Archive for April, 2016

Berta’ Mother: The Honduran State is Responsible for this Crime

Public Letter from Austra Bertha Flores López.

Austra Bertha Flores López mother of Berta Caceres

As you know, I am the mother of Bertha Isabel Cáceres Flores, assassinated on March 2nd of this year. A month has gone by since this abominable and cowardly crime took place. I write this public letter despite the pain it causes me, in order to reach as many people as possible with these messages:

1. I want to express my deepest thanks to all of the people, social movement organizations, human rights organizations, representatives of indigenous and afro-descendant peoples, women’s organizations, representatives of different churches, diplomats, teachers’ organizations, youth organizations, LGBT organizations, environmentalist organizations, members of the media, in summary, to all of those who have shown solidarity during this tremendously difficult time that I have had to live through as a result of this violent crime. The same is true, of course, for my grand daughters and my grandson, who had their mother stolen from them in the most horrendous way imaginable, along with all of the other family members who have suffered this irreparable loss.
I have painstakingly served my people as a midwife, a mayor, a governor and a congresswoman, roles which allowed me to push for the approval of ILO Convention 169, for the defense of women, of children and of human rights in general. At 83 years of age this crime has hit me hard and I am only able to stay strong thanks to the steadfast solidarity that I have received from you. I want to tell you that I hope not to leave this world before achieving justice for my daughter Bertita, who has given her life for our mother earth, for the rights of indigenous and black peoples, for women and for the rivers. For this reason I ask you to please continue to vigorously support me so that we may achieve justice and end impunity in a country so beaten down by the oppressors’ political violence against those who work to build a more just and humane society. I reiterate to you my appreciation, and ask that we make our cries for justice even louder, since that is the only way we can end the impunity that has surrounded this crime. You all can decide on the way to do this, whether through a prayer, a poster, a march, a drawing on a wall, or a non-violent but powerful action. Our sisters and brothers have demonstrated enormous creativity. Keep it up, so that a world without violence can one day be possible.

2. Secondly, I write to you to say that it is the Honduran state that is responsible for this crime, for the following reasons: The Honduran state was under obligation to comply with the protective measures ordered to secure my daughter’s life, yet the state did not fulfill these international commitments. It was the Honduran state that approved the concessions of our natural resources, including the Gualcarque River, a river that is part of the Lenca territory, without the required prior, free, and informed community consultation, despite knowing that it is required to do so under an international agreement approved by the Honduran state. That agreement is the Untied Nations International Labor Organization Convention 169, which mentions the right to consultation. The violation of this convention has generated tremendous conflict, leading to bloodshet in the communities, assassination of indigenous leaders and environmentalists.
The Honduran state criminalized my daughter by leveraging state institutions to mount several cases against her for the crime of carrying out her work in defense of our natural resources and the rights of indigenous and black peoples in Honduras. The Honduran state has taken it upon itself to defend the private interests of extractive companies, to such an extent that when my daughter, as general coordinator of COPINH, led a march this past February, she was insulted, vilified and threatened by people linked to DESA’s interests in front of the police and the army, whose response was to repress her and the Lena people that were mobilizing, going so far as to seize the buses that were transporting them.
The Honduran state contaminated the crime scene instead of preserving and investigating it. It has been a month already and despite national and international pressure, the state has been unable to capture the material or intellectual authors of this crime that has brought grief to our family and our people.
After the coup d’état lists of people to be targeted by death squads for assassination circulated. The first person on those lists was Bertha Isabel.
I know that nobody can bring my daughter back to life, but that will not stop my determination to fight with all of my strength so that Bertita’s assassination does not remain in impunity. That means fighting for the Honduran state to allow an independent commission to investigate this painful assassination and to cancel all of the concessions of natural resources that have been handed out in clear violation of ILO Convention 169, particularly the concessions along the Gualcarque River, for which my daughter struggled and continues to struggle from wherever she may be. It means the Honduran government must commit to not allow any more crimes against the women and men who defend human rights. That Honduras allow our family to participate in the investigation. That the Honduran state cease the criminalization of COPINH and the social movement organizations.
I would like for UNESCO to designate the Gualcarque River as part of humanity’s cultural and natural heritage.

I also want to use this opportunity to express how happy I am that Gustavo Castro, a dear friend and another victim of this crime, has been able to return to his country.
I close by asking that all of our people in Honduras and all of the peoples of the world take up the struggle in defense of life and mother earth. Towards that end, I leave you with the words of my daughter: “WAKE UP HUMANITY, THERE’S NO TIME LEFT.”
With conviction, appreciation and solidarity, sincerely,
Austra Bertha Flores López

Family of slain activist asks U.S. to cut off aid to Honduras

The 25-year-old daughter of Berta Cáceres says family struggling for answers

Wants U.S. to pressure Honduras to accept independent international investigation

11 U.S. senators support withholding aid from police tied to rights abuses

 

http://www.theolympian.com/news/nation-world/world/article70060102.html

IFC investments through financial intermediaries linked to human rights abuses in Honduras, again

5 April 2016

 

Summary

  • New complaint lodged against IFC financial intermediary project in Honduras
  • Honduran activisits murdered
  • Global trend of killings of environmental activists on the rise

In October 2015 a Honduran indigenous Garifuna community, with support of local NGO the Black Fraternal Organisation of Honduras (OFRANEH), lodged a complaint with the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), the accountability mechanism of the International Finance Corporation (IFC, the World Bank’s private sector arm). The complaint alleged a number of breaches stemming from the Tela Bay Tourism development project in Indura, including “land grabbing, community displacement, lack of economic benefits and environmental degradation”. The CAO found the complaint eligible for further assessment in December and is currently assessing the case further. One of the project’s financiers is Banco Ficohsa, Honduras’ third largest bank, in which the IFC has made several investments since 2008, including trade finance, housing and SME loans as well as an equity investment in May 2011. The IFC’s investments through financial intermediaries (FIs) have been repeatedly criticised by the CAO and NGOs claiming that the IFC is unable to determine the development impact of the investments and to ensure they do no harm (see Observer Spring 2015, Winter 2015, and  Spring 2014).

In the complaint OFRANEH sets out the deleterious impact of World Bank involvement in Honduras since the 90s in promoting the “restructuring of land registration systems and cadastre through [development] programmes that affect the rights of Garifuna communities”. OFRANEH concluded “that a set of World Bank projects promoted massive encroachment of Garifunas’ land on the north coast, facilitating illegal [land] titles to third parties of ancestral Garifunas’ land and the IFC financed investments in private sector projects built on this stolen land.” It requested that the CAO investigate the IFC investment in Ficohsa and undertake a “broader review of the World Bank policies and practices that have contributed to the dispossession of large-scale land in Honduras and in particular the Garifunas communities”.

Repeated human rights concerns, same suspects

This is not the first time that the IFC’s investments in Ficohsa have come under scrutiny by the CAO. In August 2013 the CAO initiated a compliance appraisal, triggered by Ficohsa’s significant exposure to Corporación Dinant, a controversial palm oil producer in Honduras, also subject to a CAO audit that was initiated in 2012 due to allegations of human rights violations (see Observer Winter 2014, Bulletin Aug 2014, Update 86).  In January 2016 the CAO released its monitoring report of the Ficohsa investigation, citing repeated concerns about IFC’s management of environmental and social risk in relation to Ficohsa’s lending to Dinant. The CAO concluded that “to date IFC has not assured itself that Ficohsa’s ongoing financing for Dinant is contingent on binding commitments to implement the performance standards, either through its loan agreements or the environmental and social action plan.” The CAO will continue to monitor the IFC’s supervision of Ficohsa and aims to release a follow up monitoring report no later than December 2016.

World Bank projects promoted massive encroachment of Garifunas’ land…, facilitating illegal [land] titles… and the IFC financed investments in private sector projects built on this stolen land.OFRANEH complaint letter to CAO

Honduran activists murdered

In early March Berta Cáceres, leader of Honduran NGO the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (COPINH), was murdered. Cáceres had led the peaceful opposition to the construction of the Agua Zarca dam, arguing it would destroy local indigenous Lenca communities’ farmland and limit their access to drinking water, and received continuous threats, harassment and persecution by the state and others. In October 2013 COPINH registered a complaint with the CAO concerning the Agua Zarca hydropower project, carried out by the company DESA, following the killing of an indigenous protestor, allegedly by the army and the building company, and intimidation of activists and local communities opposing the project (see Bulletin  Dec 2013, Observer Autumn 2013). However, the case did not come to conclusion, as CAMIF, IFC’s client, pulled out its investment in DESA and the Agua Zarca project. CAMIF’s withdrawal was followed by China’s Sinhydro, which cited publicly that its withdrawal was due to conflicts between the company and communities.

Following Cáceres’ murder numerous CSOs, such as COPINH, and  Both ENDS, called on all investors to pull out of the Agua Zarca project and do everything in their power to stop the violence and intimidation against activists. The Netherlands Development Finance Company (FMO) and the Finnish Finnfund suspended their support for the project one day after Nelson García of COPINH was also shot and killed in late March. On the website ‘Justice for Berta’, her children and COPINH demand “immediate cancellation of the Agua Zarca project, justice for the Berta’s murder, an end to the persecution of the Lenca community and justice for projects that threaten the environment and the lives of indigenous communities in Honduras”.

Killings of environmental activists a global trend

In April 2015 Global Witness, a UK based NGO, argued in its report How many more? that 2014 saw an increase in the killings of environmental activists. At least 116 environmental activists worldwide were killed, 40 per cent of which were from indigenous communities, with most working against hydropower, mining and agribusiness projects. The report described Honduras as “the most dangerous country to be an environmental defender” and “emblematic of the systematic targeting of defenders”. Three-quarters took place in Latin America, with South Asia the second-deadliest region. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, urged governments to give protection to environmental defenders. In March she told Climate Home, a global news agency: “The pattern of killings in many countries is becoming an epidemic definitely.” Tauli-Corpuz called for recognition of land rights and a robust legal system to prosecute perpetrators.

In late March the UN Human Rights Council approved a new resolution on the protection of human rights defenders addressing economic, social and cultural rights. An earlier draft version included a paragraph highlighting the human rights obligations of international financial institutions. This paragraph was removed in the final version due to calls for removal from the EU, China and Canada.

How Hillary Clinton Militarized US Policy in Honduras

 

People hold up photos of slain Honduran indigenous leader and environmentalist Berta Cáceres outside the coroner’s office in Tegucigalpa. (AP Photo / Fernando Antonio)

In 2012, as Honduras descended into social and political chaos in the wake of a US-sanctioned military coup, the civilian aid arm of Hillary Clinton’s State Department spent over $26 million on a propaganda program aimed at encouraging anti-violence “alliances” between Honduran community groups and local police and security forces.

The program, called “Honduras Convive,” was designed by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to reduce violent crimes in a country that had simultaneously become the murder capital of the world and a staging ground for one of the largest deployments of US Special Operations forces outside of the Middle East.

It was part of a larger US program to support the conservative government of Pepe Lobo, who came to power in 2009 after the Honduran military ousted the elected president, José Manuel Zelaya, in a coup that was widely condemned in Central America. In reality, critics say, the program was an attempt by the State Department to scrub the image of a country where security forces have a record of domestic repression that continues to the present day.

“This was all about erasing memories of the coup and the structural causes of violence,” says Adrienne Pine, an assistant professor of anthropology at American University who spent the 2013-14 school year teaching at the National Autonomous University of Honduras. “It’s related to the complete absence of participatory democracy in Honduras, in which the United States is deeply complicit.”

“With the coup, Clinton had a real opportunity to do the right thing and shift US policy to respect democratic processes,” added Alex Main, an expert on US policy in Central America at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, after being told of the program. “But she completely messed it up, and we’re seeing the consequences of it now.”

Honduras Convive (“Honduras Coexists”) was the brainchild of the Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI), a controversial unit of USAID that operates overseas much like the CIA did during the Cold War.

Sanctioned by Congress in 1994, OTI intervenes under the direction of the State Department, the Pentagon, and other security agencies in places like Afghanistan, Haiti, and Colombia to boost support for local governments backed by the United States. Sometimes, as it has in Cuba and Venezuela, its programs are directed at stirring opposition to leftist regimes. Clinton gave the office a major boost after she became Secretary of State; its programs are overseen by an under secretary of state as well as the top administrator of USAID.

OTI’s activities, the Congressional Research Service noted in a 2009 report, “are overtly political” and based on the idea that “timely and creative” US assistance can “tip the balance” toward outcomes “that advance U.S. foreign policy objectives.”

In Honduras, OTI seems to have followed the model it set in Iraq, where it sent some of the first US aid personnel after the 2003 invasion. At the time, CRS said, OTI’s strategy in Iraq was to convey “the tangible benefits of the regime change.”

The objective of Honduras Convive is spelled out on USAID’s website: “To disrupt the systems, perceptions and behaviors that support violence by building alliances between the communities and the state (especially the police and security forces).” A USAID official confirmed that the program is still ongoing, but played down US ties with Honduran security forces. Convive, he said, is “working in communities to build the capacity of civil society and government institutions, while strengthening community cohesion.” It was initiated “at the request of USAID and the broader U.S. Government due to high levels of violence in Honduras,” he added. “The beneficiaries of the Convive program are the Honduran people.” Much of the country’s violence is blamed on gangs and drug cartels and has led thousands of Hondurans to send their children north to flee the region.

But contractor documents obtained about the program show that it was based in part on communications strategies to win “hearts and minds” developed during the counterinsurgency phase of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Several OTI officials and contractors overseeing the project came to Honduras from Afghanistan, where they managed the civilian, nation-building side of the war. They included Miguel Reabold, OTI’s country representative in Honduras, who previously represented OTI in Afghanistan.

In addition, a key part of the project was subcontracted to a company owned by David Kilcullen, who was the senior counterinsurgency adviser to Army General David Petraeus in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Kilcullen’s research methodology, according to a contract proposal I obtained, was “built around a streamlined set of metrics” that provide a “manageable method for assessing counterinsurgency campaigns that can be replicated and customized in other insecure environments.” The contract was submitted to Reabold on October 16, 2012.

The USAID official confirmed that Kilcullen’s company, Caerus Associates, “received two grants totaling approximately $77,000 to assist USAID/OTI to assess licit and illicit networks in San Pedro Sula,” Honduras’s largest and most violent city. But, he added, “the Honduras Convive program is not a counterinsurgency program.”

In a lengthy e-mail, the official added that Convive “has drawn its lessons from best practices in violence prevention, community policing, and community cohesion from urban environments all over the world.” Since the program began, he insisted, violence has declined. He provided figures showing “marked reductions in homicides between 2013 and 2014 in some of the city’s most dangerous communities,” with declines of between 18 and 46 percent in several municipalities.

“USAID believes that homicides are decreasing due to a combination of factors, included among them a more cohesive community, represented by empowered leaders, working closely with Honduran government partners (including the police); international donors; and complementary USAID programs,” the official wrote in his e-mail.

But nowhere in the USAID documents does the word “coup” appear. The agency’s claims and statistics stand in stark contrast to the situation in Honduras, where civil society has been reeling from a wave of political violence and assassinations perpetuated by what many believe are state-sponsored death squads.

Even as Convive was being formulated in 2012, repression and violence had become a pressing issue for Hondurans. That January, UC-Santa Cruz historian Dana Frank described the carnage in The New York Times, reporting that “more than 300 people have been killed by state security forces since the coup, according to the leading human rights organization Cofadeh.” It appears to be just as bad in 2016.

A month ago, on March 3, the renowned environmental activist Berta Cáceres was murdered in her home by unknown gunmen. Two weeks later, Nelson Garcia, a member of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), co-founded by Cáceres, was shot to death. Since then, thousand of Hondurans have protested what Democracy Now! has described as a “culture of repression and impunity linked to the Honduran government’s support for corporate interests.”

The killings have brought the US government’s programs in Honduras under increased scrutiny and drawn sharp criticism of Clinton’s covert support for the 2009 coup while she was Secretary of State.

In particular, opponents of Clinton have seized on her own admissions in her autobiography, Hard Choices, that she used her power as Secretary of State to deflect criticism of the coup and shift US backing to the new government. “We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot,” Clinton wrote.

In 2014, two years before her murder, Cáceres herself condemned Clinton’s statements about the coup, saying “this demonstrates the meddling of North Americans in our country.” Clinton, she added, “recognized that they didn’t permit Mel Zelaya’s return to the presidency…even though we warned this was going to be very dangerous and that it would permit a barbarity.”

The Clinton campaign did not respond to e-mails seeking comment on her department’s role in Honduras Convive or in shaping US policy toward Honduras. But in March, after Cáceres’s statements on Clinton were reported in The Nation, a campaign official told Latino USA that charges that the former Secretary of State supported the 2009 coup were “simply nonsense.” “Hillary Clinton engaged in active diplomacy that resolved a constitutional crisis and paved the way for legitimate democratic elections,” she said.

*  *  *

The players in Honduras Convive provide a glimpse into the privatized world of covert operations managed by USAID and OTI, and how they dovetail with broader US foreign-policy goals of supporting governments friendly to US economic and strategic interests. They also show how Hillary Clinton might manage US foreign policy as president.

Under Clinton’s 2010 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, OTI’s programs were expanded and strengthened, and the State Department pledged to “work much more closely” with the office. “We will build upon OTI’s business model of executing programming tailored to facilitate transition and promote stability in select crisis countries,” the review said. The overall plan for OTI was overseen by a Clinton deputy and the administrator of USAID. Most of its projects are contracted to a group of private aid companies in Washington.

Honduras Convive, for example, was outsourced to Creative Associates International (CAI), a company that has worked closely with USAID’s OTI on projects in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Libya. In 2010, CAI teamed up with OTI to run a clandestine operation in Cuba dubbed “Cuban Twitter,” as revealed in 2014 by the Associated Press. It was designed to use social media to spark anti-government unrest in that country.

A key piece of CAI’s project in Honduras, determining the social networks responsible for violence in the country’s largest city, was subcontracted to Caerus, Kilcullen’s company. It was founded in 2010 while Kilcullen was working as a top counterinsurgency adviser to US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. In addition to advising Petraeus, Kilcullen served during the Bush administration as a senior adviser on counterinsurgency to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

One of Kilcullen’s first contracts in Afghanistan, according to the Caerus documents I obtained, was to design and manage a $15 million USAID program measuring stability in Afghanistan—a key task of the counterinsurgency effort. Kilcullen also developed close ties to the Office of Transition Initiatives. OTI is “the closest thing we have now to an organizational structure specifically designed to deal with the environments of the last ten to twenty years,” Kilcullen said in a talk to the New America Foundation in 2013.

Like Kilcullen himself, the Caerus contractors who led the Honduras project had extensive experience with the wars in Afghanistan. Stacia George, Caerus’s “Team Leader” on the Honduras project, was employed at Caerus from 2012 to 2014, where one of her tasks was training “Department of Defense professionals on using development as a counterinsurgency tool in Afghanistan” (she is now deputy director of OTI). Another Caerus associate involved in the Honduras program, William Upshur, taught counterinsurgency tactics in Afghanistan for the Army’s 10th Mountain and 82nd Airborne divisions from 2010 to 2013 (he’s now an associate with intelligence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton).

The Caerus proposal to OTI, which I obtained, emphasizes the company’s extensive experience with counterinsurgency, surveillance, and data collection in Afghanistan as well as its ties to OTI. Many Caerus staffers “have worked directly for [OTI] developing policy, implementing field programs, and managing program evaluations based on stabilization goals and objectives,” it says.

CAI, the prime contractor for Honduras Convive, deferred all questions about the project to USAID. But a CAI spokesperson said that “Creative doesn’t do counterinsurgency work and doesn’t have anybody on staff involved in counterinsurgency.”

*  *  *

The AID/OTI program was part of a grand US plan to improve security in Central America by building closer ties with local military forces and using US troops to train their police. Honduras has become a litmus test for the plan.

Today, hundreds of US Special Forces and Navy SEALs are training Honduran units for civilian law enforcement. The plan is “driven by the hope that beefing up police operations will stabilize a small country closer to home,” The Wall Street Journal reported. The training is set to expand in the $1 billion “Alliance for Prosperity” program for the region that was unveiled in late January of 2015 by Vice President Joe Biden.

Main, the CEPR analyst, says Central Americans should greet the Biden plan with skepticism. “From the U.S.-backed dirty wars of the 1980s to the broken promises of economic development under the Central American Free Trade Agreement, the historical record shows that U.S. policies and assistance have often undermined prosperity, stability, and democracy in the region,” he wrote last year in NACLA Report on the Americas.

In Honduras, Main told me, the overriding US interest has been “keeping this government in power.” The “window dressing” of Honduras Convive, he added, has “been going on pretty much since the coup.” Many observers, including lawmakers, agree.

On March 16, 730 scholars organized by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs signed a letter urging the State Department to demand human rights accountability in its dealings with Honduras. “We are deeply concerned that the U.S. government condones and supports the current Honduran government by sending financial and technical support to strengthen the Honduran military and police, institutions that have been responsible for human rights violations since the coup d’état of 2009,” the letter stated.

That same week, 23 members of Congress and the AFL-CIO called on Secretary of State John Kerry to address the violence in Honduras directed against trade unionists and human rights defenders. And on March 14, activists with SOA Watch, which opposes the School of the Americas, where many Honduran and Central American military leaders have been trained, raised a banner in front of USAID’s headquarters in Washington reading “Stop Funding Murder in Honduras!”

“I’ve been pretty much appalled by US policy with respect to Honduras,” Lawrence Wilkerson, the former deputy to Secretary of State Colin Powell, told me when I brought OTI’s Honduras program to his attention in an interview last year. “If I could sum it up for what it’s been for so many years, that’s protecting all the criminals in power, basically for US commercial interests.”