, la CIDH otorgó medidas cautelares a favor de 123 miembros de las organizaciones “Movimiento Campesino Recuperación del Aguán” (MOCRA), “Movimiento Campesino Fundación Gregorio Chávez” (MCRGC), Movimiento Unificado Campesino del Aguán” (MUCA) y “Movimiento Auténtico Reivindicador Campesino del Aguán (MARCA), solicitando al gobierno de Honduras adoptar las medidas necesarias para garantizar su vida e integridad.
La CIDH recordó al Estado  que es su obligación investigar de oficio hechos de esta naturaleza y sancionar a los responsables. Como ha señalado la Comisión anteriormente, los actos de violencia y otros ataques contra las defensoras y los defensores de derechos humanos no sólo afectan las garantías propias de todo ser humano, sino que atentan contra el papel fundamental que juegan en la sociedad y sume en la indefensión a todas aquellas personas para quienes trabajan. La Comisión recuerda asimismo que la labor de defensores y defensoras es esencial para la construcción de una sociedad democrática sólida y duradera, y tienen un papel protagónico en el proceso para el logro pleno del Estado de Derecho y el fortalecimiento de la democracia.
La CIDH es un órgano principal y autónomo de la Organización de los Estados Americanos (OEA), cuyo mandato surge de la Carta de la OEA y de la Convención Americana sobre Derechos Humanos. La Comisión Interamericana tiene el mandato de promover la observancia de los derechos humanos en la región y actúa como órgano consultivo de la OEA en la materia. La CIDH está integrada por siete miembros independientes que son elegidos por la Asamblea General de la OEA a título personal, y no representan sus países de origen o residencia.

Palm Oil and Extreme Violence in Honduras: The Inexorable Rise and Dubious Reform of Grupo Dinant

Monday, 08 December 2014 11:11 By Jeff Conant, Truthout |

http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27864-palm-oil-and-extreme-violence-in-honduras-the-inexorable-rise-and-dubious-reform-of-grupo-dinant

2014.12.8.PalmOil.main

A Corporation Dinant worker repairs an irrigation system for oil palms in the Bajo Aguan region of Honduras’ northern coast, August 26, 2011. The violence over land titles in Bajo Aguan is the most volatile example of the social divide that burst into view a few years ago. (Photo: Edgard Garrido Carrera / The New York Times)As one of the fastest growing global commodities, palm oil has recently earned a reputation as a major contributor to tropical deforestation and, therefore, to climate change as well.

About 50 million metric tons of palm oil is produced per year – more than double the amount produced a decade ago – and this growth appears likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Because oil palm trees, native to West Africa, require the same conditions as tropical rainforests, nearly every drop of palm oil that hits the global market comes at the expense of natural forests that have been, or will be, burned, bulldozed and replaced with plantations.

Owned by Miguel Facussé, one of the wealthiest men in Honduras, (Grupo) Dinant has been associated with the killings of over 100 peasant farmers,

With deforestation garnering headlines due to forests’ crucial role in regulating the climate, global commodity producers, from Nestle and Unilever in Europe, to Cargill in the United States to Wilmar International in Indonesia, are recognizing the need to provide products that are “deforestation-free.” Other corporate-led initiatives like the public-private Tropical Forest Alliance that promises to reduce the deforestation associated with palm oil, soy, beef, paper and pulp, and the recent New York Declaration on Forests signed at the UN Climate Summit in New York, suggest that saving the world’s forests is now squarely on the corporate sustainability agenda.

To see more stories like this, visit “Planet or Profit?”

But what is being left behind is the other significant impact of palm oil and other agro-industrial commodities – namely human rights. Commitments to protect forests and conservation areas can, if well implemented, address environmental concerns by delimiting the areas of land available for conversion to palm oil. But natural resource exploitation is inextricably linked to human exploitation, and such commitments do little to address this.

A case in point is Grupo Dinant, a Honduran palm oil company that declared last month that it has been awarded international environmental certifications for its achievements in environmental management and occupational health and safety. Dinant has also been making overtures toward joining the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), including hosting the RSPO’s 4th Latin American conference in Honduras in 2013. But, Dinant, which produces about 60 percent of the palm oil in Honduras, is at the center of what has been called “the most serious situation in terms of violence against peasants in Central America in the last 15 years.”

Owned by Miguel Facussé, one of the wealthiest men in Honduras, Dinant has been associated with the killings of over 100 peasant farmers, and appears to be involved in a virtual terror campaign to ensure control of a large swath of land in the Lower Aguan Valley near the Caribbean coast of Honduras.

While credible human rights groups like Human Rights Watch denounce the killings and note that “virtually none of the crimes are properly investigated, let alone solved,” Dinant continues to enjoy financing from the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, support from the United Nations Clean Development Mechanism, and brand relationships with multinational consumer goods companies such as Mazola Oils.

The Aguán Valley and the Introduction of Palm Oil

The Bajo Aguán Valley, one of the most fertile regions in Honduras, has long been a center of agrarian conflict. In her book Grabbing Power: The New Struggles for Land, Food and Democracy in Northern Honduras, researcher Tanya Kerssen reaches back to the 1950s to show how a struggle between farmers’ associations and multinationals Standard Fruit and United Fruit Company set the scene for the land concentration that reigns today. Decades of peasant struggle led to a brief period in the 1970s when the government distributed land to smallholder farmers from other parts of the country, who then formed cooperatives to bring crops to market. The embattled region became briefly known as the “capital of land reform” – but these reforms have long since been rolled back, in part due to the country’s need to pay back its foreign debt.

In a few years in the early ’90s, more than three quarters of the land in the Aguan Valley was re-concentrated into the hands of a few Honduran oligarchs.

In the 1980s, a combination of loans from the InterAmerican Development Bank (IDB) and bilateral aid allowed the Honduran government to construct a road network in the Aguan, as well as three palm oil processing plants and a modern port. Hoping to pay down its large debts to the IDB, the state-controlled mills bought palm from peasant cooperatives at rock-bottom prices, in return promising peasants eventual control over the processing plants. In the early ’90s, an “agrarian modernization law” was passed with support from the World Bank and the US Agency for International Development that again stimulated large land purchases and made the Aguan Valley the national poster child for re-concentration of land.

Land Re-concentration, Rise of Grupo Dinant

Over the next several decades, cooperatives and smallholders were coerced into selling their land to powerful landlords, often through intimidation and manipulation, from bribes of peasant leaders to threats and outright violence – tactics that continue to reign in the region to this day. Peasant farmers in the Aguan again found themselves as day laborers on large plantations, working hard for little pay. In a few years in the early ’90s, more than three-quarters of the land in the Aguan Valley was re-concentrated into the hands of a few Honduran oligarchs. One of these landlords was Miguel Facussé.

Human Rights Watch confirms that government security forces themselves have committed human rights violations including arbitrary detentions and torture.

Among the wealthiest men in Honduras – and now the richest – Facussé established a series of food commodity businesses, culminating in 2005 with Grupo Dinant. Dinant produces cooking oil, snacks, and other food products, as well as biofuels. To do this, the company took a $30 million loan from the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation and a $7 million loan from the InterAmerican Investment Corporation (IIC). Trade liberalization also enriched Facussé: Both Unilever and Proctor & Gamble gained important footholds in Central America by acquiring distribution networks and brands owned by Facussé. The profits and the status conferred on Dinant through such purchases enabled more land purchases in the Aguan Valley, furthering the concentration of land.

In 2001, farmers in the region organized as the Unified Peasants Movement of the Aguán Valley (MUCA), with the aim of reclaiming their land rights through the courts. With legal routes exhausted, in 2006 they began land occupations. In June 2009, they occupied one of the palm oil processing plants of Exportadora del Atlántico, part of Grupo Dinant, provoking then-President Manuel Zelaya to promise to investigate the land rights issue. However, Zelaya was removed in a coup later that month.

The Killing Years

While violence had long been present in the region, the months following the coup saw a dramatic increase in killings. As of October 2010, a year after the coup, 36 small-scale farmers had been killed. None of these cases were resolved or brought to court, but as a result of the escalating violence and murders, the government militarized the area. During this time, Dinant became implicated in the murder of dozens of peasants.

In 2011, FIAN, an international NGO working for food rights, produced a report on human rights violations in Bajo Aguán, documenting “evidence of the involvement of private security forces hired by Dinant and other companies owned by Miguel Facussé in human rights abuses and, in particular, in the murder of peasants in Bajo Aguán.”

The government was eventually forced to convene both MUCA and the company to negotiate a deal in June 2011. The government agreed to distribute some 30,000 acres to the farmers, including 12,000 acres where oil palm has been planted by Exportadora del Atlántico – not by giving the land back, but by selling it at market prices. The company agreed to the proposal, but later announced it wanted to renegotiate it. In protest, other peasant groups began land occupations, exposing themselves to violent evictions by state security forces.

A 2012 public hearing on the human rights situation in the peasant communities of the lower Aguán concluded that the agrarian conflict there is the “most serious situation in terms of violence against peasants in Central America in the last 15 years.” By April 2013, at least 89 peasant farmers had been killed in the Aguan Valley.

Killings have continued with complete impunity, the region around the plantations has been heavily militarized, and long-standing peasant communities have been violently evicted.

Precise numbers are difficult to verify however; to quote Human Rights Watch, “Honduras is notorious for ineffective investigations.” Former Attorney General Luis Alberto Rubi told the Honduran congress in 2013 that 80 percent of homicides go unpunished; of 73 killings recognized by the government to be linked to land conflicts, seven have been brought to trial, and none has resulted in conviction. Human Rights Watch affirms that government security forces themselves have committed human rights violations including arbitrary detentions and torture.

The Role of International Financiers

In 2008, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank approved a $30 million loan to Dinant, to be delivered in two tranches of $15 million each. When the June 2009 military coup ousted the democratically elected president and violence in the Aguán Valley escalated, the IFC put disbursement on hold, but the first tranche was eventually distributed.

In its assessment of the potential concerns under IFC’s Policy on Social and Environmental Sustainability, the IFC noted that “a limited number of specific environmental and social impacts may result which can be avoided or mitigated by adhering to generally recognized performance standards, guidelines, design criteria, local regulations and industry certification schemes. Land acquisition is on a willing buyer-willing seller basis, and there is no involuntary displacement of any people.”

This proved to be far from the case, as the IFC could have easily foreseen.

The Inter-American Development Bank approved a loan for $7 million in June 2009, but never signed the agreement with the company and never paid anything out. A spokesman for the IADB said at that time, “In the case of Dinant, there was a significant shift in a number of matters surrounding the project that led us to reconsider. The political turmoil Honduras experienced in 2009 was one of the aspects affecting this decision. Other considerations included . . . a controversy over real estate ownership.”

Following the coup, Dinant became implicated in the murder of dozens of peasants. Killings have continued with complete impunity, the region around the plantations has been heavily militarized, and long-standing peasant communities have been violently evicted.

When FIAN’s 2011 report was brought to the German development bank DEG, the bank confirmed FIAN’s findings and canceled a $20 million loan to Dinant, “with a view to the evolving agrarian conflict in the Bajo Aguán region.” French company EDF Trading also cancelled a contract to buy carbon credits from Dinant, indicating that it was “taking the situation in Honduras very seriously.”

Private security guards outnumber police in Honduras by a ratio of 5 to 1.

By contrast, the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation has been stubbornly defensive about its $30 million relationship with Dinant. IFC claimed in 2008 that: “Dinant understands the importance of having good relationships with their neighboring communities and are quite proactive in this regard.”

In April, 2010, the IFC requested that Dinant hire an international security consultant to assess its security program and to provide training for the company’s security forces. The IFC said that the consultant would “work with Dinant to develop a Corporate Security Policy and Code of Ethics based on the UN Voluntary Principles for Business and Human Rights.”

Given the impunity that reigns in the region, reform of Dinant’s security force would prove to be a challenge. Human Rights Watch investigated 29 killings in the Aguan Valley and reports that 13 of the 29 killings, and one disappearance, suggest the possible involvement of private guards. The same report notes that Honduras has more than 700 registered private security firms, and numerous unregistered firms; the UN working group on the use of mercenaries reports that private security guards outnumber police in Honduras by a ratio of 5 to 1.

In December of 2013, an independent audit by the CAO Ombudsman of the IFC, a semi-independent body charged with overseeing the environmental and social safeguards applied to IFC loans, issued a stinging critique of the IFC for having failed to follow its own requirements.

“According to civil society source,” the CAO investigation states, “there were at least 102 killings of people affiliated with the peasant movement in the Bajo Aguán between January 2010 and May 2013, with specific allegations being made linking 40 of these to Dinant properties, Dinant security guards or its third-party security contractor. Allegations in relation to the killing of at least nine Dinant security personnel by affiliates of the peasant movement have also been made.”

A lucrative agro-industrial crop like palm oil, in a context of entrenched corruption and an authoritarian regime, lends itself to land grabbing and agrarian violence.

Still, the IFC rejected several of the CAO findings. Despite a list of demands sent to the World Bank by 70  civil society groups, the World Bank has yet to withdraw funding from the project. Instead, the IFC put in place an “enhanced action plan,” which requires Dinant to adopt voluntary security protocols and to “engage stakeholders” in order “to better understand the issues currently impacting communities and to bring strategic focus and overall coordination to Dinant’s existing corporate social responsibility programs, such as funding for school teachers, clinics, and conservation programs.” Nothing in the plan considers turning over land to local communities, and there is no mention of sanctions, or loan withdrawal for failure to comply.

The problem is not the crop, but the agro-industrial model; decades ago with Standard Fruit, Honduras was the archetype of the banana republic; today with Dinant it’s an oil palm republic.

The IFC’s refusal to disengage is especially troubling in light of the World Bank’s recent safeguards review, which seeks to weaken the bank’s environmental and social safeguards and to shift responsibility toward borrowing governments themselves. In October, 2014, over 100 civil society groups denounced the World Bank’s efforts, but no concrete response has been forthcoming.

Flex Crops and Consumer Campaigns

The rise of Corporacion Dinant as a leading palm oil producer in Central America is inseparable from its history as part of a long, violent and ongoing backlash against agrarian reform in Honduras. But it is also indicative of the ways in which a lucrative agro-industrial crop like palm oil, in a context of entrenched corruption and an authoritarian regime, lends itself to land grabbing and agrarian violence.

Anecdotal sources suggest that most of Dinant’s palm oil is exported to Mexico, where it is bought by Grupo Bimbo . . . largely responsible for a vast increase in Mexican consumption of palm oil in junk foods.

Palm oil production relies on cheap labor and large expanses of land to turn a profit. In order to be economically viable, nearly 10,000 acres of land are required to feed a single palm oil mill. But the economy of scale that palm oil demands to reap a profit is generally true across commodities – while palm oil is the particular villain in the case of Grupo Dinant, the problem is not the crop, but the agro-industrial model; decades ago with Standard Fruit, Honduras was the archetype of the banana republic; today with Dinant it’s an oil palm republic. Researchers have recently introduced the term “flex-crops” for crops that can be used for food, feed, fuel or industrial materia, and which lend themselves to land grabbing due to growing demand and the land area required to grow them.

Thanks to years of campaigning by environmental and human rights groups, the palm oil sector is undergoing what may be a sea-change: Palm oil producers and traders like Wilmar International, Golden Agri-Resources, and Unilever are adopting voluntary policies to improve their practices; consumer-facing companies including Colgate-Palmolive, General Mills, Kellogg’s and Procter & Gamble have strengthened their palm oil sourcing policies.

But the pressure to make these companies change comes from consumer companies who fear the brand damage that comes from sourcing palm oil that threatens orangutans and Sumatran tigers, and from financiers who have certain, albeit minimal, standards to uphold.

Anecdotal sources suggest that most of Dinant’s palm oil is exported to Mexico where it is bought by Grupo Bimbo – the commodity food conglomerate largely responsible for a vast increase in Mexican consumption of palm oil in junk foods. A campaign targeting Grupo Bimbo could gain some ground, but given the massive crisis of instability and conflict in Mexico, it seems unlikely. Dinant holds the license to use the Mazola trademark in Central America, but it is unclear whether the North American Mazola brand has any legal ties to Dinant that make it susceptible to consumer pressure.

Dinant is financed largely by a Honduran bank also backed by the IFC, and no US and EU financiers appear to hold shares in the company. As long as the IFC refuses to withdraw its financing and to push the company toward reforms that are unlikely to address the root problem, Dinant will maintain some credibility and will continue to produce some of the world’s bloodiest palm oil.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Jeff Conant

Jeff Conant directs Friends of the Earth’s international forests campaign; he is co-author of A Community Guide to Environmental Health (Hesperian Health Guides, 2008) and author of A Poetics of Resistance: The Revolutionary Public Relations of the Zapatista Insurgency (AK Press 2010).

Canadian developers are stealing Garifuna lands. Literally.

Overview Canadian-owned tourism and residential development projects are displacing Garifuna communities in Honduras. This blog post complements a recently published article on the subject, providing photographs and further information.

This week, Ricochet published ‘Little Canada’ displacing Afro-Indigenous communities in Honduras, an article I wrote about some of the Canadian-owned tourism and residential development projects displacing Garifuna communities in the Trujillo Bay. As with any article, there’s more to the story.

A Garifuna fisherman weighs his catch to sell and give to fellow community members in Guadalupe. They had been waiting nearby for him to come in for the day.All photos by Sandra Cuffe

The Garifuna community of Guadalupe sits at the western edge of the Trujillo Bay in northeastern Honduras, where lush rainforest-covered mountains meet the Caribbean Sea.

A lone house in the upper area of Alta Vista.

More than three-quarters of the community’s 237.75 hectare land title, though, has been illegally sold and taken over. Canadian developer Randy Jorgensen’s Alta Vista residential project overlaps with the westernmost part of the community title, covering both mountain slopes and beachfront. 

The lower area of the Alta Vista project.

Alta Vista and other projects have taken over stretches of coastline. Walking along the beach between communities in the Trujillo Bay is no longer possible for local residents. Security booths, guards and fences have sprung up with the new real estate developments.

One of the most recent scandals in Guadalupe, though, is that the developers have been stealing the community’s lands — not just in the sense that the project overlaps with the collective land title, but in a much more literal sense.

Guadalupe community member and local Garifuna activist Celso Guillén showed me what that looks like as we walked past the last houses in Guadalupe along the road that leads to Alta Vista.

The sandy plot in front of Guillén in the photo above is lower than it used to be. Backhoe operators working at the Alta Vista project drove the short distance down the road from the project to the edge of the residential center of the community and excavated sand from this and other community plots. Some of the hills in and around Guadalupe have a gravelly kind of sand that is useful for fill in marshy areas, explained Guillén.

“They have come here to the community and broken into spaces and removed earth, diminishing plots,” he said. In some cases, like this particular plot, the owner was away from the community when the theft occurred. The stick-and-wire fence is an attempt to prevent a recurrence.

“They come, they excavate, they take the material and they go,” said Guillén. There was no warning, no consultation, and no permission.

A stone’s throw down the street, the hillside pictured on the left was excavated by backhoes as well, jeopardizing the subsistence crops above. “What people have done in the face of this abuse is fence in the spaces to obstruct the way for the machines,” said Guillén.

The extraction of earth from Guadalupe community members’ plots is a minor incident in the face of the large-scale land grabs for tourism and residential development projects in the area. But the blatant and very literal theft of community lands is revealing as a microcosm for the take-over of collective Garifuna territory in the Trujillo Bay.

Local residents work together to sort a shipment of rhizomes and seedlings for distribution to community members. Because of the usurpation of the majority of Guadalupe’s community land title, though, there are few places left for people to farm.

Jorgensen is by far the main developer in the area these days. His Life Vision Developments company is behind several residential projects marketed to Canadians: Alta Vista, New Palm Beach, Coroz Alta, and Campa Vista. He owns the Jaguar Construction company often tasked with building. He’s the key figure behind the new Banana Coast cruise ship port and its affiliated tour operator, Banana Coast Tours.

Norwegian Cruise Line passengers wait in the Banana Coast complex to re-board the Norwegian Jewel after its inaugural visit in mid-October.

While many Trujillo locals greeted the Norwegian Jewel’s first call at Banana Coast with excitement and hope, Guillén and others are worried that the influx of tourists and snowbirds is going to drive the cost of living up in the area, and with good reason. Studies have shown numerous negative economic impacts of tourism on local communities in “less developed countries.” 

The Norwegian Jewel and other cruise ships anchor in deeper waters in the Trujillo Bay. Passengers are ferried to and from the Banana Coast cruise ship port and commercial complex.

The cruise ship industry is a prime example of enclave economic tourism, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. “On many ships, especially in the Caribbean (the world’s most popular cruise destination with 44.5% of cruise passengers), guests are encouraged to spend most of their time and money on board, and opportunities to spend in some ports are closely managed and restricted,” noted the UNEP.

That certainly seems to be the case in Trujillo. Banana Coast Tours is the only tour operator coordinating with the cruise lines. Everyone else has to wait outside the gates and hope to pick up clients after they have left the complex.

A white-faced capuchin monkey in one of the enclosures exhibiting animals at Campo del Mar. The first of four private nature parks, it is also the location of Jorgensen’s Coroz Alta residential development, and his home. Banana Coast Tours brings cruise ship passengers here on organized day trips.

According to Hernán Batres, Manager of Banana Coast, this is due to the cruise lines’ regulations. “The cruise ship companies demand that a tour operator exists for a certain number of passengers that they want to mobilize with certain standards and levels of security and attention,” Batres said in an interview in his office. But it’s not just the organization of excursions. Day trip destinations include other projects owned by Jorgensen. For example, passengers are bused to the Campo del Mar “Nature Park” from the gated Banana Coast port complex.

Cruise ship passengers gather in the Banana Coast complex, waiting to be ferried back out to their ship.

‘Little Canada’ displacing Afro-Indigenous communities in Honduras

Canadian investor Randy Jorgensen blames concerns on ‘extremist factions’

As Canadian investors gradually take over lands in Honduras’ Trujillo Bay for tourism and real estate projects, Afro-Indigenous Garifuna communities along this stretch of Caribbean coastline are being displaced.

A new cruise ship port is now open for business in Trujillo, a town of just over 10,000 about 400 kilometres north of the Honduran capital. Rio Negro, a Garifuna community, was largely displaced under threat of forced expropriation to make way for the project. Sixteen kilometres to the west, the Garifuna community of Guadalupe is now bordered by Alta Vista, one of Canadian investor Randy Jorgensen’s several residential development projects marketed to Canadian snowbirds.

It’s 32 degrees out but it feels like 40 in the midday sun as local Garifuna activist Celso Guillén points things out along the short walk through Guadalupe and over to Alta Vista. A group of youth are busy separating plantain rhizomes into piles by size and other men and women are organizing the shipment of cacao seedlings for distribution. The problem is that community members don’t have much land left to plant the crops.

“We’ve lost almost 80 percent of our community’s lands, and the majority of those lands are in Mister Randy’s hands,” says Guillén.

Guadalupe’s inalienable community title covers nearly 250 hectares, but the municipal government of Santa Fe has issued deeds within those lands and they have been registered by the country’s Property Institute. The municipality “has issued fee simple land titles — overlapping titles that are basically fictitious and without validity because there’s already a collective title,” says Guillén. “The title says that the lands are inalienable, and any act of that nature violates the spirit of the title.”

‘They don’t have a purpose’: Jorgensen

Just after six in the morning, Jorgensen sips his coffee outside his home in Coroz Alta, a residential development a few kilometres west of Trujillo on an estate now billed as a private nature park. Beside the road leading down to his house, monkeys, coatimundis and scarlet macaws are on display in enclosures.

Cruise ship passengers come here on day trips organized by Banana Coast Tours, one of Jorgensen’s companies linked to the new Banana Coast cruise ship terminal, another of his projects.

Jorgensen dismisses the Garifuna community land claims. It’s the same story in Guadalupe as it is in Rio Negro and it’s not really about the land, he says. “They have extremist factions in there that are extremely politically motivated and go out of their way to create whatever problems that they can for anything that doesn’t actually put money into their own personal pockets.”

Other Canadian developers have since followed, but Jorgensen remains the main player in the area. He opened an Adults Only Video store in a small town in Saskatchewan in 1987, and the company quickly expanded to dozens of outlets across Canada. After more than a decade of winter visits to Trujillo, Jorgensen decided to make the move permanent, and later began working on plans for a cruise port facility and real estate projects in Trujillo Bay.

“Our goal is to create $300 million of investment in this area to create $100 million economic activity annually. So it’s not a small thing,” says Jorgensen. His company, Life Vision Developments, is developing several projects in the area: Campa Vista, Coroz Alta, New Palm Beach and Alta Vista. “We have about 1,500 acres of residential development underway now. We sold 500 properties to Canadians. They’re starting to call it Little Canada.”

Jorgensen categorically denies that the Alta Vista project overlaps with the Guadalupe community title, but he also alleges the community didn’t use the land for anything anyway. “It’s not as though this land needs to be preserved for ‘this purpose.’ They don’t have a purpose. They don’t have a plan. They don’t have something to do with it. The whole purpose of the exercise is ‘how do I get money into my pocket?’”

‘We used to go there to work’: Guillén

Alta Vista, however, is one of the main areas that was used by community members to grow subsistence crops like yucca, plantains and beans. “I know this because we used to go there to work the land with our parents. That’s where we worked. We would work in another place for a while and then there for a while,” says Guillén.

Along with fishing, Garifuna communities traditionally practice the fallow system of farming, rotating between areas to allow the soil to recuperate for periods between crops. Both land and sea are vital to both the sustenance and culture of the Garifuna.

The ethnogenesis of the Garifuna began in the early 17th century on the island of Saint Vincent, where shipwrecked Africans trafficked as slaves for colonial plantations in the Caribbean — and later also escapees — mixed with local Arawak and Carib Indigenous people. The Garifuna were forcibly expelled by the British in 1797 and dropped off on an island off the coast of Honduras, from where they spread out and formed communities along the Caribbean coast of Central America from Belize to Nicaragua.

Both the Garifuna language, part of the Arawak family, and culture have diverse African and Indigenous Caribbean roots. In 2001, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization declared the Garifuna language, dance and music to be among the 19 inaugural Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Today, though, many Garifuna communities in Honduras are facing yet another expulsion.

Leaving Guadalupe behind, the old yellow school bus rattles past the Garifuna community of San Antonio before passing Njoi Santa Fe, another real estate project under construction by Canadian developers. After the community of Santa Fe, it’s a steady stream of Canadian-owned tourism and real estate projects along the 11 kilometers back to Trujillo: New Palm Beach, the Banana Beach Resort, Njoi Trujillo, Coroz Alta and Campo del Mar, Campa Vista and the Tranquility Bay Beach Resort.

There has been some critical outside attention on tourism projects in Garifuna territory further west along the Caribbean coast. This stretch, however, has flown largely under the radar, according to Miriam Miranda, the General Coordinator of OFRANEH, a Garifuna federation at the forefront of the struggle to defend Garifuna rights, lands and territory in Honduras.

“No one really talks about all the investment that’s happening in the Trujillo Bay, all the way out to the Guadalupe area even. They’re taking over the whole corridor,” said Miranda. The new Banana Coast cruise ship port has certainly been a hot topic of discussion in the area lately, but there too, the issue of land acquisition usually goes unmentioned.

“That case is the first experience we had where eminent domain legislation was used, facilitating Randy Jorgensen’s takeover of Rio Negro,” said Miranda.

Cruising the Canadian-owned Banana Coast

The atmosphere of anticipation was almost palpable in Trujillo on Oct. 15, 2014. The Norwegian Jewel, a 2,376-passenger Norwegian Cruise Line ship with more than 1,000 crew members, was about to arrive. The Jewel and other companies’ cruise ships will be calling at Banana Coast all season, through April 2015. Banana Coast is owned and run by Grande Trujillo Autoridad, of which the driving force, primary owner and president is Randy Jorgensen.

There was little cause for celebration in Cristales and Rio Negro, two historic Garifuna communities on the coast at the western and eastern edges of Trujillo respectively. The Banana Coast cruise ship terminal and retail complex is located in Rio Negro.

“It was a community. That was part of their habitat. That’s where they would leave their cayucos [dugout canoes], where they would go fish. Now they can’t go to leave their cayucos on the beach. The entry of Rio Negro community members is strictly prohibited there because it’s a private zone now,” says Victor García, a member of the Cristales and Rio Negro community council.

When some Garifuna community members refused to give up their lands, the municipality of Trujillo declared the Banana Coast project in the public interest in December 2009. The decree was published in the Official Gazette in February 2010, allowing the state to exercise the right of eminent domain. Through threat of forced expropriation, the cruise ship port developers were able to acquire the remaining lands.

But the contested Banana Coast project still lays within one of two inalienable Cristales and Rio Negro collective land titles. The 1886 and 1901 titles cover nearly 100 square kilometers in various sectors in the region, including some of Jorgensen’s real estate development.

Colluding with the state

Jorgensen’s projects may benefit from the investment protection provisions in the new Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement, negotiated in the wake of a June 2009 coup d’état, but attracting tourists and snowbirds to the country with the highest per capita homicide rate in the world outside of a war zone is no easy task.

On Aug. 4, 2014, the Honduran government signed a $133,334 contract with Burson-Marstellar, an international public relations firm, to build a “national image” and “country brand” to boost foreign investment, exports, and tourism. That same day, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández launched a new national tourism website.

Tourism and real estate promoters in Trujillo maintain that the violence plaguing Honduras is largely concentrated in certain pockets elsewhere around the country and particularly in its two main cities, San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa. In fact, the 2013 homicide rate in the municipality of Trujillo was 93.3 per 100,000 inhabitants, higher than the national rate and even that of the capital district. From Banana Coast, it is only about 10 kilometers to the edge of the heavily militarized Bajo Aguan region, where more than 100 people involved in farm worker movements and land occupations have been killed since the 2009 coup.

The area has also been identified by the government as one of 14 possible sites for Economic Development and Employment Zones, regions that would essentially function as semi-autonomous, privatized city-states. These zones “embrace trade liberalization beyond simple tax and infrastructure incentives: they enable the corporate entities, organizations and individuals who will fund and participate in the zones to structure the social organization itself. This process includes the content of laws, the tax structure, educational, labor and health care system, security forces and other basic elements typically managed by the state,” wrote the authors of a September 2014 National Lawyers Guild report.

Attention on specific Economic Development and Employment Zones projects is largely focused on southern Honduras, where feasibility studies, investment agreements and community resistance are all underway. However, documents obtained by Ricochet reveal that detailed maps, plans and studies have been drawn up for a special development zone encompassing the full territorial area of the municipalities of Trujillo and Santa Fe.

The principal author of the studies was Arquitecnic. The company’s president, Honduran architect and planner Dino Rietti, was commissioned as the construction and project manager for the Banana Coast cruise ship port complex. Rietti has also advised the government on special development zones.

Turning to the law

Garifuna communities continue to defend their lands despite the difficulties. “The government’s in collusion with everything that’s going on here,” says Guillén, adding that a lawsuit might be one of the only options. However, neither Guillén nor García consider it likely that their respective communities will be able to address illegal community lands sales or obtain justice within the domestic legal system.

“We’re going to have to launch both national and international lawsuits,” says García.

The cases of three other Garifuna communities, accompanied by OFRANEH, are currently before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Two of them involve tourism projects in Garifuna territory. At least one ruling is expected next year.

The Future of Honduran Public Insecurity: Violations of the Military Police of Public Order

The militarization of Honduran streets shows no signs of stopping. On November 11th, the Honduran press announced that one thousand additional Military Police – a new, elite, hybrid military-police force – would be trained and sent to the streets. Four days later, the National Defense and Security Council headed by Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez asked the National Congress to take the necessary measures to approve the Military Police as a permanent security force under the Honduran Constitution.

The recent push to consolidate the Military Police contributed to a minor police scandal that erupted last week when the National Director of the Police, Ramon Sabillon refused to step down after being illegally fired from his position. The scandal was partially caused by fears amongst the National Police and some sectors of Honduran society that the permanent and growing status of the Military Police will render the National Police force obsolete.

With more soldiers in the streets, Honduras is becoming more and more militarized by the day. To date, there have been limited results in generating security and safer streets for it’s citizens.

Creation of Military Police Linked to Canada and US Regional Security Strategies

The Honduran Congress approved a temporary decree that created the Military Police for Public Order (PMOP) on August 22, 2013. Beginning early October of the same year, the hybrid military-police force was sent to the streets under the command of the Honduran Armed Forces. Known as the special security unit of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, its biggest promoter, the Military Police are military soldiers with military training funded by a Security Tax or the Tasa de Seguridad. Approved in June 2011, the Honduran Security Tax is believed to have been created to fund the security initiatives proposed under the Central American Security Strategy (CASS) of the Central American Integration System (SICA). Interestingly, the Tasa de Seguridad was approved by the Honduran Congress in the same month that SICA countries adopted the Central American Security Strategy. The Security Tax is used to fund Honduran security institutions and strategy of the Hernandez government, supported by the U.S. and Canada.

SICA-CASS is an umbrella, multilateral security initiative formed under the leadership of former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. Two major North American security initiatives in Central America are aligned with CASS: the US Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) and the Canadian Initiative for Security in Central America (CISCA). Both Canada and the US are joined by other countries committed to SICA-CASS including Japan, Columbia, and Germany, as well as International Financial Institutions like the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.

Juan Orlando Hernandez argues that the Military Police will ensure citizen security and safer streets particularly as the National Police are undergoing a purging or depuración process. According to the President, Hondurans no longer trust the police, and the Military Police can stop the violence and insecurity rampant in what some now call Honduras, the “murder capital of the world”.

(Publicly Known) Abuses Committed by the Military Police Since Their Creation

The Military Police are anything but a solution to the corrupt National Police force. Since being sent to the streets in October of last year, Military Police have been involved in various human rights violations, some against members of the political opposition. The following is a short list of these publicly known abuses:

* Raided the house of union leader and LIBRE member Marco Antonio Rodriguez, October 10, 2013.
In a Special Operation and within one week of being on the street, the Military Police (MP) raided the house of the Vice President of the National Child Welfare Union (SITRAPANI), Marco Antonio Rodriguez. MP pointing weapons at Rodriguez and his family members and forcing them to lie face down on the street. When asked to see the search warrant, the MP responded, “What search warrant, here we can do what we want.”

* Raided the house of FNRP activist, Edwin Espinal, October 23, 2013.
In another Special Operation, the MP broke down the doors to Espinal’s house accusing him of possessing illegal weapons and drugs. The search warrant presented to Espinal read “Robelo [as Espinal is known in his community] belongs to the LIBRE party and is one of the leaders of that area.” Along with GPS coordinates of the location of his house, the warrant also noted that: “outside, [the house] has a LIBRE flag.”

* Evicted former President Zelaya, LIBRE Congressional representatives, and supporters from Congress, May 13, 2014.
Protesting the silencing of political debate in Congress, the political opposition in Congress led by President Manual Zelaya, ousted in a military coup in June 2009, were violently evicted by the MP. The MP shot several cans of tear gas and beat protestors and some LIBRE Congressional representatives.

* Beat up, mistreated, and detained children’s rights defender, Jose Guadalupe Ruelas, Director of Casa Alianza, May 8, 2014.

Source: HonduPresa

Driving home from a human rights forum, Ruelas was beaten and detained by MP after being ordered to stop at an MP check-point in Tegucigalpa. After stopping, a police motorcycle colliding with Ruelas’ vehicle. Ruelas was violently removed from his vehicle, struck on his head, back, and legs, and detained.

* Two Military Police were arrested in western Honduras for permitting the escape of two individuals taking contraband into Guatemala, July 2014.
Two Military Police were arrested by Honduran police on charges of violation of official duties and evasion after allowing two individuals driving a truck carrying contraband to escape and cross the border into Guatemala.

*Shot at a public bus in Tegucigalpa after it failed to stop at a Military Police check-point, October 1, 2014

Source: El Heraldo

After failing to stop at a checkpoint managed by the Military Police in Tegucigalpa, the MP fired at the back window of a public bus carrying fourteen passengers. Four people were injured – two with bullet wounds, and two from broken glass.

* Gang raped a female sweatshop worker in San Pedro Sula, November 2014
A woman reported that she was picked up by the Military Police while waiting for a bus after leaving work in the northern Honduran city, San Pedro Sula. She was forced to get into the back of the truck and taken to an isolated area where she was raped by eight MP.

****

Within one year of being present in the streets, the variety and quantity of abuses committed by the Military Police are concerning, particularly as their presence is likely to increase. The promotion of the Military Police by the Honduran President and the National Defense and Security Council, is undoubtedly causing major tension between the National Police and the MP on the streets of Honduras. One example is a recent public shoot out that occurred between the military and the police, the result of a dispute over the police not permitting the military vehicle to pass. This tension has the potential to create serious security concerns for Honduran citizens on top of the already grave insecurity crisis in the country.

Honduras no garantiza plenamente los derechos humanos de su población

Afiche sobre visita in loco CIDH Honduras

Tegucigalpa, M.D.C., 1 de diciembre de 2014. La Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH) inicia hoy su visita a Honduras. La presencia de la CIDH –máximo órgano de protección y promoción de derechos humanos del continente americano–, demuestra su particular interés e inquietud por la situación en el país.

En este marco, las organizaciones firmantes manifestamos:

Primero: A partir del golpe de Estado ocurrido en el año 2009, la institucionalidad democrática continúa fragilizándose. Las autoridades siguen sin reconocer la ruptura del orden constitucional; la mayoría de las violaciones de derechos humanos cometidas en dicho contexto se mantienen impunes; y las estructuras de poder (como la Corte Suprema de Justicia y el Ejército), que facilitaron el golpe de Estado, no han sido sancionadas. La independencia judicial todavía es un anhelo cada vez más lejano debido al alineamiento del poder legislativo y judicial con lo que dicta el poder ejecutivo.

Segundo: Paulatinamente se ha venido fortaleciendo el poder militar en detrimento del poder civil. En la actualidad, diversas instituciones públicas son dirigidas por militares como por ejemplo: la Dirección de Migración, Aeronáutica Civil, HONDUTEL, Registro Nacional de las Personas, entre otras. Adicionalmente, el gobierno creó la policía militar de orden público y ahora pretende darle rango constitucional, aun cuando se ha denunciado su participación en violaciones de derechos humanos.

Tercero: Las cifras de violencia no han disminuido, pese a nuevas disposiciones que modifican el método para establecer la cantidad de muertes violentas y que impiden el acceso a la información pública, según datos del Observatorio Nacional de la Violencia del año 2013, ocurren 79 muertes violentas por cien mil habitantes. La impunidad sobre este tipo de hechos es casi total (92%).

Cuarto: Si bien se han aprobado planes de acción en materia de derechos humanos, estos no se están implementando. Por ello Honduras está en deuda con la garantía plena de los derechos de todos y todas sus habitantes. En particular, preocupa la discriminación y exclusión de los pueblos indígenas, de los afrodescendientes –reflejado en el despojo de sus territorios y con el riesgo, entre otras cosas, de que estos pueblos desaparezcan; la violencia contra las mujeres, las niñas, las personas jóvenes, así como la discriminación y violencia en contra de las personas de las comunidades lésbicas, gays, trans, e intersex. También es preocupante la criminalización y persecución de defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos; las condiciones inhumanas que enfrentan las personas privadas de libertad; las amenazas y asesinatos contra quienes ejercen la libertad de expresión, así como contra operadores de justicia que han demostrado honradez y transparencia en sus trabajos.

Quinto: La visita de todos los integrantes de la Comisión Interamericana constituye una oportunidad valiosa para que el Estado hondureño rinda cuentas sobre sus actuaciones pasadas y presentes, pero principalmente para que informe sobre sus planes de cómo va a abordar las diversas problemáticas que aquejan al país.

La sociedad civil organizada da la bienvenida a la CIDH y espera que se continúe brindando un seguimiento cercano a Honduras, así como que se establezcan recomendaciones encaminadas a cambios estructurales que permitan mejorar la situación de los derechos humanos de todos y todas las hondureñas.

Consideramos que las nuevas autoridades del Estado de Honduras deben aprovechar la visita de la CIDH como una oportunidad para que, en estricto apego de sus obligaciones internacionales en materia de derechos humanos, se construya la institucionalidad democrática que tanto necesita el país.

Organizaciones firmantes:

Asociación de Jueces por la Democracia (AJD)

Asociación LGBT Arcoiris

Asociadas por lo Justo (JASS)

Asociación Para una Vida Mejor de Personas Infectadas/Afectadas por el VIH-SIDA en Honduras (APUVIMEH)

Casa Alianza Honduras

Centro de Derechos de Mujeres (CDM)

Centro de Estudios de la Mujer-Honduras (CEMH)

Centro de Investigación y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos (CIPRODEH)

Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional (CEJIL)

Colectiva de Mujeres Hondureñas (CODEMUH)

Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras (COFADEH)

Comité por la Libre Expresión (C-Libre)

Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH)

El Centro de Prevención Tratamiento y Rehabilitación de Victimas de la Tortura y sus Familiares (CPTRT)

El Frente Amplio del Colegio de Profesionales de Educación Media de Honduras (COPEMH)

Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación de la Compañía de Jesús (ERIC-SJ)

Foro de mujeres por la Vida

La Red de Mujeres de Ojojona

Movimiento Diversidad en Resistencia

Movimiento Ambientalista de Santa Bárbara (MAS)

Movimiento de Mujeres por la Paz Visitación Padilla