In his editorial, entitled “Honduras: Gangsters’ Paradise”, Nick Alexandrov admirably raises the important issues of violence and illegal activities that must be tackled in my country, Honduras. But he also makes some erroneous and unfair statements about Dinant Corporation and its owner, Miguel Facussé.
Land Conflicts in the Bajo Aguán Region
The history of the land conflicts of the Bajo Aguán region dates back as far as the agrarian reforms of Latin America in the late 1950s and includes a complex but reoccurring theme of financial failure and economic difficulties faced by Peasant Associations. It is not true that Dinant took advantage of a decimated Aguán peasant cooperative sector to “seize” the peasants’ land. In fact, Dinant – like many individuals as well as small, medium and large companies – saw the economic opportunities of regenerating land that was very often idle or in poor condition, and therefore legally purchased farmland during the 1990s. As well as revitalizing large tracts of run-down farmland and generating significant economic activity for local communities, the sale of land in the 1990s allowed many financially insolvent peasant cooperatives to pay off their debts and secure funding for alternative businesses in order to support their families. Like many others since then, Dinant’s African Palm plantations have supported thousands of jobs in the surrounding local communities from whom we source much of our raw materials and whom we employ to maintain and harvest our crops.
In his editorial, Mr. Alexandrov repeats Annie Bird’s false accusation that Dinant’s security forces have been involved in the murders of peasant protestors in the Bajo Aguán. We categorically deny all of the very serious allegations of murder and human rights violations that have been made by Rights Action and others against the Dinant Corporation, its owner and its employees. At no point in our history have we engaged in forced evictions of farmers from our land; such evictions have always been undertaken exclusively by Government security forces (without Dinant’s involvement), acting within the law and under direct instruction from the Honduran courts, whose rulings are based on evidence that proves beyond doubt that Dinant are the rightful owners of the lands in question.
It is a terrible but rarely reported fact that 17 Dinant employees have been killed, almost 30 have been injured and five remain missing as a result of the land conflict in the Bajo Aguán region. Dinant immediately welcomed the recent decision by the Honduras Attorney General to undertake a special investigation into the land conflict in the Bajo Aguán region, and we look forward to cooperating fully with this and all enquiries that seek to bring to justice those that are committing violent crimes against Dinant employees, our contractors and the local communities.
As a long-established family firm with agricultural operations in Honduras and throughout Central America, Dinant has never before confronted a situation like the problems in the Bajo Aguán region. Unfortunately, externally funded armed groups continue to use the land conflicts for their wider political ends by encouraging the illegal seizure of private lands that provide jobs and wages to those who need them most. However, Dinant remains committed to contributing in any way possible to finding a long-term solution to this conflict. That is why we have sold almost 4,000 hectares of land at below-half market prices as a goodwill gesture to the government and to peasant organizations. We are making every effort to ensure that employees responsible for the security of our facilities are trained to the highest standards by following the criteria laid out in the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, which govern how we vet, recruit and train our security guards, and how we engage with members of the community.
Furthermore, as part of our efforts to reduce violence in the region, Dinant recently removed all firearms from security guards at all of its plantation sites, locking them away under the supervision of a senior manager, to be used only as a last resort in order to protect their lives. We reserve the right to protect and secure our property, and defend our employees from attack, by proportionate and peaceful means. However, it is rightfully the role of the Honduran security forces – and not Dinant – to respond to the many acts of armed aggression that, during the land conflict, have resulted in damage to our property and, in some tragic cases, injury and death to our employees and security contractors.
Dinant’s Environmental and Social Initiatives
In his editorial, Mr. Alexandrov refers to the “corporate abuse…and exploitation” that occurs in Honduras. Dinant continues to look for ways to make improvements to the communities and environment in which we work. Our initiatives include:
* Providing technical and financial support for community development projects such as rural electrification, maintenance and access roads, water and sanitation.
* Our land titling program which, since 1994, has delivered nearly 600 land titles to low-income families, schools, health centers, sport fields, graveyards and other community uses.
* Supporting the sustainable harvesting of Corozo palm nuts in the Pech, Garífuna and Ladino ethnic communities.
* Providing assistance to smallholder farmers, including training and technical advice on finance, the appropriate use of cultivation and fertilization, improved farm infrastructure and efficient transportation of fresh fruit bunches.
* Extensive community health and education programs.
* Production and use of clean energy, organic compost and organic fertilizers.
Funding and managing endangered wildlife conservation programs at Farallones (jaguar and tapir breeding programs), Zacate Grande (red macaw and green iguana breeding programs), as well as tropical rainforest protection at Punta Izopo and Choloma.
We invite the NGO and human rights community to visit our African Palm plantations in the Bajo Aguán region, where they can see for themselves the extensive resources that Dinant is investing in community engagement, and environmental and social management.
Roger Pineda Pinel is Corporate Relations Director of Dinant.