FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers

by

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 10.23.18 AM

Less than three months before Lenca leader Berta Cáceres was brutally assassinated, the social arm of Desarollos Energeticos SA (DESA)–the Honduran company leading the Agua Zarca dam project Cáceres was campaigning against–signed a contract with USAID implementing partner Fintrac, a Washington DC based development contracting firm.

The DESA representative who was present for the public signing of the USAID agreement was none other than Sergio Rodríguez, the company’s Social Investment Manager, who is now accused of Cáceres’ assassination  along with another former DESA employee and individuals with military ties. The arrests also included Douglas Geovanny Bustillo, a retired military officer and the former head of DESA’s security detail. The trial against the accused murderers began on Monday.

COPINH’s Powerful Political and Economic Enemies in Rio Blanco

As one of the strongest and most recognized indigenous organizations in Honduras, the Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras, or COPINH, have challenged powerful economic and political forces while working to protect the environment and conserve the Lenca culture.

The Agua Zarca dam project is illustrative of DESA’s business dealings and of what COPINH is up against. DESA is owned by the Atala family, one of the most powerful families in Honduras. In fact, the dam project allegedly received funding from the largest bank in Honduras–Ficohsa, headed up by Camilo Atala. Although it has been recently under attack for its possible complicity with Cáceres’ assassination, it has a dark past including allegations of money laundering.

DESA also benefitted from military connections and support. In a newly released interview with Cáceres from 2013, Berta outlines these connections; the owner, David Castillo, is a West Point graduate and an expert in military intelligence. Moreover, Douglas Geovanny Bustillo who was the former head of security for DESA and a former military lieutenant is now being accused of planning Cáceres’ assassination. Military and police backing was also evident in the variety and quantity of armed forces during protests against the project that includes an elite US funded and vetted unit called Los Tigres, although they focus on combating gang violence and drug trafficking.

From the start, DESA counted on high level political support. The Secretary of Natural Resources and the Environment issued the company a 50-year Environmental License for the Agua Zarca Project without the consultation of affected community members. Perhaps more problematic, the Mayor of Intibuca supposedly received community consent even though the project was already way. Death threats even came directly from politicians themselves; on one of her last visits to Rio Blanco on February 20, 2016,  the vice-mayor of San Francisco de Ojuera publicly asked that Berta be killed. Moreover, the Honduran Public Ministry in charge of the investigation into Cáceres’ assassination, was a co-plaintiff along with DESA in 2014 filings seeking an injunction against COPINH’s demonstrations targeting the company.
Development or buying support for Agua Zarca dam project?

According to the company, DESA’s Social Investment Program dedicates a portion of its profits to “create and implement projects focused on bettering the quality of life in the neighboring communities to the project.” For COPINH, these initiatives were the company’s attempts to combat the negative press surrounding the controversial project and another means of buying the support of those directly affected by the dam project. An example of this was when company purchased backpacks for school children with large DESA logos as part of their Education project. COPINH also criticized the Social Investment Program’s Infrastructure activities were roads were built but to transport equipment rather than to deliver “development” needed or wanted by the community. In reality, DESA was likely donating very little of its own profits given that they partnered with state and foreign organizations like the Honduran Ministry of Education and USAID through Fintrac.

Helping the Poor by Helping the Rich

Ironically, while USAID was giving money to DESA, a company owned by an elite Honduran family, through Fintrac, to what some claim was essentially buying local support of vulnerable people in Rio Blanco, it made this observation on its website;

“Honduras has experienced a moderate recovery since the 2008-2009 global economic downturn. Despite this encouraging trend, economic gains over the past several years have largely favored the middle and upper classes, leading to greater income disparity in the country.”

One of many reasons Rio Blanco was part of a movement against the Agua Zarca dam project was that the dam threatens the Gualcarque River, on which they depend for their economic and cultural survival. Olivia Marcela Zuniga, Berta Cáceres daughter, addressed foreign financiers of, and accomplices to the Agua Zarca dam on her facebook page:

“development cannot trample over human lives, development should be to better the lives of living beings, not to kill life. The western world cannot impose its vision of development, because these are our territories, our bodies, our lives and our vision of development should prevail because it secures the existence of mother earth and that of humanity…it cannot be capitalist…Our vision of development is a vision of harmony, equilibrium and respect [with and,] for all living things”. (Original post in Spanish)

In a February 2016 action alert, COPINH denounced USAID for its complicity in maintaining a “smokescreen of “development, employment, clean energy and social responsibility”.

Fintrac and USAID’s Complicity

Proper due diligence on the part of Fintrac would have likely made this proudly “women owned company”, avoid getting into bed with DESA who was engaged in a dirty fight with one of Honduras most respected women leaders. From COPINH’s claim that the company’s dam project was moving forward without free, prior and informed consent of those who would be directly affected, to the claim that their security chief, Douglas Geovanny Bustillo, had threatened Berta with sexual assault, the allegations and evidence should have prevented their partnership with DESA per their code of ethics and other internal policies. USAID in Honduras on the other hand, would be hard pressed to claim ignorance about the conflict in Rio Blanco.

The contract between Fintrac and DESA was signed some time in December 2015 to provide agricultural technical assistance to 10 communities and 180 families in two municipalities in Western Honduras under USAID’s MERCADO Program. There is scarce public information about the contract other than a few local media outlets that covered the the contract public signing.

After Rodríguez, who signed the contract on behalf of DESA, was arrested, the company expressed surprise and claimed no involvement with the assassination. Yet, less than a month before Cáceres assassination, Rodríguez was among those denounced for “threatening the physical and emotional  integrity” of members of COPINH in one of the organization’s urgent action alert in the last demonstration organized in Rio Blanco before the assassination on February 20, 2016.

The Cáceres family was told that the non-binding contract was canceled at the family’s request in the weeks following Cáceres’ assassination. While Fintrac and USAID quietly dissolved the contract with DESA, history will remember whose side they were on. Both organizations should be held accountable to the Honduran poor they claim to serve and the US taxpayers who fund them.

More articles by:

Gloria Jiménez is a Latina activist from Los Angeles who has lived in Honduras and Nicaragua for the past year.

Weekend Edition
February 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
American Carnage
Paul Street
Michael Wolff, Class Rule, and the Madness of King Don
Andrew Levine
Had Hillary Won: What Now?
David Rosen
Donald Trump’s Pathetic Sex Life
Susan Roberts
Are Modern Cities Sustainable?
Joyce Nelson
Canada vs. Venezuela: Have the Koch Brothers Captured Canada’s Left?
Geoff Dutton
America Loves Islamic Terrorists (Abroad): ISIS as Proxy US Mercenaries
Mike Whitney
The Obnoxious Pence Shows Why Korea Must End US Occupation
Joseph Natoli
In the Post-Truth Classroom
John Eskow
One More Slaughter, One More Piece of Evidence: Racism is a Terminal Mental Disease
John W. Whitehead
War Spending Will Bankrupt America
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Latest Insulting Proposal: Converting SNAP into a Canned Goods Distribution Program
Robert Fantina
Guns, Violence and the United States
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Zaps Oxygen
John Laforge
$1.74 Trillion for H-bomb Profiteers and “Fake” Cleanups
CJ Hopkins
The War on Dissent: the Specter of Divisiveness
Peter A. Coclanis
Chipotle Bell
Anders Sandström – Joona-Hermanni Mäkinen
Ways Forward for the Left
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Winning Hearts and Minds
Tommy Raskin
Syrian Quicksand
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Still Tries to Push Dangerous Drug Class
Jill Richardson
The Attorney General Thinks Aspirin Helps Severe Pain – He’s Wrong
Mike Miller
Herb March: a Legend Deserved
Ann Garrison
If the Democrats Were Decent
Renee Parsons
The Times, They are a-Changing
Howard Gregory
The Democrats Must Campaign to End Trickle-Down Economics
Sean Keller
Agriculture and Autonomy in the Middle East
Ron Jacobs
Re-Visiting Gonzo
Eileen Appelbaum
Rapid Job Growth, More Education Fail to Translate into Higher Wages for Health Care Workers
Ralph Nader
Shernoff, Bidart, and Echeverria—Wide-Ranging Lawyers for the People
Chris Zinda
The Meaning of Virginia Park
Robert Koehler
War and Poverty: A Compromise with Hell
Mike Bader – Mike Garrity
Senator Tester Must Stop Playing Politics With Public Lands
Kenneth Culton
No Time for Olympic Inspired Nationalism
Graham Peebles
Ethiopia: Final Days of the Regime
Irene Tung – Teófilo Reyes
Tips are for Servers Not CEOs
Randy Shields
Yahoomans in Paradise – This is L.A. to Me
Thomas Knapp
No Huawei! US Spy Chiefs Reverse Course on Phone Spying
Mel Gurtov
Was There Really a Breakthrough in US-North Korea Relations?
David Swanson
Witness Out of Palestine
Binoy Kampmark
George Brandis, the Rule of Law and Populism
Dean Baker
The Washington Post’s Long-Running Attack on Unions
Andrew Stewart
Providence Public School Teachers Fight Back at City Hall
Stephen Cooper
Majestic Meditations with Jesse Royal: the Interview
David Yearsley
Olympic Music
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail