Saturday, June 11, 2011

Miguel Facussé Blinks

Miguel Facussé Barjum, head of DINANT Corporation, is waging a public relations campaign to try and improve his image, and that of his company.

At the same time, he is sharpening his attacks on those who criticize him.

On the PR side, he has received positive publicity for his scarlet macaw research center in Zacate Grande. A year ago he gave over 100 titles to properties in Zacate Grande for things like the town water tank, the churches, etc. with the idea that the town would protect wildlife and encourage tourism.

Today he is in a fight with about 300 campesinos in Zacate Grande over land rights and the right of their radio station to operate.

His recent actions suggest he has reached the end of his rope. In short order, he has sued prominent critics; taken out self-promoting newspaper ads, including one in which he sought to unilaterally renegotiate the terms of a settlement with the Honduran government over disputed land in the Bajo Aguan; and continued his campaign of seeking police enforcement of judicial orders against campesinos living on land he refuses to cede.

Targets of his suits against Honduran critics recently included Monsignor Luis Alfonso Santos, Bishop of Santa Rosa de Copan, and Andres Pavon, head of a major human rights organization in Honduras, the Comité para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (CODEH).

Both were sued for defamation of character and, ironically, purported human rights violations.

The case centers on comments Santos and Pavón made associating Miguel Facussé with the deaths of 14 campesinos (so far) in the Bajo Aguan.

The cases against both gentlemen were dismissed by the Tribunal de Sentencia of Tegucigalpa, though Facussé's lawyer, Antonio Ocampo, wants to appeal, or to refile the charges in Choluteca or Olancho where he has friendly judges.

Bishop Santos issued an apology for his use of the word "arabe" to describe Facussé, whose family has been Honduran for several generations after emigrating from the Middle East.

But none of his critics have been discouraged from discussing the facts Facussé most objects to having mentioned, the role of his hired enforcers in the deaths of campesinos in the Bajo Aguan.

In his latest move, on June 10, Facussé took out a newspaper advertisement stating the terms on which he would accept government compensation in return for the disputed land in the Bajo Aguan. This reverses positions he has held as recently as June 7.

Then, in an interview with radio station HRN, Facussé claimed that much of the land was worth 300,00 lempiras/hectare, but that he would sell it for 135,000/hectare to the government. A further 800 hectares he claimed were worth 400,000 lempiras/hectare, for which he wanted full price from the government.

But the land wasn't really worth what he was asking, and the government took a hard line on the price.

In today's paid advertisement, he said he accepted the government's offered price for 3200 hectares of land, at prices that vary between 76,000 and 103,000 lempiras per hectare.

But he continued to try to bargain, saying that he would not transfer three farms the government plans to transfer to the campesinos represented by MUCA. Cesar Ham, head of INA, rejected Facussé's offer since it would violate the government's agreement with MUCA.

The farms Facussé does not wish to transfer are called Marañones, Lempira, and La Concepción. Marañones, 400 hectares, he proposes to give to the Cooperativo de Empleados de DINANT, set up for the employees who will lose their jobs in this land transfer.

Lempira and La Concepción, totaling some 894 hectares, he insists on keeping. What's unclear is what's so special about these two farms, located in Tocoa proper.

Why did Facussé hold out for ridiculously high prices for the land, then give in and accept the government's much lower rate?

The newspaper advertisement offers a clue. In it he says that he seeks to collaborate with the government to establish an environment suitable for foreign investment, something that he needs to keep his business running.

Not only did his advertisement fail in his goal of getting a settlement on his terms; it also perpetuated his campaign against the campesino activists in the Bajo Aguan. In it, he announced that he had solicited and received orders from a judge in Tocoa to remove the campesinos who have occupied the farms he does not wish to sell to the government, and he was turning these judicial orders over to the police for enforcement.

Facussé's continuing conflict with campesinos and publicity about the violence against them has cost his company. Significant international financing for his biodiesel project was withdrawn this spring by two separate European sources. This biodiesel plant was to be supplied from his African oil palm farms in the Bajo Aguan.

While attempting to generate good public relations, Facussé has managed to point out that he is the impediment to a Bajo Aguan solution. The scrutiny his position in the Bajo Aguan has invited from international investors is a problem that affects all Honduran businesses, not just DINANT Corporation.

The government of Lobo Sosa knows this, and it knows it cannot go back on its agreement with MUCA and retain its own international funding. The government could simply expropriate the farms in question, and pay the appraised value of the land. It is a credit to Miguel Facussé's power that so far it has not done so.

But when Facussé began to take out newspaper ads to try to take his case to the public, it was a sign that he knows he has lost control of the message internationally, and probably nationally as well.

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