Archive for the ‘International Honduran concerns’ Category

No Light At End Of Tunnel:
Summary conclusions of Rights Action delegation to Honduras

From June 5-11, 2016, Rights Action led a human rights solidarity trip to Honduras. (The trip was co-sponsored by the Mir Centre for Peace at Selkirk College). In the aftermath of the March 2, 2016 assassination of Berta Caceres and attempted assassination of Gustavo Castro, the focus of our trip was:

Honouring The Life, Vision & Struggles Of Berta Caceres:
What Do The U.S. & Canada Have To Do With Repression, Human Rights Violations, Corruption & Impunity In Honduras?


(Olivia and Laura, daughters of Berta Caceres, and her mother at Mama Berta’s home, La Esperanza, June 6, 2016)

Over the course of seven days, our delegation – 5 Canadians, 4 US citizens, 1 US-Argentinian, 1 Australian – travelled to and met with:

  • The family of Berta Caceres in La Esperanza, Intibuca;
  • COPINH, the Lenca-campesino organization co-founded by Berta Caceres, at their “Utopia” solidarity center in La Esperanza, Intibuca;
  • The Azacualpa Environmental Committee, in Santa Rosa de Copan, resisting harms and violations caused by the Canadian Aura Minerals gold mining company;
  • CODEMUH (Collective of Honduran Women) working with women whose rights are being violated by the garment “sweatshop” industry, including the Canadian company Gildan Activewear, the US company Hanesbrand Inc, and more;
  • OFRANEH (the Honduran Fraternal Organization of Black and Garifuna peoples) working in defense of Garifuna Indigenous rights and territorial control along the north coast of Honduras, resisting violent and illegal evictions and human rights violations carried out in the interests of Canadian and US tourism operators, the African palm industry (including the World Bank funded Dinant corporation);
Summary Conclusions: No Light At End Of Tunnel In Honduras
In the foreseeable future, there will be no remedy to human rights violations, poverty, repression and impunity in Honduras.  The country is characterized by systemic exploitation, poverty and racism; by government sanctioned repression; by government tolerated and induced crime and violence; and by corruption and impunity in all branches of the government, police and military and most aspects of the economy, particularly the dominant national and international business and investment sectors.

During our short, but intense and moving road trip to visit communities and organizations around the country, we were able to confirm:

  • No justice has been done in the political murder of Berta Caceres and attempted murder of Gustavo Castro, even as members of Berta’s family are targeted with threats and harassment;
  • COPINH member continue to be criminalized and threatened, as they carry on with their Lenca community and territorial defense struggles, and as they support efforts for justice for Berta and Gustavo and for the multiple victims of political murder and government repression since 2009;
  • The Aura Minerals Canadian mining company continues, direct supported by the military, police and government, is applying huge and even threatening pressure on Azacualpa community members to force them to “agree” to allow Aura Minerals to move a 200 year old cemetery, to continue with their mountain-top removal, cyanide leaching, gold mining operation;
  • CODEMUH continues its courageous work with exploited garment industry workers (mainly women), even as labor and health rights violations have further increased since the 2009 military coup;
  • OFRANEH members continue to be victims of criminalization, threats, attacks and killings, all of which have worsened since the 2009 coup, as they organize and work to defend their territories, collective rights and culture against forced and illegal evictions and human rights violations caused by US, Canadian and other international tourism companies and investors.
There will be no end to this situation as long as the “international community” – particularly the US and Canadian governments, the World Bank and IDB, a host of international companies and investors – maintain mutually beneficial military, economic and political relations with the post-coup regimes and dominant economic sectors in power.

Forced Migrancy: This situation took a serious turn for the worse after the US and Canadian-backed military coup in 2009, and is directly causing the highest rates of forced migrancy in Honduran history.

Over the next weeks, Rights Action – as well as delegation members and their organizations – will publish information related to the community, environmental and life defense struggles that we directly learned about.

More Information: Grahame Russell, Rights Action director, grahame@rightsaction.org, 416-807-4436

Delegation Members

  • Cara-Lee Malange, Mir Peace Centre, British Columbia
  • Professor Claudia Chaufan, California & Toronto
  • Alison Fjerstad, Texas
  • Warwick Fry, Australia
  • Kay Gimbel, Mining Justice Action Committee, British Columbia
  • Barb Hill, Texas
  • Steven Johnson, Texas
  • Scott Martens, British Colombia
  • Margaret Anne Murphy, British Colombia
  • Danny Vela, Texas
*******

See conclusions of a Canadian delegation to Honduras, April 12-19, 2016, that Rights Action participated in:

Honduras: New attacks against human rights defenders

Thursday, April 21, 2016 – 12:36

Members of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) and other national and international organizations were attacked by unidentified armed people in the context of an international meeting celebrating the life of murdered human rights defender and leader of COPINH, Berta Cáceres.

On 15 April, a group of around 30 people, armed with machetes and stones, verbally and physically attacked members of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras, COPINH), as well as members of other international and Honduran NGOs. The members of COPINH and other organizations were gathered for the international meeting “Berta Cáceres Vive” celebrating the defender’s life. At least eight of the meeting’s participants were injured in the attack.

The armed people attacked COPINH members and other meeting participants while they were returning to Tegucigalpa from the Gualcarque River in Intibucá and Santa Bárbara provinces, where a ceremony for Berta Cáceres took place. A witness told Amnesty International that police officers present did not take any action to prevent the attack or to stop it. The police officers finally escorted COPINH members out of the area after international participants convinced them to react. For years, Berta Cáceres and COPINH have vocally campaigned against the construction of the Agua Zarca dam in the Gualcarque River.

This attack is the latest in a series of incidents since Berta Cáceres’ murder targeting her relatives and other members of COPINH. Amnesty International believes that these incidents amount to a campaign of harassment that is endangering COPINH’s members and Berta Cáceres’ relatives’ safety.

 

Please press the authorities

  • to take all appropriate measures to guarantee the safety of COPINH members and Berta Cáceres’ relatives in accordance with their wishes in order to fulfil their obligation to protect them as set by the precautionary measures granted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights;
  • to publicly recognize the legitimate and rightful work done by COPINH and all Human Rights Defenders in the country and to take other effective measures to stop their criminalization.

 

Send your messages to

 

Juan Orlando Hernández
Presidente de la República
Casa Presidencial
Bulevar Juan Pablo II
Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Email:             info@presidencia.gob.hn
Twitter:          @JuanOrlando
Salutation:     Dear President / Estimado Señor Presidente

 

Minister of Interior and Justice:
Héctor Leonel Ayala Alvarenga
Ministro del Interior y de Justicia
Edificio de la Hacienda (Principal)
Res. La Hacienda, Calle La Estancia
Bloque A-Lote 8 Edificio Z y M.
Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Email:             karlacueva144@gmail.com
Twitter:          @SDHJGDHN
Salutation:     Dear Minister/ Estimado Señor Ministro

 

Please send a copy to

 

Her Excellency Sofía Lastenia Cerrato Rodríguez
Ambassador for Honduras
151 Slater Street, Suite 805
Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5H3
Fax:                 (613) 232-0193
E-mail:           ambassador@embassyhonduras.hn
OR  correo@embassyhonduras.ca

 

COPINH
Email:             copinh@copinh.org  

 

Additional information

Members of COPINH and Berta Cáceres’ relatives have been targeted with harassment and attacks since Berta, leader and co-founder of COPINH, was shot dead on 3 March in her home in the town of La Esperanza, in the province of Intibucá, west Honduras.

The Attorney General’s Office called eight of the nine COPINH coordinators to testify about Berta Cáceres’ killing numerous times, in interrogations lasting for 12 or more hours. The authorities detained Aureliano Molina, one of the organization’s leaders, and released him 48 hours later without charges. On 8 March in San Francisco de Lempira, southwest Honduras, four armed men in plain clothes driving two vehicles without plates parked by a community radio station’s premises and took pictures of the people getting in and out. One of the armed men threatened a radio worker at gun point, then grabbed his phone and deleted the pictures he took to record the incident. The same week, community members saw other men driving cars without plates surrounding Aureliano Molina’s house and trying unsuccessfully to break into his home. On 11 March in La Esperanza, midwest Honduras, COPINH members reported seeing unidentified men monitoring the organization’s Casa de Sanación y Justicia (a shelter for women) and the Utopia Centre (a community centre). A car stood in front of the entrance of Utopia Centre late at night for several minutes. On 11 March, police officers took pictures of participants in a public demonstration demanding justice for Berta Cáceres in several cities of Honduras. An armed man in plain clothes followed one of Berta Cáceres’ daughters in a mall in Tegucigalpa, the capital, during the same week. 

COPINH has been fighting for over 20 years for Lenca Indigenous peoples’ rights. COPINH members have been campaigning for their right to free, prior and informed consent in relation to a proposal for a hydroelectric plant that might force them out of their ancestral lands since 2011. Its members continue to be targeted with threats and harassment in connection with their work.

Despite having been the subject of threats and harassment for years in connection to her human right’s work—for which she was granted precautionary measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights—the investigation into Berta Cáceres’ death so far has appeared to minimize any link between the crime and her work as a Human Rights Defender.

Information made public by local law enforcement officers initially suggested the murder was the result of a robbery or a “crime of passion.” At the beginning of the investigation officials only called on members of COPINH to give testimony and the Mexican activist Gustavo Castro, who witnessed and was a victim of the crime; Honduran authorities temporarily barred him from leaving the country despite fears for his safety. On 31 March, the Attorney General’s Office informed they inspected Energetic Development (Desarrollos Energéticos S.A., DESA)’s offices, the company that is developing the Agua Zarca Project, and received testimony by its employees. 

On 7 March the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a new precautionary measure of protection in favour of all COPINH members and Berta Cáceres’ family on the grounds of the risks posed by their work defending human rights, environment and natural resources and their increased vulnerability situation after Berta Cáceres’ killing.

Leer en español.

GUSTAVO CASTRO was the sole witness to the murder on March 3 of Honduran activist Berta Cáceres, the co-founder of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Movements of Honduras (COPINH). Castro, the director of Other Worlds, an environmental organization in Chiapas, Mexico, was also shot in the attack. After being barred from leaving Honduras, Castro was released on March 30 and has since settled in an undisclosed location. Last week he spoke by phone to The Intercept about the night of the murder and the reasons why environmental activism in Latin America is so dangerous.

Castro’s experience over the past month provides a remarkable glimpse into the Honduran justice system, which is notorious for its culture of impunity. In the months before her murder, Cáceres repeatedly said that she was being harassed by Desarrollos Energéticos, SA (DESA), the private energy company behind the Agua Zarca dam project, which she had vigorously opposed. After the murder, Cáceres’s family immediately pointed to DESA. On March 31, the Honduran public prosecutor’s office announced that it had seized weapons and documents from DESA’s office and questioned several employees.

Contacted for comment, DESA provided the following statement: “The board of directors of the company that is carrying out the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project has not given any declaration nor does it plan to do so until the authorities in charge of the investigation determine the causes and perpetrators of this regrettable incident that ended the life of the indigenous leader Berta Cáceres.”

What happened during your last hours with Berta Cáceres?

I arrived on March 1 in San Pedro Sula, and that day they put me up in another home that belongs to other COPINH members in La Esperanza. It had been years since I had seen Berta in person, although we had been in touch by email. I was there to facilitate a workshop on environmentalism. That day Berta said to me, brother, come to my house, I have internet so you can get in touch with your family. We spent a while talking, even discussing the threats that she had received in the past and in recent weeks — intimidation and threats to her safety by employees of DESA and people who seemed to be hit men contracted by DESA, the company behind the hydroelectric project called Agua Zarca.

And I said to Berta, this is a very isolated home, how is it that you live here alone? So I decided to stay the night. I started to get ready for the second day of the workshop, and she was in her room. At midnight, there was a loud bang on the door and immediately one hit man entered my room, and simultaneously another entered hers. Everything happened very quickly, within 30 seconds, in which simultaneously they assassinated her and shot me. They had clearly been following her and were expecting her to be alone, so I think it surprised them to find another person there and they didn’t know what to do, so they just shot me and ran away.

Were their faces covered?

I don’t know about the other one, but the one who shot me wasn’t masked. I wasn’t able to decipher his face well, but that’s the moment when I became the principal witness, and a protected witness.

When Berta told you that she had received threats from DESA and Agua Zarca, did she say at any point that the people threatening her were from Honduran state security forces? Or were they gang members, or just random individuals?

Human rights activists take part in a protest to claim justice after the murdered of indigenous activist leader Berta Caceres in Tegucigalpa on March 17, 2016. Caceres, a respected environmentalist who won the prestigious Goldman Prize last year for her outspoken advocacy, was murdered in her home on March 3, her family said. AFP PHOTO/Orlando SIERRA. / AFP / ORLANDO SIERRA (Photo credit should read ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)

Human rights activists take part in a protest to claim justice after the murdered of indigenous activist leader Berta Cáceres in Tegucigalpa on March 17, 2016.

Photo: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

I don’t remember her saying anything like that. She did say they were employees, people in favor of the company. In fact when I arrived in Mexico, on March 30, the public prosecutor’s office in Honduras published a press release publicly linking the company to their line of investigation. In the press release they also announced that they had seized weapons and questioned some of the company’s people. But they didn’t want to get to this point. Before coming to that line of investigation, I got the impression they wanted to see if another line of investigation could be useful or believable for national and international public opinion, but that was impossible. Everyone in COPINH already knew the recent history, so they had no other option than to finally go after the company. I’m unaware of any advances they’ve had in this line of investigation.Over the last decade there were more than 100 murders of environmentalists in Honduras. And these conflicts are often linked to the army and the police. That’s part of the reality of Honduras. In this specific case, Berta said that the guilty party was the company. It was the company with which she had a strong and direct confrontation.

At first we were hearing that they questioned you, took you to the airport, and then suddenly told you that you couldn’t leave the country. Is this how it happened?

The whole process was confusing and handled poorly. I spent the first three or four days in constant legal procedures in La Esperanza. I could have refused several times, because one has the right to solicit a six-hour prevention order as a victim and a protected witness. Nevertheless I never used this instrument, and every time they asked me to take part in more legal procedures, I did — at any hour, in the middle of the night, whenever. So I went nearly four days without sleeping. I gave the statement for the attorney general, the statement for the public prosecutor, medical examinations, cross-examinations, photographic identification, etc.

And, yes, at first they said I could go. They always said, just one more thing, and then just one more thing, and then it finally seemed like everything was done and ready. They even prepared a helicopter for me to get back to Tegucigalpa on March 5. But because of weather conditions they weren’t able to land the helicopter, so instead they deployed a security detail to accompany me to Tegucigalpa by land. Later, the public prosecutor’s office claimed I was trying to escape, which was a huge lie.

So I arrived at the Mexican Embassy, where the ambassador and the consul bought me a plane ticket for March 6 at 6:20 a.m. But when we got to the airport, Honduran officials were waiting in hiding around the airport for me, as if this were necessary, as if this were a criminal matter and as if I weren’t a protected witness and a victim. It was so shameless. It felt like having an army at my heels. And the ambassador and the consul were with me. Suddenly eight or 10 people from the attorney general’s office and the public prosecutor’s office stood in front of the door and said that I couldn’t leave. They wouldn’t hand over any official document explaining anything. I know that this government is the result of a coup, but this game was so ridiculous that even they had to ask for apologies from the ambassador and me. What they did was totally unnecessary. And obviously they had to justify themselves before the national and international press by claiming they thought I was fleeing. Even then I could have said I was leaving. Because of a convention on penal matters between Mexico and Honduras, as a victim and a protected witness, I had the right to participate in the legal procedures from Mexico. I’m not a criminal — I’m a victim. But they forgot that.

They said, we need just one more thing. So I asked for more protection for the ride back: a bulletproof vest and more bodyguards. What they originally said they needed was more testimony, but what it ended up being was more cross-examination. At the end of the night they produced a document saying it was necessary for me to stay 30 days more. That was also illegal — the judge used arguments based on international human rights laws regarding suspects. When my lawyer argued they were violating my rights, the judge not only removed her from the case but furthermore suspended her ability to practice law for 15 days.

The government wanted me under its control. It has no laws that protect victims. Nor does it have regulations or protocols or a budget to protect human rights activists. Nor does it have regulations for protected witnesses. So they wanted me under their so-called protection where there is no law that obligates them to do anything. Which is why I stayed in the Mexican Embassy. But it was a month of horrible stress and tension, in which the government, with its complete lack of regulations or protocols, could easily accuse me of anything at any moment, show up with a judicial order, and the Mexican Embassy wouldn’t have been able to do anything. One week before I arrived in Honduras, the Judicial Commission had been dissolved, so there was no legal instrument with which I could defend myself. There was no commission before which I could denounce a judge who acted illegally, because that commission had been dissolved. So I found myself in total legal defenselessness — without a lawyer, because they suspended her. And it seemed neither international pressure nor the Mexican government could do anything. So it was a state of complete insecurity and a constant violation of my human rights.

Did they ever try to accuse you of anything officially?

There wasn’t anything explicit. There were rumors in the press that the public prosecutor’s office was trying to justify involving me in the crime in some way. But with the evidence and my declarations, it was simply impossible for them to invent such a farce. No matter how many circles they ran around the matter, they eventually had to go to DESA. They had no other option. I had the sense that they wanted to keep me there while they were trying to find something. It was a horrible uncertainty, because you have no lawyer. They have the ability to leave you totally legally defenseless.

HONDURAS - APRIL 04: A 745-foot-high dam under construction for a future power plant (Photo by David A. Harvey/National Geographic/Getty Images)

A 745-foot-high dam under construction for a future power plant in Honduras, April 4, 1983.

Photo: David A. Harvey/National Geographic/Getty Images

How do you explain the fact that opposing dams is interpreted as a threat?

This isn’t true only in Honduras — also in Guatemala, Mexico, Chile, etc. One of the reasons is that these dams mean flooding out huge swaths of jungle, forest, and indigenous and campesino lands. And this causes a strong reaction from these communities, because there are thousands and thousands of them displaced violently.

Another reason is that one of the most profitable businesses at the moment is the sale of electrical energy, especially in Latin America, because free trade agreements are opening huge investments for transnational corporations. And what does this mean? For example, free trade agreements allow major investors to put up factories, industrial parks, infrastructure, and mines, which all consume a ton of electricity and a ton of water. And bear in mind that one gold mine can use between 1 and 3 million liters of water every hour. That implies relinquishing the water that belongs to communities, their rivers, and their wells — using it to instead generate electricity for the big industrial corridors. So the sale of energy, and thus investments in energy, is one of the most profitable businesses for big capital. But that means entering into battle over territory with campesino and indigenous communities.

Additionally, with the Kyoto Protocol they’ve invented the stupid idea that dams make “clean energy.” Thus in order to gain carbon credits and reduce their greenhouse gases, wealthy countries started investing in dams. That’s why we have a world full of dam construction.

In Latin America almost every country has free trade agreements with the U.S., Canada, and Europe, and many also with Asia. This means changing your constitution, your environmental legislation that concerns water, energy and foreign investment, in order to adopt and facilitate these free trade agreements. If you don’t, companies sue. For governments, it’s easier to repress people than to pay damages and compensation to corporations. A good example is the case of the gold mine in El Salvador. El Salvador has had to pay millions to defend itself against a mining company before the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes. And we are talking about one mine. But imagine 10,000 or 15,000 — we are talking about thousands of mining concessions in the region. And to this if you add dams, and to that you add highways, ports, airports, mines, fracking, petroleum, huge shopping malls, tax-free zones, charter cities, huge elite tourist resorts — there are so many concessions.

If the human rights claims that activists make are actually upheld — contamination of water and land, violating previous and informed consent of communities — or if they kick out a company for dumping toxic waste into rivers, for murdering community members, for causing cancer around mining sites like we’ve seen in Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala — if governments have to do something about these human rights claims by kicking out the extractive industry, they’ll have to pay millions and millions of dollars that they don’t have. Each country would have to sell itself 20 times over to pay off the debt. So this is not easy to solve.

This leads to confrontation with communities. This will only deepen with things like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and governments prefer to react by criminalizing citizen protest. Peaceful protest used to be a human right. Now they call it “terrorism,” “violence.” They’re criminalizing human rights.

In a recent interview, Hillary Clinton said that the coup in Honduras was legal. What do you think about this statement?

It seems to me that in the end, the government had to justify a way for another group to come to power. And Honduras’s legal antiquity allows you to make any argument you want. For example, one of the reasons they gave for overthrowing Zelaya was that he proposed to modify the constitution to allow for re-election. Which the current president, Juan Orlando Hernández, is now trying to do, to modify the constitution to allow for re-election for him next year. So that’s why I say it depends on how you want to see it. If Zelaya proposes it, it’s unconstitutional and he has to go. If the oligarchy and the global hegemony says it, it’s legal, it’s democratic.

How do you see your future? Or are you living more day by day right now?

More day by day. Many are asking me if I’m going to throw in the towel, if I’m like the boxer who can’t take any more and gives up. I say no, I’m picking that towel up. This struggle must continue. I am not alone. Across Latin America there are thousands of people who are criminalized, who are being persecuted and threatened for defending human rights, who are defending the well-being of our planet. We must realize that that no one is exempt from this criminalization. Like so many friends who have been murdered for resisting. But there are many of us, and we will carry on.

The voracious capitalism we face cannot continue as is, with its accelerated and extractionist logic that is finishing off our planet. I think our great challenge is to realize that other worlds are possible. We can build something different, something dignified and just. There is enough water for everyone. There is enough land, enough food for everyone. We cannot continue feeding this predatory system of capital accumulation in the hands of so few. That system is unsustainable. So from wherever we are — in the Americas, in Europe, in Asia — we will all be affected by this system. Sometimes it seems that the crisis doesn’t touch certain places, and sometimes we don’t make the structural link to capitalism with the crises that the U.S. and Canada and France and Spain face. But I hope that we realize this soon, because it will affect us all sooner or later. And I want to say that there is still time to do something. This is urgent.

Top photo: Activist Gustavo Castro at a news conference at the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center in Mexico, April 4, 2016. Castro is a key witness in the March 3 fatal shooting of activist Berta Cáceres in Honduras.

Indigenous Activist Berta Cáceres Assassinated in Honduras

Human Rights Organizations Demand an Investigation of the Circumstances Surrounding the Assassination of Berta Cáceres, the General Coordinator of COPINH

https://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/indigenous-activist-assassinated-in-honduras

HONDURAS – At approximately 11:45pm last night, the General Coordinator of COPINH, Berta Caceres was assassinated in her hometown of La Esperanza, Intibuca. At least two individuals broke down the door of the house where Berta was staying for the evening in the Residencial La Líbano, shot and killed her. COPINH is urgently responding to this tragic situation.

Berta Cáceres is one of the leading indigenous activists in Honduras. She spent her life fighting in defense of indigenous rights, particularly to land and natural resources.

Cáceres, a Lenca woman, grew up during the violence that swept through Central America in the 1980s. Her mother, a midwife and social activist, took in and cared for refugees from El Salvador, teaching her young children the value of standing up for disenfranchised people.

Cáceres grew up to become a student activist and in 1993, she cofounded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) to address the growing threats posed to Lenca communities by illegal logging, fight for their territorial rights and improve their livelihoods.

Berta Cáceres and COPINH have been accompanying various land struggles throughout western Honduras. In the last few weeks, violence and repression towards Berta Cáceres, COPINH, and the communities they support, had escalated. In Rio Blanco on February 20, 2016, Berta Cáceres, COPINH, and the community of Rio Blanco faced threats and repression as they carried out a peaceful action to protect the River Gualcarque against the construction of a hydroelectric dam by the internationally-financed Honduran company DESA. As a result of COPINH’s work supporting the Rio Blanco struggle, Berta Cáceres had received countless threats against her life and was granted precautionary measures by the InterAmerican Commission for Human Rights. On February 25, 2016, another Lenca community supported by COPINH in Guise, Intibuca was violently evicted and destroyed.

Since the 2009 military coup, that was carried out by graduates of the U.S. Army School of the Americas, Honduras has witnessed an explosive growth in environmentally destructive megaprojects that would displace indigenous communities. Almost 30 percent of the country’s land was earmarked for mining concessions, creating a demand for cheap energy to power future mining operations. To meet this need, the government approved hundreds of dam projects around the country, privatizing rivers, land, and uprooting communities. Repression of social movements and targeted assassinations are rampant. Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate. Honduran human rights organizations report there have been over 10,000 human rights violations by state security forces and impunity is the norm – most murders go unpunished. The Associated Press has repeatedly exposed ties between the Honduran police and death squads, while U.S. military training and aid for the Honduran security forces continues.

Why Is Hillary OK With Honduran Death Squads?

By William Boardman, Reader Supported News

18 March 16

http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/277-75/35818-why-is-hillary-ok-with-honduran-death-squads

Honduran assassination has deep American roots if not fingerprints

 

hen a Honduran death squad gunned down internationally-honored environmental activist Berta Caceres, 44, a retired teacher and mother of four, in her home on March 3, the media-filtered world as we know it took note, briefly, expressed some regret, provided little context, and moved on. The outcry from rest of the real world included demands from the UN, more than 20 U.S. Congress members, and hundreds of NGOs for an independent investigation of this political assassination [a 2014 letter from 108 congressmen to Secretary of State John Kerry calling for the U.S. to address human rights abuses in Honduras had little impact]. Now, in response to a similar request, the U.S. has sent FBI agents to help the Honduran government, whose first action was to detain the only witness, Gustavo Castro Soto, himself shot twice in the same attack (and still in Honduran custody two weeks later).

What our media-shielded world mostly did not note is that Honduras is one of the original banana republics, long open to corporate plunder under the protection of the U.S. government. Nor was there much attention to longstanding political corruption in Honduras with its “elected” puppet government and major American military presence. Also omitted generally was how Honduras has served as a main base of American military operations at least since the Reagan administration’s illegal and war-crime saturated war against Nicaragua in the 1980s. Several hundred U.S.Marines are deployed in Honduras with official missions to train Hondurans and fight the war on drugs (similar to the missions of 3,500 Marines in Peru and others elsewhere), consistent with U.S. military expansion in Central America during President Obama’s first term.

But how could any of this be relevant to the assassination of yet another Honduran activist defending human rights, defending the rights of indigenous people, defending the environment, or defending the Honduran majority against military repression? None of the people currently running for president have apparently thought it worth more than a passing comment at most, not even Bernie Sanders, whose vision of an America run by billionaires has long been a grotesque reality in oligarchical Honduras. Pretty much irrelevantly, Sanders did take a glancing swipe at Clinton’s relationship with Honduras (rated “Mostly True” by Politifact) during their March 9 debate:

One of the great human tragedies of recent years is children came from Honduras where there’s more violence than in any place in this country, and they came into this country…. And I said welcome these children into this country. Secretary Clinton said, send them back. [This omits Clinton’s lawyerly conditions for expatriation, but accurately characterizes her bottom line: “Send them back.”]

So why are Honduran children fleeing in the first place?

Perhaps the most interesting contextual aspect of the Berta Caceres assassination is that it’s an extension of American “engagement” in Honduras and provides a lucid paradigm of foreign policy as Hillary Clinton practices it.

On June 27, 2009, Honduras had a legitimately elected president, Manuel Zelaya, himself a multi-millionaire oligarch, who was accused of instigating a months-long power struggle over whether he could extend his term-limited presidency by democratic but constitutionally-challenged, nonviolent means. Zelaya denied this intent, saying he would leave office as scheduled in January 2010. His opposition, including the Congress, attorney general, and Supreme Court, were holding their own in June. Congress had begun to consider impeachment. The stated issue was apparently not the real issue.

In the mid-1970s, Zelaya’s father had been convicted for taking part in the massacre of at least 15 priests, students, and other protestors, killed by Honduran military forces. Victims’ bodies were burned, castrated, and otherwise mutilated. In 1980, Zelaya’s father was freed by an amnesty after less than two years of a 20-year sentence. Zelaya, during his rise to the presidency, was accused of embezzling all or part of a missing $40 million, but he was not prosecuted. He won the presidency in 2005 with 45.6% of the vote. Zelaya ran as a traditional Honduran conservative from the Liberal Party and seemed at first to be no great threat to the Honduran sense of order, control, and wealth distribution. The National Party accused the Supreme Electoral Tribunal of gross errors and contested Zelaya’s 3.4% margin of victory, only to concede the election ten days later.

Once in office, Zelaya started doing things that displeased the elites as well as the United States. He led Honduras to join ALBA (the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America), founded in 2004 by Venezuela and Cuba to promote social, political, and economic integration of Latin countries. Although the U.S. remained Honduras’s main trading partner, Zelaya pursued expanded trade with Oceania and Africa. His foreign policy included improving relations with Hugo Chavez and Raul Castro. This alienated Honduran business elites, as did his other initiatives, including: education for all children, subsidies to small farmers, lower bank interest rates, an 80% increase in the minimum wage, and numerous programs that reduced poverty by 10% in Honduras (one of the world’s poorer countries with a 62.8% poverty rate in 2014, substantially higher than when Zelaya was in office). For three years, Honduran mass media, owned by just six families (media concentration similar to the U.S.) provided little unbiased coverage, leading Zelaya to invoke a little-used law to force the media to carry government broadcasts.

U.S.-sanctioned military coup ended Honduran non-crisis

On June 28, 2009, Honduran military forces seized President Zelaya and took him to a nearby U.S. military base. From there, Zelaya was sent into exile in Costa Rica, setting off protests around the region and the world, including a UN General Assembly resolutionon June 30, with Zelaya present at the UN (in Washington, Obama officials refused to meet with him). The resolution, agreed to by consensus, unanimously condemned the coup and demanded immediate, unconditional restoration of democratically-elected President Zelaya. The U.S., by choosing not to block the consensus, managed to avoid voting for or against a resolution that condemned its own proxies’ actions.

In October 2009, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement re-affirming the June resolution that “condemns the coup d’état in the Republic of Honduras that has interrupted the democratic and constitutional order and the legitimate exercise of power in Honduras.”

At least part of the explanation for U.S. duplicity was made clear in an email to Clinton from Tom Shannon, Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, saying that he planned on “calling the new SouthCom Commander to ensure a coordinated U.S. approach [since] we have big military equities in Honduras through Joint Task Force Bravo at Soto Cano airbase.” Coincidentally or not, Shannon was in Honduras a week before the coup, consulting with the military and civilian groups later involved in the coup.

Given the longstanding, close, bi-partisan ties between U.S. and Honduran governments, especially their military establishments, it is all but inconceivable that high-ranking officials in the Obama administration, perhaps Obama himself, did not have at least some advance notice of (if not involvement in planning) the coup. How else does the Honduran military take a president at gunpoint and fly him to a U.S. military base only to be welcomed with open arms?

The Obama administration has never offered a credible, principled explanation for indirectly supporting and directly securing the Honduran coup. Early on, President Obama gave appropriate lip service to opposing the coup: “We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the democratically elected president there.” By avoiding calling the transparent military coup a “military coup,” Obama avoided triggering an American law that would have imposed significant sanctions against Honduras and especially the Honduran military. Instead, the Obama administration applied only token sanctions, did little to resist Republican support for the coup government, maneuvered to take the issue out of public view, and acted as if the Honduran government’s investigation of itself was sufficient response. The point person in this exercise in anti-democracy was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who described her actions in her official autobiography “Hard Choices” (now out in paperback with the Honduran section scrubbed).

Hillary Clinton’s “diplomacy” whitewashed the military coup

As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was excellently positioned to move the question of the Honduran military coup out of the potentially pro-democratic forum of the Organization of American States into more sheltered talks that included both Zelaya and his appointed successor, Roberto Micheletti Bain, who publicly offered to step down during the summer of 2009 on the condition Zelaya would not return to power. During that same period, Clinton received an email from Ann-Marie Slaughter, then director of policy planning at the State Department, strongly urging her to “take bold action … find that [the] coup was a ‘military coup’ under U.S. law,” a position the administration had refused to take for the prior six weeks. Slaughter’s August 16 email added:

I got lots of signals last week that we are losing ground in Latin America every day the Honduras crisis continues; high level people from both the business and the NGO community say that even our friends are beginning to think we are not really committed to the norm of constitutional democracy we have worked so hard to build over the last 20 year [sic]. The current stalemate favors the status quo; the de facto regime has every incentive to run out the clock as long as they think we will have to accept any post-election government. I urge you to think about taking bold action now to breathe new life into the process and signal that regardless what happens on the Hill, you and the president are serious.

No such seriousness was forthcoming from the administration. Clinton, with no interference from Obama, played out the clock until bogus elections, held under the complete control of the coup government, could produce a result satisfactory to the U.S. The State Department kept negotiations alive among a variety of parties (including Zelaya and Micheletti) until it was effectively too late to have a meaningful democratic election. During September and October, Micheletti suspended five basic constitutional rights (including freedom of association, movement, speech, and personal liberty, as well as habeas corpus). On October 30, a joke of an “agreement” was announced by mediator and Costa Rican president Oscar Arias. Under this agreement, Zelaya was to be reinstated, almost powerless, in the final weeks before the election, which would remain under the control of the coup government, and even this farce included its own poison pill: the requirement  that the Honduran Congress approve Zelaya’s temporary reinstatement. Not surprisingly, the agreement was never realized, in part because four days later, the U.S. said it would honor the coup government’s “elections” whether Zelaya was ever reinstated or not. So much for the restoration of democracy in Honduras under Secretary Clinton.

What good is an election that doesn’t confirm the power structure? 

The November 27 sham election held under the control of a “unity government” that included no constitutionally-legitimate members, was punctuated by police violence and widespread media censorship. The winner was Porfirio Lobo Sosa, another multi-millionaire agricultural oligarch, who had lost to Zelaya in 2009. In an election boycotted by numerous candidates and with a turnout 6% lower than 2005, Lobos won 56.6% of the vote. The result was rejected by Spain and 11 Latin American countries, but widely accepted by the U.S. and its allies – and got a hypocritically glowing gloss from Assistant Secretary Shannon in an email to Clinton aide Cheryl Mills that falsely hyped the voter turnout:

The turnout (probably a record) and the clear rejection of the Liberal Party shows our approach was the right one, and puts Brazil and others who would not recognize the election in an impossible position. As we think about what to say, I would strongly recommend that we not be shy. We should congratulate the Honduran people, we should connect today’s vote to the deep democratic vocation of the Honduran people, and we should call on the community of democratic nations (and especially those of the Americas) to recognize, respect, and respond to this accomplishment of the Honduran people….

As president, Lobo presided over the further descent of Honduras (literally “the depths”) into violence, chaos, and corruption. Political assassinations now run to the hundreds as Honduras has achieved the highest murder rate in the world. Lobo (and now his dubious successor) have nurtured a vicious but U.S.-friendly government that has allowed its country to grow so violent that Hondurans flee northward by the thousands, while those who stay behind to resist are murdered by the hundreds. The environmental organization Global Witness, which tracks assassinations of environmentalists worldwide, found Honduras the most dangerous country per capita for environmental activists.

Among Clinton’s foreign policy achievements, Honduras may or may not be more disastrous than Libya. In “Hard Choices,” Clinton assessed Honduras this way:

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.

In retrospect, the “strategy” failed to restore order, ensured no free and fair elections, nor any legitimate election – but it did effectively legitimize a military coup undertaken in America’s interest (as in Haiti or Egypt – sorry, Madagascar).

Clinton’s record seems unknown only to Americans  

In a healthy democracy, one might expect candidates for president to challenge the one who actively supported a military coup that helped turn an impoverished country into an expanding charnel house. In the United States in 2016, the devastation produced by American foreign policy is an issue only for those who see it as inadequate. In the home countries, American depredation is not such a secret, least of all to those who resist it. In 2014, more than a year before her assassination, Berta Caceres named Clinton as one of the perpetrators of Honduran suffering (translated):

We’re coming out of a coup that we can’t put behind us. We can’t reverse it. It just kept going. And after, there was the issue of the elections. The same Hillary Clinton, in her book, Hard Choices, practically said what was going to happen in Honduras. This demonstrates the meddling of North Americans in our country. The return of the president, Mel Zelaya, became a secondary issue. There were going to be elections in Honduras. And here, she, Clinton, recognized that they didn’t permit Mel Zelaya’s return to the presidency. There were going to be elections. And the international community – officials, the government, the grand majority – accepted this, even though we warned this was going to be very dangerous and that it would permit a barbarity, not only in Honduras but in the rest of the continent. And we’ve been witnesses to this.[emphasis added]

Writing in The Nationhistorian Greg Grandin amplified what Caceres meant when she warned that Clinton policy “was going to be very dangerous.” Once the sham election installed a U.S.-compliant government, Honduras adopted Washington-sponsored terrorism and counterintelligence laws that criminalized political protest. Clinton’s policy consolidated the power of murderers, Grandin noted, and led to the murder of Caceres:

Well, that’s just one horror. I mean, hundreds of peasant activists and indigenous activists have been killed. Scores of gay rights activists have been killed. I mean, it’s just—it’s just a nightmare in Honduras. I mean there’s ways in which the coup regime basically threw up Honduras to transnational pillage. And Berta Cáceres, in that interview, says what was installed after the coup was something like a permanent counterinsurgency on behalf of transnational capital. And that was—that wouldn’t have been possible if it were not for Hillary Clinton’s normalization of that election, or legitimacy.

Of course, it was also Obama’s discreet blessing of a predator state that keeps Honduras bleeding. There’s blood enough for his hands as well as Clinton’s and all the apparatchiks at the White House and State Department who enthusiastically helped this enduring crime against humanity go down.

And now there is another victim that we know about among the hundreds still unknown. On March 15, another death squad (or perhaps the same one) shot a man four times in the face in his home. He was a member of the same indigenous people’s organization as Caceres (she is one of 14 members killed so far). He was Nelson Noe Garcia Lainez, 39, father of five and a community leader. His execution followed a violent government eviction of indigenous people from their homes because they were protesting the megadam project (Agua Zarca, funded in part by USAID) that would destroy their ancestral land.

The Associated Press reported, with profound but apparently unintended irony: “The United States Embassy condemned the killing, saying that ‘coming so close to the murder of his colleague Berta Cáceres, his death is cause for particular concern.’” So it would not be a cause for concern had it happened later?

When Latino USA asked if Clinton “is still proud of the hell she helped routinize in Honduras,” a Clinton spokesperson said criticism of Clinton’s Honduras policy “simply nonsense.” Clinton is not known to have expressed regret for any part of her Honduran activities, not even sending children back to hell. Running an empire ain’t for sissies.

 

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Hillary Clinton’s Link to a Nasty Piece of Work in Honduras

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/hillary_clintons_link_to_a_nasty_piece_of_work_in_honduras_20160315/

Posted on Mar 15, 2016

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.

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.

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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