Is a World Bank Loan Funding Murders in Honduras?

Written by Jeremy Kryt

The World Bank is facing intense pressure from human rights and environmental groups to cancel a $30 million loan to a palm oil company in Honduras that’s suspected of being involved in the murder of scores of small-scale Indigenous farmers in the country’s Aguan river valley.

The company, Grupo Dinant, is alleged to have violently confiscated thousands of acres of land from local residents in the fertile valley region on the country’s northeast coast. International human rights groups claim Grupo Dinant is responsible for displacing and assassinating subsistence-level farmers, who are seen as a threat to the land-intensive monoculture needed for palm-oil production.

The groups have documented dozens of murders of farmers, activists, and their supporters since 2010 in connection with the land conflict in Aguan.  The NGOs’ research also claims to implicate security guards employed local palm producers, including Grupo Dinant, in many of the killings.

The World Bank has sought to downplay the violence. In its most recent assessment of the loan it stated that “Dinant understands the importance of having good relationships with their neighboring communities and are [sic] quite proactive in this regard.”

But critics say human rights violations remain commonplace in Aguan – and that  community leaders and activists are still being targeted for assassination.

On February 23, 2013, the bodies of two villagers were found with their hands bound together, evidently having been tortured before execution. A week earlier the leader of a farmers’ union was shot to death in front of his wife. In all,  at least 91 people have been slain by “death squads” in this small river valley in the last three years.

Victims have been gunned down while travelling or working, at demonstrations, during evictions, or abducted and later found dead.

“There is a situation of endemic repression and violations of the rights of campesino [subsistence farmer] populations in the Aguan region,” Grahame Russell, Rights Action co-director, told EIJ. A February report by Rights Action indicates strong ties between the death squads and a number of private security firms, at least one of which is connected to Grupo Dinant.

“Large landowners have used… private security forces to assassinate [local farmers], and have done so with one hundred percent impunity,” he said.  Russell — who has just returned from a fact-finding trip to Honduras — accused Grupo Dinant of being involved in “a brutal effort to evict campesino communities from their lands.”

The World Bank paid Grupo Dinant the first half of the loan in 2009. The second $15 million disbursement is due to go out this year. Now, a coalition of human rights and environmental groups, including Russell’s Rights Action, Biofuelswatch, and Friends of the Earth have stepped up efforts to force the Bank to rescind the rest of the loan.

Another international backer, the German Development Bank, withdrew its support for Grupo Dinant in 2011 citing human rights abuses and peasant assassination. But the World Bank is still holding firm.

“It’s telling that the World Bank continues to provide tens of millions of dollars of funding to Dinant when Germany’s public development bank withdrew its credit line to Grupo Dinant nearly two years ago as a result of campesino killings and other human rights abuses involving Dinant’s security guards,” said Alex Main, an analyst who specializes in Latin American affairs for the Washington, DC-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). “Clearly human rights is not a serious consideration in the World Bank’s … loaning practices,” said Main, whose organization is not part of the coalition seeking to get the loan canceled

World Bank spokesperson Vanessa Bauza defended the controversial loan in an email to EIJ, calling Grupo Dinant, “an important job creator – employing 4,500 permanent and 2,500 temporary workers – in a region that has long suffered from a lack of jobs and social services.” According to Bauza, about 60 percent of Hondurans live below the poverty line.

Bauza also makes clear that the World Bank is aware of the allegations concerning murdered activists and forced evictions.

“As a result of the conflicts in the Aguan Valley, IFC [International Finance Committee, a member of the World Bank group] recommended that Dinant hire a security and human rights expert to ensure that its policies, procedures and training are in line with the Voluntary Principles for Security and Human Rights … The aim is to help the company’s security teams avoid further conflict and to protect the lives and welfare of local residents.”

As further evidence of good will on the part of Grupo Dinant, Bauza points out that the company recently sold 4,000 hectares of peasant-occupied farmland in Aguan to the Honduran government, in January of 2013. The government purchased the land on behalf of local farmers “to settle land claims.”

Rights Action director Russell is not impressed by this largesse.

“It is controversial, to put it mildly, that the World Bank claims they sold land to the government that many campesino communities are claiming is their land to begin with. Furthermore, it is irrelevant with respect to the allegations that the Bank’s partner, Grupo Dinant, is linked directly and indirectly in the killings of some 90 campesinos in the region.”

Russell said he believes the World Bank has a responsibility to thoroughly investigate potentially shady clients, especially in a place like Honduras, which, with its per-capita murder rate of 91 per 100,000 is one of the most violent places on Earth.

“The World Bank should have a very clear understanding of how Honduras has become the ‘murder capital of the world’ and the ‘repression capital of the Americas’, [a] clear understanding of the corruption and impunity with which the powerful economic sectors act in Honduras.”

However, despite the request for an investigation filed by Rights Action and the other NGOs with the World Bank ombudsman, and a separate petition demanding the loan be cancelled that has already garnered more than 60,000 signatures – it appears unlikely the World Bank will sever its ties to Grupo Dinant anytime soon.

Russell said that decision is fraught with moral consequence.

“The World Bank [remains] indirectly if not directly complicit with the extraordinarily high levels of repression and killings in the Aguan region,” Russell said.

This post was originally published by the Earth Island Journal.


Photo: hondurasdelegation/flickr


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Ullrich Mueller
Ullrich Mueller2 years ago

What responsibility does the World Bank have? To guarantee the unfettered creation of profit. That is what they do. Lives lost on the way to profit are nothing but collateral damage to them. Illusions about their function should have been discarded long ago.

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LucyKaleidoscop Eyes
LucyKaleido S4 years ago

cont'd from below - by Lenir Pérez’s company and the police and armed civilians who support it. Two community leaders, César Alvarenga and Roberto García, both members of MADJ, are already beneficiaries of precautionary measures granted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), having received death threats texted by Pérez...(23) Father César Espinoza, the community’s parish priest, a Guatemalan based in the nearby town of Arizona, who has been active in defence of the community, has also been the target of similar attacks, receiving threats from ‘supposed mining workers’ on his mobile phone (4).../...
With the new Mining Act (9), ... at least 300 new concessions are expected, corresponding to about 15% of the country’s land area. According to social movements and the spokespeople of the communities affected by mining activity, the views of affected populations have not been taken into account. Rather, the law (the new Mining Act) was written with the input of CORPORATIONS with a direct interest, and FOREIGN EMBASSIES. One of the most striking examples is open cast mining. Although according to a 2011 survey (11), 91% of Hondurans were opposed to it, the Mining Act, by not even mentioning this type of mining, does not put any restriction on it, but instead makes its continuation implicit, as argued by the CNRA (Coalición Nacional de Redes Ambientales – National Coalition of Envi

LucyKaleidoscop Eyes
LucyKaleido S4 years ago

The following three articles, of which I have reproduced the titles & some excerpts, are simply the first three in a continuous (relentless!) string of injustices, atrocities & impunity (Thank you, Hillary; thank you, Barack!) which is found, the most recent first, on the Honduras Accompaniment Project blog site.

June 20, 2013 - "Mining project in La Nueva Esperanza: Alarming escalation in intimidation of the community":

"The community of La Nueva Esperanza, in Atlántida department, is fighting to protect this piece of tropical paradise in the mountains just inland from Honduras’ Caribbean coast, in the face of a new mining concession granted to Minerales Victoria to exploit iron deposits. The company’s owner is Lenir Pérez, son-in-law of Miguel Facussé, the major – and notorious – businessman and landowner .../...

In a joint statement(1) released 7.6.2013, MADJ (Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia - Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice) and MAA (Movimiento Ambientalista de Atlántida - Atlántida Environmental Movement), which support La Nueva Esperanza and other nearby communities affected by the project, have reported an alarming escalation of intimidation since the beginning of 2013, and especially in recent weeks, by Lenir Pérez’s company and the police and armed civilia

LucyKaleidoscop Eyes
LucyKaleido S4 years ago

Let's not forget that Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State & Obama President when in 2009 Honduras’ democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya & his government were overthrown in a coup d’etat & the US supported the right-wing overthrower!

Nor should we forget the predominant role of the US in the World Bank, meaning that World Bank policy is always policy supported and/or initiated by the US. -- So this is not just a matter of 'banks' being evil institutions per se. This is the expression of support for a repressive government & its repressive policies against the people of Honduras with the full backing & urging of the Obama administration.

"Washington, D.C.- Three years to the day after a June 28, 2009 coup d’etat ousted Honduras’ democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya, the coup’s legacy is one of ongoing murders, impunity for repression and killings, and more coups and coup attempts elsewhere in Latin America, Center for Economic and Policy Research Co-Director Mark Weisbrot said today. Weisbrot cited this week’s murder of Carlos Jese Portillo Yanes, a member of the anti-coup Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular (FNRP) and the LIBRE po

Vicky P.
Vicky P4 years ago

Banks seem to always be at the center of all chaos.

Liliana Garcia
Liliana G4 years ago

"Is a World Bank Loan Funding Murders in Honduras?" Wow! Is the Earth round?