Honduras: The Impunity and Legacy of Miguel Facussé

Miguel Facussé died in June of this year. He was considered one of the richest men in Honduras and the 11th richest in Central America. His death ensured his impunity for various crimes. He made his money swindling banks and other companies and used his influence in the government to have agrarian laws changed in order to swindle, intimidate, and usurp land from peasant farmers in various sectors throughout Honduras.

Ciriaco de Jesús Muñoz, PRESENTE! Ignacio Reyes García, PRESENTE!; Raúl Castillo, PRESENTE!; Teodoro Acosta, PRESENTE!; José Luis Sauceda Pastrana, PRESENTE!.

These are the names of the five campesinos (peasant farmers) who were massacred in November of 2010 at El Tumbador. Francisco Ramirez calls out the names to begin a meeting with a human rights delegation. The group calls out “PRESENTE!” to show that each of the five is still a part of the community of Guadalupe Carney and a member of the Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MCA in its Spanish Acronym).

November 15th 2015 marks the fifth anniversary of the massacre at El Tumbador, the African Palm plantation on Laguna Guaimoreto in Trujillo, Colon. Paramilitary private guards and members of the military ambushed the five, along with several other campesinos from the community, in the early morning hours as they attempted to enter their property. Francisco was among those severely wounded as bullets tore through his face and body. He is left with constant pain that makes it next to impossible for him to work plus the fact that the land he was entitled to cultivate was stolen from him.

November 15 also marks five years of impunity for the Dinant Corporation whose President, Miguel Facussé Barjum, ordered his private security guards and State security forces to open fire on the campesinos and kill as many as possible. Dinant is a Honduran company that grows African Palm and processes the oil in addition to harvesting other crops. It distributes cooking oil, snack food, sugary juices and a variety of other junk food and household products nationally and internationally. It also has a Biofuel processing program that is set up more as a PR scam for receiving Carbon Credits than as a feasible alternative fuel producer.

Facussé died in June of this year. He was considered one of the richest men in Honduras and the 11th richest in Central America. His death ensured his impunity for various crimes. He made his money swindling banks and other companies and used his influence in the government to have agrarian laws changed in order to swindle, intimidate, and usurp land from peasant farmers in various sectors throughout Honduras. One of his largest land holdings were the African Palm plantations in the Northeastern region known as the Bajo Aguán. It was here, since the 1990’s, that he wreaked havoc on the lives of the peasant farmers. Facussé left a legacy of murder, embezzlement, and theft much of it with the full knowledge and tacit approval of the US government.

The 1992 Agrarian Modernization Law, which Facussé, other ruling elites, and the Bush Sr. administration’s State Department drafted and pushed through the Honduran Congress, gutted the agrarian reform laws that had existed previously. It put State owned land distributed for subsistence farming on the public market. What were once cooperatives or peasant farmer collectives were divided up into individual titles. Many of the farmers were coerced into selling their land for a pittance. In other examples, people who had no authority to sell communal or cooperative land took bribes signing over titles to big rich landowners. In still other instances, Facussé used his military ties to intimidate farmers and their families off of their land killing those who resisted.

Much of the poverty in the country stems from the effects that the Modernization Law had on farmers. Also, the corruption that came in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 contributed as well. The hurricane itself created misery for the entire country as crops, houses, roads, bridges and whole towns were washed away. Facussé’s nephew, Carlos Flores Facussé, was President at the time. He appointed his uncle as director of the national bank. International aid poured in for rebuilding infrastructure as well as relief aid to keep people from starving and to assist them in rebuilding their lives. Shortly after tens of millions of dollars were accumulated, the nephew dissolved the national bank as part of IMF neoliberal restructuring and the money disappeared. Miguel Facussé began to accumulate, with his newfound riches, tens of thousands of hectares of African Palm plantations in addition to private property in National preserves and along the Northern coast and in the Gulf of Fonseca. He financed palm oil processing plants and began to export palm oil and other products and buying brand names, such as Mazola, that he had the exclusive Central American rights to.

In 1999, campesino organizations investigated ways for displaced peasant farmers to acquire land. The Honduran Constitution states that National land lying idle was to have a percentage doled out to peasant farmers who would agree to use the land for subsistence farming. Campesino organizations from five of the northern departments approached the National Agrarian Institute (INA) with the proposal that the land known as the CREM be titled over to the campesinos who had organized as the MCA.

CREM is the Spanish acronym for the Regional Military Training Center. The US military used the site in the 1980s for training the Contras in Reagan’s war against the popular Sandinista government in Nicaragua which won it’s revolution against the US backed dictatorship of Somoza. It also trained the military of El Salvador during their bloody civil war waged against the populace by the military junta. Honduran military officers received training there as well for counter insurgency from the US’s School of the Americas. It is reported that many Hondurans were disappeared and tortured at the CREM. This includes the US born Jesuit priest Father Guadalupe Carney, whom the MCA named its community after. He disappeared in 1982.

INA determined that the MCA could indeed take possession of initially 1000 hectares within the CREM. In time, the number of legally established peasant enterprises grew to 46 as the MCA continued to organize and grow. In total, it was determined that the MCA could obtain provisional titles to 5742.90 hectares (14,191 acres) of land.

Through out this time the campesinos faced brutal aggression from rich landowners who had purchased CREM land illegally. The Municipality of Trujillo had no right to sell national land to these, mostly, cattle ranchers, which included politically powerful families such as Facussé and the Lobo-Sosas. In 2010 INA determined that El Tumbador fell within the boundaries of the CREM. Facussé denied this even though maps of the CREM clearly show that it falls within the boundaries. The government of Pepe Lobo intervened and attempted negotiations with Facussé and the MCA. Facussé accused Cesar Ham, then Director of INA of inciting the campesinos. Ham, knowing Facusse’s past inclination of killing those who challenged him, so feared for his life that he publically stated that if anything bad happened to him it was Facussé who was responsible.

Gaining access to El Tumbador was becoming a long drawn out process that was being stalled by Facussé through bribes to government officials. The campesinos decided to take possession of what was legally theirs if only with the blessings of INA. The peasant farmers, both men and women, worked in El Tumbador for almost a year as negotiations continued. Up until November 15th the campesinos worked without provocation albeit the members of the MCA had faced constant threats since 2000. More than 20 members of their community had been assassinated.

In 2009, Ciriaco traveled from Olancho to find an opportunity to provide for his four children and his common law wife of 20 years, Martha López. On November 15th, he left his house in Guadalupe Carney at 3am and headed to El Tumbador. At 5am, about ten private guards on the plantation demanded that the campesinos leave. They refused saying that this was their land. The guards made phone calls and a short time later 200 heavily armed military personnel arrived. They had military grade weapons such as AK-47s, M-16s and R-15 rifles. The campesinos were on the road outside of the plantation armed only with their machetes which they used for work. Without saying a word, the guards and military opened fire on the campesinos who immediately fled into the dense palm. Ciriaco wasn’t so lucky. He was killed immediately at close range as were 3 of the others. The fifth campesino to be murdered, José Luis Sauceda Pastrana, was found the next day not far from the execution of the others. He had three M-15 bullets in his body.

The next day the mainstream press, the military, and Dinant spokesmen including Facussé were all acting as judge and jury in what amounted to a summary execution. The military planted their own AK-47s and other arms on the bodies of the massacred to spin it that the campesinos were nothing more than insurrectionaries usurping land. Later the Public Minister’s office and the local police, in a rare moment of honesty, discounted this version stating that the campesinos had nothing more than their machetes and other tools to harvest the land.

The Public Prosecutor presented a case against five of the guards, but failed to present any evidence such as ballistics and didn’t even bother to confiscate the weapons of the guards. An official autopsy was never done on the victims either.

In February of 2014, the Attorney General’s office created a special Taskforce on Violent Crimes in the Bajo Aguán (UMVIBA). This was done after the World Bank and it’s financing member, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), did an audit of the Dinant Corporation and found that it did not comply with many of the IFC’s human rights requirements to be eligible for loans. This audit happened after much international attention and pressure fell on Dinant, the World Bank, and the Honduran and US Governments. Facussé pressured JOH to create the faux taskforce because that was one of the conditions for reinstating the other half of the IFC’s $30 million loan to Dinant.

The UMVIBA arrived in the Aguán in April 2014. In addition to other land conflict murders it took on, it reopened the El Tumbador case. Almost a year and a half later, the Taskforce has not publically reported on any of the cases. They have not done any exhumations of the El Tumbador victims let alone autopsies. Noe have they ordered Dinant to hand over the guard’s weapons for forensics testing.

They have exhumed bodies from other cases, many with the families’ of the victims in protest. One family states that their loved one’s grave was desecrated for no reason because their death was not linked to the land conflict, but from a traffic accident. Others have complained that when the bodies were reinterred the headstones and the gravesites were destroyed. Previously UMVIBA had publicly stated that Dinant was not cooperating in the investigations, but in recent interviews political pressure has them putting the blame on the families of the victims.

In 2010, the court in Trujillo dismissed the case against the five guards for lack of evidence. It appears that the impunity that is built into the system will once again favor those who pulled the trigger as it had favored Miguel Facussé.