Land Conflicts in the Bajo Aguán Region
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. It is unreasonable to assume, with hindsight, that Dinant (or the IFC) could have predicted that externally funded armed groups would use the land conflicts for their wider political objectives. Nor is it true to say that Dinant is "in conflict... with the peasants of the Bajo Aguán valley", as Ms. Griffin stated in her editorial. We source much of our raw materials from nearby smallholder farmers and rely on the local community to harvest our crops.
Dinant remains committed to contributing in any way possible to finding a long-term solution to this conflict. We therefore strongly take issue with many of the unfounded assertions made in the CAO report of December 20, 2013 on the IFC loan to our company, and repeated in Ms. Griffin's editorial -- statements that the CAO themselves acknowledge on page 46, paragraph 1 of the report, are "allegations... [that] should not be confused with findings of fact."
We categorically deny all of the very serious allegations of murder and human rights violations made 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 instruction from the courts.
Dinant has a long and public history of trying to work with the government and civic organizations in order to find a solution to the problems of land invasions, deaths and insecurity in the Bajo Aguán region, including selling land at below-half market prices as a goodwill gesture to the government and to peasant organizations. Unfortunately, armed groups continue to terrorize local communities, encouraging the illegal seizure of private lands that provide jobs and wages to those who need them most.
It is a terrible 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. That is why 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 why we expressed our willingness to cooperate fully with this and all inquiries that seek to bring to justice those who are committing violent crimes against Dinant employees, our contractors and the local communities.
Dinant is making every effort to ensure that employees responsible for the security of our facilities are trained to the highest standards. We are in the process of implementing 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 manger, 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
Dinant remains committed to contributing in any way possible to finding a long-term solution to this conflict. In the meantime, we will continue 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.
Honduras Weekly states on its website that it is receptive to everyone's opinions and encourages conversation. We would welcome the opportunity to put forward our views on the land conflict, perhaps through an interview with me or following a visit by [a representative of your newspaper] to our African Palm plantations in the Bajo Aguán region, where you can see for yourself the extensive resources we are investing in community engagement, and environmental and social management. (6/17/14) (photo of the Bajo Aguán valley courtesy Internet)
Note: The author is the Corporate & Banking Relations Director for the Dinant Corporation.