Archive for the ‘struggle for justice in Hondras’ Category

Honduras Lenca Communities Reject Energy Project After Murder

http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Honduras-Lenca-Communities-Reject-Energy-Project-After-Murder-20160711-0015.html

Friends and supporters gather near the coffin of Lesbia Yaneth Urquia, member of COPINH, before her burial, in Marcala, Honduras, July 8, 2016.

Friends and supporters gather near the coffin of Lesbia Yaneth Urquia, member of COPINH, before her burial, in Marcala, Honduras, July 8, 2016. | Photo: Reuters

Although the local population is overwhelmingly against the Los Encinos dam, their resolution is non-binding, and unlikely to deter government officials.

Lenca communities in the western Honduran region of La Paz have voted overwhelmingly against a controversial hydroelectric dam in their territory against the construction of a hydroelectric dam, which sparked an Indigenous resistance movement following the 2009 U.S.-backed coup. 

 

Ninety percent of the 1,200 Hondurans who cast ballots in 15 pollintg places across nine communities Sunday voted against the dam on the Chinacla river in the municipality of Santa Elena.  The Lenca Indigenous Movement of La Paz, also known as MILPAH, has been fighting for recognition of their land rights since 2010 when the redevelopment project by the corporation, Los Encinos, was approved without any community input.

The struggle launched into the international spotlight last month, when local activist Ana Mirian Romero won the annual international Front Line Defenders Award for her commitment for fighting for human rights despite threats against her life.

The communities consulted in Sunday’s vote also rejected the creation of a land register that would have pave the way for further division of Lenca territories.

 

The vote comes after another member of MILPAH’s sister movement COPINH, Lesbia Yaneth Urquia, was murdered last week, just four months after internationally-renowned leader Berta Caceres was shot dead in her home on March 3. Another COPINH member, Nelson Garcia, was assassinated less than two weeks after Caceres.

Romero and other MILPAH activists have also faced death threats and a slew of other personal harassment and intimidation as a result of her involvement in the movement.

Leading up to Sunday’s vote, over a year in the making, MILPAH accused local officials, including the mayor of Santa Elena, of trying to frustrate their attempts to hold the consultation. The movement insisted that the “intimidating acts,” including Yaneth Urquia’s murder, would not stop the vote from going forward.

Hydroelectric companies and other developmen5t projects began surfacing in Santa Elena and surrounding Lenca communities, following the 2009 military coup against former President Manuel Zelaya, which was supported by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. That was the same time that Hondurans indigenous communities began experiencing an escalation of government repression.

The Los Encinos hydroelectric project on the Chinacla river, a sacred site in Lenca spirituality and important for the subsistence of local communities, has also been controversial for its links to the country’s political elite. According to the human rights organization Rights Action, the dam is part of an energy project funded by Gladys Aurora Lopez, a lawmaker with the ruling right-wing National Party and Vice President of Congress.

COPINH has specifically singled out Lopez — along with the Honduran government and military — for responsibillity in Yaneth Urquia’s murder and a  “permanent source of threats” in La Paz by promoting controversial energy projects.

But while the nine Lenca communities have ratified their rejection of the Los Encinos dam with a resounding “no” vote, the overwhelming precedent in the country suggests that the government will continue to violate the community’s internationally-enshrined Indigenous right to free, prior and informed consent for all development projects on their traditionally territory.

COPINH and other Indigenous movements have repeatedly called for an end to all corporate projects on Lenca territory to “put a stop to death, impunity, and injustice” in Honduras.

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.

Journalists demand justice for 22 colleagues murdered in Honduras

Journalists and defenders of free expression gathered in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, on Monday to demand justice for the 22 journalists who have been murdered in the country since 2014.

“We demand the investigation and trial of those responsible for the deaths of those journalists,” said Wendy Funez, a representative of the Freedom of Expression Committee (C-Libre), during a protest outside the attorney general’s office.

The demonstrators placed coffins at the entrance to the office in memory of the 22 journalists killed during the lifetime of the current government, headed by President Juan Orlando Hernandez.

In those cases, 91% of the murderers continue to enjoy impunity, said C-Libre director and former prosecutor Edy Tabora.

The committee has called for the creation of a specialised unit to investigate “aggression against freedom of expression.” Tabora said there had been 218 attacks against journalists in Honduras in 2015.

Since the 2009 US-backed coup that overthrew President Manuel Zelaya, 59 journalists have been murdered in Honduras, reported TeleSUR. Four have been killed in 2016 and 12 were killed in 2015.

Yet, in April 2015, the Honduras National Congress approved the “journalist protection law”, which included measures such as providing police protection when a journalist receives a threat.

The law also planned the creation of a centre to monitor threats. Nothing has come of it.

Duty to Warn

by Dr. Gary Kohls

The Execution of Berta Caceres, the United Fruit Company and the US Military: A Historical Timeline Identifying Some of the Perpetrators

By Gary G. Kohls, MD

THE FOLLOWING QUOTES (EXCEPT AS NOTED) ARE FROM:HTTPS://NEWREPUBLIC.COM/ARTICLE/120559/HONDURAS-CHARTER-CITIES-SPEARHEADED-US-CONSERVATIVES-LIBERTARIANS

“In the early 1950s the United Fruit Company hired legendary public relations expert Edward Bernays to carry out an intense misinformation campaign portraying then-Guatamalan president Jacobo Arbenz as a communist threat.” – Scott Price, IC Magazine

“Between the time of the (Honduran) coup (June 2009) and February 2012, there were at least 59 politically motivated assassinations of civilians associated with the resistance movement. This is a low estimate, as intimidation and fear of reprisal prevents communities and family members from reporting many such deaths. There were at least 250 violations of human rights in the military junta’s first three months alone.” – Committee of Family Members of the Disappeared of Honduras (COFADEH), respected human rights organization.

“I’ve seen all sorts of horrific things in my time. but none as detrimental to the country as this.” – Honduran journalist Sandra Maribel Sanchez

 “In 2013, the (illegitimate) Honduran government passed a law…which is to create autonomous free-trade zones that are governed by corporations, instead of the countries in which they exist.”

 “…the project will allow multinationals to violate labor and environmental rights. It’s unconstitutional and violates national sovereignty. According to the charter city law, Honduras will sell territory to investors, and that territory becomes an autonomous region (that is) no longer governed by Honduran laws or police.”

“This is nothing more than a plan to get rid of the national debt by auctioning off the country,” ex-president Manuel Zelaya, overthrown in a US-backed 2009 coup.

“Many fear the ZEDEs (‘Special Economic Development Zones’ [‘Privatized Free Trade Zones’]) in Honduras because they will become a tool for organized crime to strengthen its hold on the country”

“Nine Americans remain key players in the ZEDEs—six of whom served in the administration of former President Ronald Reagan.” (They are Mark Klugmann, Grover Norquist, Richard Rahn, Loren A. Smith, Reagan’s son, Michael and Mark Skousen – see below for more details.)

“US investor-members (of the Honduran Special Economic Development Zone’s  so-called Committee for the Application of Best Practices) include Mark Klugmann, speech writer for presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush and image consultant to Honduran post-coup president Lobo; Grover Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform; Richard Rahn, vice president of the Chamber of Commerce during the Reagan administration and senior member of the (Libertarian)Cato Institute; Loren A. Smith, federal judge and chief campaign advisor to Reagan in 1976 and 1980; Reagan’s son, Michael; and Mark Skousen, former CIA economic analyst and Forbes columnist.”

“I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.” – Jay Gould, railroad robber baron, as he hired armed Pinkerton detectives (and other goon squad thugs) to brutally break a labor union strike.

This time we can’t just call up the police ‘cause the criminals got all the cops on a leash” – Songwriter Ethan Miller, from his powerful pro-worker songOrganized Crime

Hondura’s President Porfirio Lobo talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Guatemala City on March 5, 2010. (Photo: Guatemala Presidency/Handout)

Hondura’s Illegitimately-elected right-wing President Porfirio Lobo met with President Obama in October 2011 following the military coup that deposed the social democratic president Zelaya

Wounds inflicted by the Honduran military upon a Lenca tribal anti-dam activist, whose father was murdered in the same attack

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Last Sunday I attended a vigil at Peace Church here in Duluth, MN that commemorated the life and death of assassinated Honduran environmental activist Berta Caceres, a 44 year-old mother of 4.

Caceres has been devoting her life organizing her fellow aboriginal tribal members (the Lenca Indians), fellow Hondurans and other justice-loving citizens of the world in resisting the privatization of their ancestral lands, resources and rivers by foreign investor groups and the traitorous collaborating politicians and businessmen that rule Honduras. Those “traitors” to her homeland’s indigenous rights are being militarily backed-up by the Honduran military, the private corporation’s armed guards, and shadowy “death squads” who have been harassing Berta and other resistors with death threats, intimidation and killings over the years.

The vigil was somber and meditative and a call to some sort of action to those in attendance. To me it was also a call to do something to resist other tyrannical corporations that are forging ahead with their nefarious plans to exploit and extract our precious, irreplaceable resources by any means necessary.

I have long believed that, in order to be effective, it is necessary to name out loud, not just the evil that is being done to the land and it creatures, but also the suspected or proven evil-doers  That exercise was effective in my practice of holistic health care, where victims of neglect or psychological, sexual, physical, emotional, spiritual trauma needed to not only identify the signs and symptoms of their mental ill health, but also to name the perpetrators of the violence, which were individuals, groups or cultures. Doing so was very therapeutic and often curative.

So, in addition to commemorating the life and death of another martyr to the cause of peace and environmental justice, I feel that it is important to understand the history of the power-hungry perpetrators of violence to the land, its creatures, whether it be greedy individuals, greedy corporate entities, blinded or co-opted bureaucracies or military or police organizations that solve their problems by inflicting violence on others.

Therefore I offer below the following timeline of historical events in Honduras that led up to Berta’s execution, starting with the gold-obsessed Christopher Columbus and the evil conquistadors that followed him to a new world that was already occupied by First Nations’ peoples who were massacred or otherwise cheated out of their sovereign right to make use of their own land, mineral and water resources as they saw fit. I have obtained the information from a multitude of historically accurate sources.

(Note that this March 30 is the 117th anniversary of the merger of two US banana companies into the United Fruit Company (now called United Brands),that did everything in its power to violently enslave the aboriginal people of Central America by illegally and immorally removing them from their ancestral lands, refusing to pay them livable wages for their work, putting their lives and health at serious risk and by hoarding massive amounts of their land, thus impoverishing the original inhabitants,

Of course this pattern of exploitation should familiar to anybody who is awake. It happened (and is still happening) to aboriginal peoples in our own backyard, whether it is in the United States, Canada or in the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, Africa, South America, Australia, New Zealand or most everywhere else around the world.

Powerful entities like extractive, polluting and otherwise exploitive multinational corporations like PolyMet, Twin Metals, Glencore and Enbridge (just to mention the few companies that are threatening the environmental health of northern Minnesota) need to be resisted. Please offer any help you can give to the Duluth 7 activist group, which is facing criminal trespass charges when they tried to deliver a protest letter to the corporate Duluth offices of Enbridge Energy, a Canadian oil pipeline company on November 2, 2015. Their arraignment is scheduled for April 1.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

A Historical Timeline from Columbus to the Berta Caceres Assassination

1502 During 4th voyage Christopher Columbus reaches the coast of Honduras, then travels south to Panama.

1525 Spain conquistadors begin the brutal military assault on Honduras and all of Central and South America, with millions of innocents displaced and executed.

17th century The northern coast of Honduras falls to British buccaneers. British Honduras (now Belize) is established as a British colony, along with many Caribbean island nations.

1860 William Walker, US physician and pro-slavery soldier of fortune from Nashville, TN, leads mercenary soldiers in temporarily “conquering” Nicaragua. He is executed by firing squad by the Honduras government.

1898 April-December: Spanish-American war. Following the war, the US militarily occupies Cuba and Puerto Rico.

1899, March 30 The Boston Fruit Company merges with the Snyder Banana Company, and renames itself the United Fruit Company. The company at one time controlled 75% of the banana market in the US.

1903 November: The United States, with an eye on digging an interoceanic canal, conspires with separatist groups in the Colombian state of Panama to declare independence from Colombia. The US government sends the US Navy to prevent Colombia from recovering its territory. As soon as Panama’s independence is assured, the US obtains control over a strip of land (ultimately called the Canal Zone) through which it plans on building the canal.

1903 The United States invades Honduras.

1903 US invades the Dominican Republic.

1906 The US Army re-invades Cuba. The American occupation remains until 1909.

1907 US troops invade Nicaragua and establish a protectorate in the country.

1907 Due to political violence, US re-invades Honduras during the war with Nicaragua to “protect American lives”.

1909 US Army re-invades Nicaragua.

1911 US helps to overthrow President Miguel Devila of Honduras

1912 The US Army sends troops to Cuba.

1912 US marines land in Panama during the contested presidential elections.

1912 The US Army intervenes again in Honduras.

1914 The US Navy fights against rebels in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

1915 The US Army invades Haiti.

1916 The US Army invades the Dominican Republic.

1917 The US Army invades Cuba. The American occupation lasts until 1933.

1918 The US Army intervenes in Panama and keeps a police force in the country.

1919 The US marines land in Honduras during the presidential campaign.

1920 The US Army lands in Guatemala and fights for two weeks and puts down a peasant union movement against the United Fruit Company.

1924 US military “intervenes” in Honduras to “protect American interests” (ie, the profitability of the United Fruit Company) during a presidential election.

1925 US Army lands in Panama during a general strike against the banana plantation owners.

1932 US Navy intervenes in the Marti Revolt in El Salvador.

1932-49 Honduras suffers under the military dictatorship of General Tiburcio Carias Andino and his  right-wing National Party of Honduras (NPH).

1933 First election to the presidency of Honduras of General Carias, who developed close ties with his fellow right-wing, neofascist , military dictators in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, all supported by the US. He remained in office until 1949.

1934 In a military coup, US-backed military dictator Anastasio Somoza takes power in Nicaragua and outlaws political parties that favor the poor and working class. He was assassinated on September 17, 1980.

<<snip>>

1945 The United Fruit Company introduces Miss Chiquita Banana as the company’s official symbol.

1953 President Dwight D. Eisenhower authorizes Operation PBSUCCESS, a covert operation in which the CIA funds, arms, and trains 480 men led by Carlos Castillo Armas, the first of many of Guatamala’s (and other Central and South American) military dictators vigorously supported by the US.

1954 After escaping from prison following an abortive military coup attempt (1950) against the Guatemalan government, strongman and dictator-to-be Carlos Castillo established an army in neighboring Honduras. Castillo received financial and military support from the CIA and political support from Republican US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and CIA Director Allen Dulles. The Dulles brothers were once lawyers for the United Fruit Company.

1954 Castillo’s army invades Guatemala in June, 1954, successfully overthrowing the democratically-elected Jacobo Arbenz, who had instituted land reform benefitting the landless peasants (the 99%) – opposed vigorously by the United Fruit Company, its bought-and-paid-for politicians and wealthy landowners (the 1%).

1954 Che Guevara witnesses the CIA-backed coup in Guatemala against Arbenz and is convinced that only armed revolutions can overthrow fascists and wealthy land-owning tyrants.

1956 The Honduras military ousts civilian president Lozano Diaz in a bloodless coup. Honduras was subsequently ruled by a military junta for the next two years.

1957 José Ramón Adolfo Villeda Morales is elected Honduran president. He serves for 6 years.

1963 October 13 The presidential candidate of the Liberal Party of Honduras, campaigning on the platform to abolish the military, is expected to win the election. But Honduran democracy is again thwarted by a military coup d’etat shortly before election day.

1963 General Osvaldo Lopez took power after the coup and served as president until 1971.

1972 General Lopez again takes power in another coup d’etat and serves until 1974.

1974 General Lopez resigns after he was exposed for accepting a bribe of over a million dollars from United Fruit.

1974 Hurricane Fifi devastates Honduras, killing 5,000.

1975 Colonel Juan Alberto Melgar Castro takes power.

1978 General Policarpo Paz Garcia ousts Melgar in a coup.

1981 Roberto Suazo Cordova, of the Centrist Liberal Party of Honduras, is elected president. He leads the first civilian government in more than a century.

1982 Brutal Guatemalan dictator (and fundamentalist Christian) Rios Montt meets with US President Ronald Reagan in Honduras. Reagan dismisses reports of egregious human rights abuses in the region and resumes weapons sales to military rulers.

1986 President Reagan issues an executive order granting emergency aid for Honduran army.

1988 Amnesty International reports increases in human rights violations by Honduran armed forces, and right-wing death squads.

1989 General Alvarez is assassinated.

1990 Rafael Callejas is sworn in as president; last Nicaraguan Contras leave Honduras.

1990-1998 Honduran military death squads kill hundreds.

1995 Compulsory military service is abolished. First military officers charged with human rights abuses.

1997 Carlos Flores, Liberal Party,is  elected president, pledging to restructure armed forces.

1998 Hurricane Mitch devastates Honduras. Cholera and malaria epidemics ensues.

1999 Honduran armed forces is placed under civilian control.

2001 Honduran Committee for Defense of Human Rights states that more than 1,000 street children were murdered in 2000 by death squads backed by the Honduran police. A drought ravages Central America, and Honduras loses 80% of its grain crops.

2002 Honduras restores diplomatic ties with Cuba.

2003 Thousands of protestors across Honduras unite to demand that the government revoke debt payment agreements with the IMF. Sadly, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua agree to the terms of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement).

2004 Honduras signs NAFTA.

2005 Liberal Party’s Manuel Zelaya, a social democrat, wins presidential election. Honduran Congress approves Central American Free Trade Agreement.

2006 Zelaya inaugurated as new president, promises to fight corruption.

2008 Honduras joins Bolivarian Alternative for Americas, headed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

2008 Zelaya administration blocks many hydroelectric dam projects, siding with the aboriginal people who would be most affected.

2009 June President Zelaya forced into exile following a US-supported military coup d’etat. Porfirio Lobo of the conservative National Party of Honduras installed as president in a fraudulent election November 2009.

2009 In the first three months of President Lobo’s administration, at least 250 violations of human rights occur and over the first two years, over 59 assassinations of civilians are documented. 2010 President Lobo’s rallying cry was “Honduras is Open for Business.”

2010 September The post-coup nationalist government awards 47 hydroelectric dam concessions in just one law, without consulting the indigenous communities which rely on the rivers for food and water. The law was part of a tsunami of pro-business laws passed by the National Congress led by

2010 President Juan Orlando Hernandez becomes the country’s president in an election marred by allegations of fraud and intimidation. Orlando, a businessman, is a staunch supporter of foreign investments in dams, mining, tourism and oil.

Since the 2009 coup, the US builds up its air base presence in Honduras through the establishment of three forward operating bases, ostensibly for “drug interdiction”.

2011 Honduras receives more than $50 million in Pentagon contracts. 62 percent of all Defense Department funds intended for Central America that year go to Honduras.

2012 January President Orlando is invited to visit the US Military’s Southern Command headquarters in Miami to meet with high-ranking officials.

2012 May At least 4 people are gunned down by Honduran forces firing from a US State Department helicopter, under the supervision of uniformed DEA and US Navy agents.

<<snip>>

March 3, 2016 The courageous anti-tyranny activist Berta Cáceres is executed in her sleep by a right-wing death squad connected to those who were issuing the constant death threats. Cáceres was the cofounder of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Movements of Honduras (COPINH). She was an unrelenting activist protecting her Lenca Tribe’s First Nation’s natural resources, lands and rivers against powerful, military-backed, consortiums of US banks, IMF and World Bank predatory lenders, dam construction companies and mining companies that are intent on unethically – and illegally (in violation of international law) – exploiting the indigenous people’s natural resources.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dr Kohls is a retired physician from Duluth, MN, USA. He writes a weekly column for the Reader, Duluth’s alternative newsweekly magazine. His columns mostly deal with the dangers of American fascism, corporatism, militarism, racism, malnutrition, psychiatric drugging, over-vaccination regimens, Big Pharma and other movements that threaten the environment or America’s health, democracy, civility and longevity. Many of his columns are archived athttp://duluthreader.com/articles/categories/200_Duty_to_Warn

A Voice for Honduras’ Voiceless

The Lasting Legacy of Berta Cáceres

By Lauren Carasik

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/honduras/2016-03-22/voice-honduras-voiceless

Honduras is reeling from the assassination of prominent indigenous rights activist and environmental leader Berta Cáceres, who was gunned down in her home in La Esperanza on March 2. For years, she had faced death threats from industrialists who laid claim to the land of her people, the Lenca. Her hallmark fight pitted her against powerful figures who sought to dam the Gualcarque River—a sacred site for the Lenca. The construction would have threatened the indigenous group’s livelihood and spiritual connection to the river.

Cáceres’ most public battle may have focused on the small indigenous communities of Rio Blanco that live adjacent to the river, but her struggle was far from local—indeed, her efforts to protect indigenous land rights made her a national and global symbol, standing against transnational capitalism and the threat it poses not only to indigenous people throughout the developing world, but to global ecology as well. In the wake of Cáceres’ death, thousands mobilized to march in Tegucigalpa on March 17 and 18. Outside of Honduras, the killing has galvanized a groundswell of outrage as well. Hundreds of international organizations and academics have signed letters condemning the killing and demanding justice, and activists unfurled a protest banner in front of the headquarters of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Washington and disrupted a meeting of the Council of the Americas attended by U.S. ambassadors to Central America. Inside the beltway, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahydenounced the United States’ role in “supporting and profiting” from the “corruption and injustice” in Honduras, and 62 members of the House of Representatives have sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew to demand an independent investigation into Cáceres’ death and the suspension of U.S. military aid to Honduras. Washington is the Honduran government’s biggest patron, and it must now decide which side of the nation’s history it wishes to be on.

AGE OF RESISTANCE

Cáceres came of age during the 1980s, a decade marked by brutality across Central America. She was raised in a household that was steeped in the ideas and actions of resistance. The Cáceres family spent nights huddled around a radio listening to revolutionary dispatches from Nicaragua. Her mother, also named Berta, frequently took in refugees fleeing the civil war in El Salvador.

Cáceres first entered politics in 1993 when she co-founded the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras(COPINH). COPINH sought to resist illegal logging and protect therights of indigenous people, a group historically excluded from Honduras’ political system. Cáceres soon emerged as a leader in a broader social movement that united a coalition of marginalized groups seeking greater political and economic inclusion. Cáceres spent the next 16 years advocating for the rights of indigenous peoples, women, and other marginalized groups. To advance those goals, she helped build a social movement in Honduras and established strong connections to groups across the region and around the world.

Her work became particularly urgent after the coup in Honduras in 2009 that ousted democratically elected president, Manuel Zelaya. The president had laid the groundwork for populist changes which included land reform, efforts that were scrapped once Zelaya was out of office. Since then, life has become harder for activists of all stripes. Indeed, any groups who opposed the new regime’s neoliberal agenda became an official target for retribution.

Since the coup, successive administrations have courted foreign capital, engaged in privatization efforts, granted hundreds of hydroelectric and mining concessions to international corporations, and built infrastructure to support the accelerated exploitation of natural resources in Honduras. Among the projects was the Agua Zarca dam over the Gualcarque River—the issue the defined Cáceres efforts. The dam is being built by Desarrollos Energéticos, SA(DESA). Among the company’s owners is the powerful Atala family, suspected of ties to the coup, including Camilo Atala, president of theFicohsa Bank, the largest in the country. The Chinese hydroelectric engineering firm Sinohydro was initially overseeing the work with financing from the World Bank. But the protests over the construction compelled both to withdraw in 2013. Cáceres had also implored other foreign financiers, including the Dutch Development Bank FMO, the Finnish Fund for Industrial Cooperation and German firms Siemens and Voith, to pull their funding. Mounting public pressure after the murder of Cáceres’ and COPINH activist Nelson Garcia two weeks later finally prompted the Dutch and Finnish banks to suspend disbursements on March 16, although they have not permanently withdrawn from the project.

JORGE CABRERA / REUTERS

The words “Berta Lives” are seen written in chalk to honour the slain environmental rights activist, Berta Caceres during a vigil to mark International Women’s Day in Tegucigalpa, Honduras March 8, 2016.

The heart of Cáceres’ strategy was to push the government to recognize that the COPINH’s demands were grounded in internationally recognized rights, including the right to prior and informed consent for projects that affect indigenous communities, and to target the project’s international financiers. At first, Cáceres and COPINH tried to block the Agua Zarca dam’s construction through political channels, including indigenous assemblies, public declarations opposing the dam, and legal challenges. When these failed and construction was set to begin in 2013, it seemed like the community was out of options.

The next salvo was peaceful protests. COPINH set up a roadblock that prevented DESA from accessing the river. DESA responded with a concerted campaign of harassment and intimidation that, at times, turned violent. Tomás Garciá, a COPINH protestor who was unarmed, was shot at close range and killed by a Honduran soldier in 2013. Two other members of COPINH have also been killed since then, and others have been attacked with machetes. Cáceres herself had been arrested on charges of illegal possession of a firearm (which she claimed was planted), as well on charges of usurpation, coercion, and damages as a result of the blockade. These charges were ultimately dismissed.

In the IACHR’s December 2015 Situation of Human Rights in Honduras report, the group specifically decried the criminalization of Cáceres’ protest movement. According to Global Witness, Honduras was the most deadly country in the world for environmental and land rights defenders in 2014.

In the end, COPINH’s orchestrated resistance to the Agua Zarca dam halted its construction in Honduras’ Rio Blanco community, but failed to thwart the project altogether. DESA moved the dam project across the river, near the town of San Francisco de Ojuera, where the company boasted of winning support for USAID projects. Construction began in August of 2015. The conflict simmered on, reaching a boiling point again on February 20, as security forces detained 100 protesters, including Cáceres, who had traveled to the new dam site to register their disapproval. Among those seeking to block the path of the protestors were members of the Honduran military. During the altercation, COPINH members reported that a local official told Cáceres that she would never come back to the project’s new site, and that she might be killed.

A man puts flowers on the coffin of slain environmental rights activist Berta Caceres at a cemetery in the town of La Esperanza, outside Tegucigalpa, Honduras March 5, 2016.
JORGE CABRERA / REUTERS
A man puts flowers on the coffin of slain environmental rights activist Berta Caceres at a cemetery in the town of La Esperanza, outside Tegucigalpa, Honduras March 5, 2016.

UNDER PRESSURE

Since Cáceres’ death, the Honduran government has yielded to tremendous public pressure and agreed to launch a prompt investigation into her murder.

Initial signals, however, have inspired little confidence. State investigators ignored the Cáceres family’s demand for an independent expert to attend the autopsy. The crime scene was compromised, and authorities were quick to suggest that her murder was either a crime of passion or a random robbery. Gustavo Castro Soto, a prominent Mexican environmental activist who was injured in the attack and is the sole eyewitness, provided testimony over multiple days in harsh conditions, but was prevented from leaving the country for 30 days, though he believes his life is in danger in Honduras. His lawyer’s license was suspended for 15 days after lodging a request that the decision to detain him in Honduras be revised. To this day, Castro remains in the Mexican Embassy compound in Tegucigalpa for his own safety, despite his stated desire to return home to his family. Intense and prolonged questioning of COPINH leaders have fueled concerns that Honduran authorities are more interested in extracting intelligence about Cáceres’ activist group to distract their efforts, rather than finding her murderer.

Cáceres’ family has expressed their doubts about the integrity of any investigation conducted by the Honduran government. They have demanded an independent international investigation to be overseen by the IACHR—one that could not only name the material perpetrators of the crime, but its masterminds as well, however high up the chain of command they may be. Honduran authorities have cited an agreement with the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights to accompany the investigation, but there is good reason to doubt that the local office has the capacity, expertise, and investigative authority necessary to ensure an independent inquiry.

STAYING SAFE
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Cáceres’ family and the international community have also demanded that the Honduran government implement the IACHR’s orders to keep members of COPINH safe. But activists cannot be protected with armed guards and cameras alone. Rather, Tegucigalpa must confront the root of the social conflict that claimed Cáceres’ life, by respecting the rights of indigenous people, and canceling the concession to the Agua Zarca dam and others. Short of this, the cycle of unrest and repression in Honduras is sure to continue.

As U.S. secretary of state, Hillary Clinton provided tacit support for the administration of former Honduran interim President Roberto Micheletti despite near universal condemnation of his tenure. Cáceres herself criticized Clinton for opposing the demand for Zelaya’s reinstatement, which set the stage for a deepening of the human rights crisis inside the country. And despite pervasive and persistent reports of repression—some of which has been directly linked to Honduras’ state security forces—Washington has continued to provide security aid as well as development financing to Honduras.

When Cáceres won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015, she dedicated it to “all the rebels out there, to my mother, to the Lenca people, to the Rio Blanco, and to the martyrs who gave their lives in the struggle to defend our natural resources.” She now takes her place on that list, but if her killers thought they could silence her voice and derail her mission, they were mistaken.

Links

  1. [1]  http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/honduran-activist-shot-killed-home-article-1.2552454
  2. [2]  http://www.britannica.com/topic/Lenca
  3. [3]  http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/08/20138510295334159.html
  4. [4]  https://intercontinentalcry.org/indigenous-peoples/lenca/
  5. [5]  http://fpif.org/one-year-resistance-rio-blanco/
  6. [6]  http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-death-of-berta-caceres
  7. [7]  http://web.mit.edu/urbanupgrading/upgrading/resources/organizations/USAID.html
  8. [8]  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/patrick-leahy/
  9. http://hankjohnson.house.gov/sites/hankjohnson.house.gov/files/documents/03_2016_Letter_Honduras_Berta_Caceres.pdf

10] http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/03/04/who-murdered-environmental-activist-berta-caceres.html

[11] http://www.thenation.com/article/end-all-us-police-and-military-aid-honduras/

[12] https://www.foreignaffairs.com/regions/central-america-caribbean

[13] http://www.copinh.org/
[14] http://culturesofresistance.org/groups-we-support-COPINH
[15] http://copinhenglish.blogspot.com/
[16] http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/IPeoples/Pages/Declaration.aspx
[17] http://www.latinamericansocialmovements.org/honduras/
[18] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/29/world/americas/29honduras.html
[19] http://www.britannica.com/biography/Manuel-Zelaya
[20] http://www.internationalrivers.org/blogs/227/european-funders-suspend-support-for-agua-zarca-dam
[21] http://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/private/snapshot.asp?privcapid=298110979
[22] http://cepr.net/blogs/the-americas-blog/new-report-details-multilateral-development-bank-us-role-in-human-rights- abuses-in-rio-blanco-honduras
[23] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-04-21/central-american-billionaires-discovered-amid-citi-asset-sales [24] http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2015/01/27/ficohsa-becomes-honduras-biggest-bank/

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

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

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

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

2014.12.8.PalmOil.main

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Aguán Valley and the Introduction of Palm Oil

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

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

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

Land Re-concentration, Rise of Grupo Dinant

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

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

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

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

The Killing Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Role of International Financiers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flex Crops and Consumer Campaigns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Jeff Conant

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

Canadian developers are stealing Garifuna lands. Literally.

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

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

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

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

A lone house in the upper area of Alta Vista.

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

The lower area of the Alta Vista project.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: HonduPresa

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

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

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

Source: El Heraldo

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

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

****

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