Thursday, April 21, 2011

DINANT: Helpless on Human Rights

We have been traveling throughout April, not always with the best of internet access.

So we missed posting when news broke that European banks were reconsidering or outright canceling their support of development of African palm oil projects in the Bajo Aguan-- where landowner Miguel Facussé, at times enjoying military support, has been engaged in a standoff with local peasant cooperatives that has led to the killing of dozens of campesinos.

But now Bloomberg has published a new report on the story, leading with the claim that DINANT Corporation-- the business entity involved-- has been wrongly treated.

The basic facts are these:

On April 8, a German development bank, DEG Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH, canceled a proposed loan reportedly worth $20 million, that (For German readers, there is a good long review of this part of the story in Neues Deutschland). Even in recent articles, bank spokespersons have refused to explain why they canceled this loan.

But shortly after, the French energy firm, EDF, canceled its agreement to buy carbon credits from DINANT. Reporting by Bloomberg contained only an unintelligible quote from CEO John Rittenhouse, who said “We take a responsible appraoch to our CDM portfolio.”

Longer articles elsewhere, including Reuters, were slightly clearer, quoting Rittenhouse as saying
“We have taken the situation in Honduras very seriously and have spent the past few months looking at our options in respect to our withdrawal...We have therefore issued our notification of termination to the seller and will no longer be involved in this project".

Why did these companies back off from the project?

The Reuters story notes that an "Environmental watchdog group CDM Watch" had brought human rights abuses to the attention of EDF. A Bloomberg story about the loan withdrawal by the German bank also cited CDM Watch, described there as a "Bonn-based environmental lobby", as well as FIAN, the FoodFirst Information and Action Network, based in Heidelberg.

The cancellations by these two European companies are not the end of the story; other financing could emerge, and the project is still under consideration by the UN's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)

Bloomberg reports that the government of the United Kingdom had approved the Bajo Aguan project for buyers of carbon credits, noting that the energy and climate change secretary, Chris Huhne, has now sent letters requesting more information to, among others, DINANT itself and "Honduran authorities".

The project is still due for discussion at the UN's CDM Executive Board meeting on June 3. That body could still decide to give the project its blessing, despite the human rights issues it raises.

Hence Roger Pineda, treasurer of DINANT, coming out strong on defense in the latest Bloomberg story.

Pineda characterized the link to human rights abuses as "misleading".

Repeating a loathsome strategy seen in other Honduran human rights abuses, Pineda argued that the real crime here is that security guards have died:
The human rights organizations “don’t seem to care about the people who get killed by the peasants,” Pineda said.

That's right. DINANT has no responsibility for the 23 deaths of campesinos recorded by FIAN; and those peasant deaths and land claims should be canceled out by deaths of security guards, none of which has actually been linked to a campesino activists by anything but innuendo. The repeated claim that Bajo Aguan peasants are armed by Nicaragua has been used to justify military occupation. But even Honduran President Lobo Sosa had to admit the military did not find any weapons.

In a weird side argument, Pineda suggested that canceling the project would be bad for Hondurans because DINANT also is producing "food".

What food? Fried snack foods and artery-clogging palm oil, ubiquitous as the cooking oil of at least the north coast. The website of the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank calls for investment in Dinant to "increase production capacity in its snacks and edible oils divisions".

But of course, that is not the main argument Pineda has to offer. No, his strongest claim is that for some reason, the report documenting peasant deaths should not have been taken seriously because "FIAN didn’t approach Grupo Dinant before making its report". Apparently, had they just done that, he has an explanation for the violence:
A security company hired by Dinant killed five people in November last year because its guards were under attack, he said. There has been no legal action stemming from the killings, he said.

The stakes are high for DINANT, so perhaps it is not surprising that they are exposing their best (worst?) arguments.

Not only did these two specific European companies decide that DINANT was perhaps a bad partner.

More generally, consultants in the sector-- at least in Europe-- understand that the liabilities that might come may not be worth the profits that remain questionable in the face of this unresolved and violent land dispute.

In its April 19 article reporting Roger Pineda's defense of DINANT, Bloomberg quoted Mark Meyrick, described as head of the Rotterdam-based carbon desk at Eneco Holding NV, a Dutch utility company.

Mr. Meyrick is clear:
“This is a question of proper due diligence” ... Projects must consult their so-called stakeholders as part of the process seeking United Nations- overseen approval for tradable credits... “In too many CDM projects, only lip service is paid to the stakeholder consultation, and the CER buyers and finance providers don’t check that properly.”

Roger Pineda clearly thinks DINANT is the one stakeholder that should have been consulted.

Score one for broader participation in consultation, and credit the tenacity not just of FIAN, but of the other organizations it acknowledges in its press release on the campaign to stop funding of the Bajo Aguan development project, including Honduran organizations COFADEH, CIPRODEH, and the Commission for Truth.

Now, can anyone get the UN CDM to read the reports of the UN Human Rights Commission?

No comments: