Honduras: audit faults World Bank loan in Aguán

On Jan. 10 the World Bank's Office of the Compliance Adviser Ombudsman (CAO) released a report criticizing the process through which the bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) granted a $30 million loan in 2009 to the Honduran-based food-product company Corporación Dinant. An audit that the CAO started in April 2012 found that the IFC failed to apply its own ethical standards in issuing the loan, which is to be used in part for growing African oil palms in the Aguán Valley in northern Honduras. The Aguán's largest landowner is Dinant’s founder, the politically well-connected cooking oil magnate Miguel Facussé Barjum. Producing palm oil has become highly profitable, since the oil can be used both for food and as biofuel.

Human rights activists objected to the IFC loan, noting charges by campesino organizations that Facussé and other Aguán landowners acquired their huge estates illegally in areas slated for agrarian reform. Campesinos began a series of land occupations in late 2009 to promote their claims. Since then the region has been the site of bloody conflicts, with 104 campesinos killed as of July 2013, according to the North American nonprofit Rights Action. Some 40 of the deaths have involved Facussé's security guards or have occurred on or near his property. In 2010 Rights Action sent the World Bank a letter describing the situation as a "human rights disaster" and charging the IFC with “gross negligence” in granting the loan. The IFC defended Facussé as a "very respected businessman." It held up disbursement of the second $15 million of the loan but subsequently approved a $70 million investment in one of Dinant's biggest lenders, the Banco Financiera Comercial Hondureña (Ficohsa), representing a 10% stake in the bank. (Global Post, Jan. 4; Huffington Post, Jan. 10; New York Times, Jan. 10)

The Honduran government has militarized the Aguán, ostensibly to stop the violence, but campesino groups say the military is actually backing the landowners. Rights Action notes that the "Honduran regime remains in power due in large part to its political, economic and military relations with the US and Canada and the 'development' banks." The group recommends that Canadian and US activists follow up on the CAO report by sending copies of news articles "and your own letters, to your politicians (MPs, Congress members and senators) and your own media." (Rights Action, Jan. 12)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, January 12.