Rewarding the Criminals: How People Are Killed For 'Clean Development'Jiwan Kshetry I Indigenous Rights I Commentary I January 7th, 2015
Landless peasants in Hondurus' Bajo Aguan valley find themselves in a deadly struggle with large land owners and their hired militias.
Corporations wiping out large chunks of biodiversity and killing people with impunity in Honduras and Brazil, in collusion with the corrupt state machinery, are being rewarded for their contribution to 'clean development' as are those throwing hundreds into abject poverty and total unemployment in India. At the end, however, their projects are not 'clean,' which means no net gain for the environment in terms of carbon emission. In its march from one triumph to another, global capitalism brutally preys upon the poorest, weakest and the most vulnerable.
"We are an inclusive company that respects and celebrates the diversity and human rights of its employees, customers and communities. But we never stop trying to improve as a company, employer and member of the community.
A corporation concerned about the human rights of the employees, customers and communities, isn't that something we are desperately looking for?"
That was how Miguel Facusse, arguably the most powerful businessman in Honduras, responded to the news that he was being awarded with CEAL International Award by Business Council of Latin America (CEAL).
Now juxtapose the noble words of Facusse with these words from the 'unidentified' kidnappers who threatened the MUCA (Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán) journalist Karla Zelaya on 23 October 2012 after taking her: "This time you're lucky. We're not going to kill you because you're worth more to us alive than dead."
The association of these people to Facusse is the open secret in Honduras as is the collusion between the Facusse's militia and the state's security forces, particularly after the 2009 coup-de-tat that deposed the democratically-elected president. According to the Front for Popular National Resistance (FNRP) , this new act of violence happened after two more campesinos or peasant farmers were killed over the weekend and three more were found buried in Farallones, lands belonging to Miguel Facussé.
The news coming from Honduras over the past few months is equally horrifying as indicated by these two reports (here and here) from Amnesty International. After the brutal murder of campesino leader Margarita Murilo on 27 August, another leader, Juan Angel Lopez Miralda, met with the same fate on 11 November this year.
After all, how long could have they tolerated Murilo-a survivor of twenty-two days of detention and torture in the 1980s and life-long fighter against the oppressive state-who dared say this after disappearance of her son in 2009: "If the army took my son to deter me, it was very poor judgment on their part. I've been in struggle for twenty-five years; I'm not going to abandon it."
Obviously, the state was forced to deter her by taking her life itself. Even though Facusse and his corporation are not mentioned in the AI reports, there is no doubt as to either the motive or the mechanism of her elimination.
With thousands of hectares of lands in Bazo Aguan region itself and more elsewhere, Facusse has every reason to eliminate anyone who advocates the rights of the 'creatures' who claim to be the rightful owners of the same land. Himself having been the economic advisor for one of Honduras' past presidents, and counting another past president as his own nephew, there is literally nothing Facusse cannot do in the country.
There is no dearth of people like Facusse in this world where capitalism rules the roost. If we look closely, every developing country and economy has its own shares of Facusses who not only decide who wins and who loses in elections but also can depose or oust those who refuse to play by their rules after gaining power. Indeed, these super-wealthy tycoons-with opaque business activities and capability to both make and break rules and governments-in the under-developed countries, are the equivalents of the wealthy and powerful multinational corporations in the developed countries and economies.
The neo-liberal theologians would like us to believe that these people, who value their own wealth-gathering much more than lives of hundreds to thousands of paupers out in the communities, are a transitory phenomenon before rule of law comes to fruition in these modernizing societies. In other words, we should bear with plutocracy and mass pauperization for the sake of capitalist economic development that will somehow lead us into more prosperous if not egalitarian societies.
Is that the truth, after all? Let's draw some similarities between Facusse's Dinant corporation and Vallourec & Mannesmann Tubes (V&M), a joint venture of French Vallourec Group (with more than 23,000 employees, sales of $5.3 billion in 2012, 78% generated outside Europe, according to Compay's site) and German Mannesmannrohren-Werke AG.
To start with, contempt and disregard for human rights is equally strong in both. As Facusse's militia shoot the peasants in Honduras point blank and leave them to rot in the fields before police can take their bodies, V&M poisons the lands to clear the natural vegetation in Brazil for its vast eucalyptus plantations. As the usual fruits-the means of livelihood-and the underground water sources disappear, people in small towns like Minas Grais are forced into hunger and misery all the same. Those who dare to raise a finger at V&M here are killed as mercilessly as those challenging Dinant in Honduras are.
The similarities, however, do not end there. Both the companies are now beneficiaries of a supposedly noble initiative from Kyoto protocol intended to reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emission. While Dinant's palm trees are used to produce supposedly 'renewable' bio-fuels, V&M's eucalyptus are used to make 'renewable' coal. They trade off their carbon credits to other big industrial polluters thereby receiving huge amount of money under the 'Clean Development Mechanism' of the UN and the World Bank. At the end, however, both the biofuel and coal go on to be burnt, thereby emitting the greenhouse gases.
Net outcome: as people are continuously killed or stifled in Brazil and Honduras, profits for corporations like Dinant and V&M keep rising exponentially, the biodiversity being irrecoverably damaged in both the supposedly noble sources of clean development.
As Clive L Spash articulates in a well-researched article titled ' The brave new world of Carbon Trade':
"The pervasiveness of the greenhouse gas emissions, strong uncertainty and complexity combine to prevent economists from substantiating their theoretical claims of cost-effectiveness. Corporate power is shown to be a major force affecting emissions market operation and design. The potential for manipulation to achieve financial gain, while showing little regard for environmental and social consequences, is evident as markets have extended internationally and via trading offsets. (...) I conclude that the focus on such markets is creating a distraction from the need for changing human behavior, institutions and infrastructure."
As fortunes of people like Facusse multiply overnight, the real sufferers of the whole fiasco live in abject poverty and increasing marginalization. As their fellow citizens face brutality at the hands of the forest rangers from V&M and other big companies, the Brazilian middle class is pre-occupied by something else. Apparently, the Rousseff administration's sellout to the corporations is too little for them: 142,000 of them recently signed a petition on the White House Website asking 'president Obama' to take a stand against the 'Bolivarian Communist expansion in Brazil promoted by the administration of Dilma Rousseff'.
That tells a lot about why the plight of indigenous people in Brazil, Honduras and elsewhere rarely makes it to the mainstream media even as the street protests against leaders like Brazil's Rousseff and Venezuela's Maduro receive a round-the-clock coverage.
But even as the mainstream media works day and night to manufacture consent for the neo-liberal economic order and the resulting political order thereby obfuscating the reality, not everybody has abandoned the poor and the downtrodden. Plight of these people in Brazil and Honduras has been retold vividly in the 2012 documentary 'The Carbon Rush' directed by social justice organizer and activist Amy Miller. The documentary was shown as the part of recently concluded Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival in Kathmandu (KIMFF), leaving the audience flabbergasted.
The documentary brilliantly captures the misfortune of the victims of some more projects under the so called clean development mechanism including the one in India which snatches the livelihood of the rag-pickers. As a big company moves on to produce energy from the garbage (the amount of energy produced being minimal as air pollution reaches intolerable levels with use of incinerators in residential areas) it is also bestowed with monopoly in recycling the recyclables from the garbage forcing the already poor people into a vicious cycle of abject poverty and total unemployment.
So, what is in the store for these people duped by their states and hounded by the wealthy? The smart and educated people in India may not have exactly petitioned the US president the way their Brazilian counterparts did but their attitude about the economic and social malaise of the society is also basically the same. The only solution to the crushing poverty and rampant unemployment is, for them, to let the wealthy corporations exploit the natural resources even faster-thereby transforming this planet into unlivable garbage dump even earlier than it would otherwise become-so that more jobs are created. The living conditions of the workers and the plight of the displaced people is the luxury that the state cannot afford to ponder over at this point of time.
It is then no wonder that after Narendra Modi came to power in India with a promise to 'development', his government is now going to depend on the 'utmost good faith' of the polluting industries to control pollution rather than strict laws enforced by the state.
So, when will this mad rush to seek solution of every problem in endless economic growth end? As the wealth gap widens between the rich and poor leaving the wealthy few increasingly beholden to the remainder of the rapidly depleting natural resources in the planet, how many more millions of people will have to suffer before the illusion of mankind's invincibility over the nature crashes?
Miguel Facusse is already over 90 and still wants to gather wealth at the cost of thousands of Honduran lives. But, will the fragile ecosystem of the planet survive for another 90 years without a major disruption? Even if it does not survive, Facusse will be long gone by then having left a disastrous track record of swallowing up entire genera and multiple species of flora and fauna in the South American continent for his palm plantations. Likely, the V&M's owners will also be gone by that time contributing to loss of an even large chunk of biodiversity in the planet for their eucalyptus plantations. But who can blame them? They are neither the biggest nor the last culprits in the whole sordid saga.
These people will be remembered especially for one reason though: as they tore through the ecosystem speeding the degradation of the most bio-diverse parts of planet earth, they were being paid for precisely the opposite of that, in other words, they were getting rewards instead of punishments for their crimes.
Jiwan Kshetry is Kathmandu-based freelance writer. He regularly writes for his blog " South Asia and Beyond " and occasionally contributes for Asia Times Online and Foreign Policy Journal . His primary areas of interest are poverty, injustice, corruption and violence, particularly in South Asia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and can be followed in Twitter @jkshetry.
Addendum: A letter to the editor in response to this article, received from Corporación Dinant on March 2nd, 2015
Dear Mr. Jenkins,
Re: Hampton Institute article featuring Corporación Dinant
Jiwan Kshetry's article "Rewarding the Criminals: How People are killed for 'Clean Development'," published on the Hampton Institute website on January 7, 2015, contains false and damaging statements about my company, Corporación Dinant, and its Founder and Executive President, Mr. Miguel Facusse. The accusations Mr. Kshetry makes are based on familiar but discredited anecdotes of political extremists in Honduras who are, unfortunately, adept at manipulating the international media. Such erroneous and libelous allegations, which Mr. Kshetry is perpetuating, are causing considerable harm to Corporación Dinant's 8,000 staff and their 22,000 dependents; thousands of local farmers, who account for an important part of our African Palm fruit supply; and the entire region of Bajo Aguán, which needs all the help it can get.
Having operated successfully and peacefully in Honduras for several decades prior to the land conflicts, Dinant was not initially prepared, trained nor equipped to deal with the complex security situation that took everyone by surprise and has afflicted the country since 2009. We deeply regret the tragic and unnecessary casualties that have occurred on all sides of the land conflicts. Dinant has consistently pushed for those responsible for the killings to be held accountable, which is why we immediately welcomed the decision by the Honduras Attorney General to undertake a special investigation into the Bajo Aguán, particularly as 19 Dinant employees have been killed, almost 30 have been injured and five remain missing as a result of the land conflicts. We are doing everything in our power to support the public authorities in their enquiries. We have consistently said that any past mistakes or disproportionate use of force by Dinant security staff and contractors in their efforts to defend themselves, company employees and property must be addressed by a public investigation and appropriate legal action taken as soon as possible. We ask that the same standard be applied to all parties. However, Mr. Kshetry's assertion that Dinant employs a private militia to kidnap or murder those people that advocate a different opinion about land ownership in the Bajo Aguán is absurd and is a view he shares with nobody but the most extreme activists with a wider political agenda.
Mr. Kshetry is quite wrong to state that Dinant shows little regard for the environmental and social impact of our African Palm oil production. Dinant planted its African Palm plantations on existing agricultural land that had been cleared by previous owners for such uses as cattle ranching and banana plantations. No crucial habitat has ever been destroyed or negatively impacted as a result of our plantations. There are no indigenous peoples' ancestral lands within our plantations, and company policy prohibits us from acquiring land that contains protected areas, archeological sites or indigenous settlements. We never cultivate in protected areas, wetlands or wildlife refuges, or substitute native forests for plantations. We have no plans to acquire more land for plantations, and are focusing instead on increasing productivity through innovation.
Dinant rigidly benchmarks itself against the principles of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil concerning the economic, environmental and social impact of our African Palm oil business; the sustainability of our supplies; and our engagement with local stakeholders. All our manufacturing facilities and African Palm oil plantations in Honduras have been awarded ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001 status as a mark of their progress in environmental management and occupational health & safety. Our use of home-produced organic compost has enabled us to reduce chemical fertilization at our plantations by 40%. We invest heavily in R&D to produce high-yield varieties of African Palm that can be harvested more easily and require less land. We manage breeding, rearing and release programs of endangered indigenous species such as jaguars, tapir, red macaw, white tail deer and green iguana, and we conserve thousands of hectares of tropical rainforest at four protected areas in Honduras. As part of ongoing efforts to reduce our carbon footprint, we have constructed a high-tech biogas recovery unit at our extraction mill in Aguán (with another planned at our extraction mill in Leán) that supplies clean energy to our self-sufficient oil extraction mill. One pleasing sign of the increasing health of our immediate environment is the steady rise in the numbers of jaguars spilling over from our nature reserves and into our plantations.
Uniquely in Honduras, Dinant is implementing the criteria laid out in the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights that govern how we vet, recruit and train our security men and women, and how they engage with members of the community. We have improved our Community Engagement Program through surveys, formal grievance mechanisms and the recruitment of social workers based in surrounding areas. Our enhanced Security Manual is the result of months of consultation and 3,600 hours of training for staff and contractors, including human rights training by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Through continued training, 100% background checks and re-vetting procedures, and greater reliance on company security staff rather than contractors, Dinant will improve its security procedures yet further over the coming months. Crucially, Dinant has removed all firearms from all security men and women at all of our plantations, extraction mills and manufacturing plants, which makes Mr. Kshetry's accusation that Dinant is shooting peasants preposterous.
Dinant is not in conflict with the genuine peasant associations of Honduras: our African Palm plantations support thousands of sustainable jobs with company pensions and compensation levels well above the national minimum wage, and by significantly improving skills, education and health. We recognize the value and importance of engaging peacefully and transparently with those that hold other viewpoints and believe some common points of mutual interest can be found. And we remain committed to contributing in any way possible to finding a long-term solution to the land conflicts. Mr. Kshetry's article is based on anecdotes and politically motivated rumors, and risks damaging attempts currently being made by NGOs, the World Bank, peasant movements and Dinant to come together to resolve our differences and find peace in a region of Honduras that needs all the help it can get. I invite you and Mr. Kshetry to visit Dinant's operations in the Bajo Aguán so that you might appreciate that the experiences of the majority of people that live here are vastly different from the situation he describes.
I ask that you kindly publish this letter alongside Mr. Kshetry's original article in order that your readers are made aware of Dinant's perspective on such crucial matters. Thank you.
Roger Pineda Pinel
Corporate Relations Director, Corporación Dinant
Barrio Morazán, Frente a Plantas Tropicales, Boulevard Suyapa
Addendum: A response from the author on March 4th, 2015
The letter from Dinant is partly an attempt to discredit my assertions made in the article and partly an attempt to further glorify the corporation.
Here is how I'll respond. Please note that the article I have written is the review of a documentary (even though not a conventional one). Dinant has been specifically mentioned there because it features prominently in the documentary as a part of a larger and fraudulent scheme where the carbon trade offs have been massively abused by corporations like Dinant.
What the letter basically says is that the accusations I make are 'based on familiar but discredited anecdotes of political extremists in Honduras who are, unfortunately, adept at manipulating the international media.'
I am rather sorry to admit that the perception on these issues here is largely subjective and depends on whose interest the observer represents, or in any case, to whom he/she sympathizes. What Dinant sees as 'familiar but discredited anecdotes of political extremists', I refuse to see it that way. In a country that has been stifled by a regime imposed through a coup de tat (notwithstanding the mock elections that followed), I think it is not only justifiable but also necessary to listen to the voices of resistance that have been drowned out by the mainstream corporate media. Dinant can justifiably see them as political extremists but that does little to change my view of them.
Also I think, Dinant with so profound an interest in perpetuating bloody status quo in Honduras (they may call it otherwise for argument's sake but Dinant is the winner and peasants the perpetual losers there; at least that is how I see the things), is not best suited to decide which of the assertions made about the events in Honduras today are discredited and which are not.
I have nothing to comment about the self-glorification and self-aggrandizement that is expressed in the Dinant's letter but that will do nothing to counter the naked truth expressed by the hunted farmers as shown in the footage of 'The Carbon Rush'. Surprisingly, Dinant has chosen not to speak a word about the documentary in the letter.
Unfortunately, I lack the resources to establish how the marginalized people in Honduras might have been 'adept at manipulating international media', if at all. For example, a google search for 'Karla Zelaya Kidnapped' today yields the FNRP report that I have quoted in the article and a few blog posts along with AI and RSF reports. Please note that no mainstream media features it, the only one displayed in the first page of google search is LA Times article titled 'In Honduras, a controversial tycoon responds to critics', an article intended to feed the readership a sanitized version of what Facusse stands for. That is hardly an instance of an adept manipulation of international media by those beleaguered Hondurans.
Aghast at the atrocities documented, all I did after seeing the documentary was search in google for relevant articles. It is not my fault that the resources I deemed trustworthy portrayed Dinant in bad light and I have duly embedded the links in the article.
Finally, let me avoid touching the issue of Facusse's connections to the present regime in Honduras and the impunity resulting from that, as it is beyond the scope of this short response. It is hard to believe how a piece of documentary review plus news analysis could 'risks damaging attempts currently being made by NGOs, the World Bank, peasant movements and Dinant to come together to resolve our differences and find peace in a region of Honduras...'. I think an honest reporting and exposure of Dinant's deeds--both good and bad--and ending the culture of impunity in Honduras will be far more important in that regard.
Furthermore, I sincerely believe that Dinant has a responsibility to make its behavior towards poor farmers in Honduras more humane and compassionate rather than trying to portray its current behavior in good light through such assertions. That is how the ongoing conflict there can be ended in a just way.
Living continents away from Honduras, I have no vested interest in deliberately portraying either of the conflicting sides in a good or bad light.
Finally, I decline Dinant's invitation to Bajo Aguan region because a guided tour is likely to be more misleading than informing.
Jiwan Kshetry, Kathmandu