January 16, 2014
The new budget appropriations bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday, and set to be taken up by the Senate in the coming days, includes several passages that are relevant for Honduras, including stronger restrictions on U.S. assistance for the police and military. It also includes language opposing involvement by international financial institutions like the World Bank and IADB in the financing of large dam projects, such as those planned in Rio Blanco, and other language that could help victims of the May 2012 DEA operation in Ahuas — that resulted in four villagers killed and several others injured — finally receive compensation.
Under the “Honduras” section, the bill [PDF] reads:
- Of the funds appropriated by this Act under the headings ‘‘International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement’’ and ‘‘Foreign Military Financing Program’’, 35 percent may not be made available for assistance for the Honduran military and police except in accordance with the procedures and requirements specified under section 7045 in the explanatory statement described in section 4 (in the matter preceding division A of this consolidated Act).
- The restriction in paragraph (1) shall not apply to assistance to promote transparency, anti-corruption, border security, and the rule of law within the military and police.
This 35 percent is a significant increase from the 20 percent previously withheld over concerns about human rights violations by Honduran security forces.
The “procedures and requirements” appear under the section (Division J) titled “Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2014”:
Honduras. – The agreement modifies language in the Senate bill regarding Honduras in subsection (e). There is concern with the security challenges facing Honduras, which has become a transit hub for illicit drugs from South America. The assistance provided by this Act is intended to help stem the trafficking and address related violence, corruption, and impunity. The agreement recognizes the need for fundamental reform of Honduran law enforcement and judicial systems. In accordance with section 7045(e) of this Act, 35 percent of funds that are available for assistance for the Honduran military and police may be obligated only if the Secretary of State certifies that-
(1) the Government of Honduras is reducing corruption including by prosecuting corrupt officials and removing them from office;
(2) agreements between the United States and Honduras concerning counter-narcotics operations, including assistance for innocent victims of such operations, are being implemented;
(3) the Government of Honduras is protecting freedom of expression, association, and assembly, and due process of law, including in the Bajo Aguan Valley;
(4) the Government of Honduras is investigating and prosecuting in the civilian justice system military and police personnel who are credibly alleged to have violated human rights, including forced evictions, or to have aided or abetted other armed groups involved in such acts; and
(5) the Honduran military and police are cooperating with civilian judicial authorities in such cases.
So, the language is intended to tackle ongoing corruption and impunity, target human rights violations in the Aguán Valley, and also provide assistance – it would seem – to the victims of the lethal May 2012 DEA-Honduran counternarcotics operation in Ahuas. These new conditions are more numerous and more specific than the conditions outlined in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012, the last piece of legislation to impose conditions on a portion of security assistance to Honduras. Here is the short section on Honduras in that legislation:
Honduras – Prior to the obligation of 20 percent of the funds appropriated by this Act that are available for assistance for Honduran military and police forces, the Secretary of State shall report in writing to the Committees on Appropriations that: the Government of Honduras is implementing policies to protect freedom of expression and association, and due process of law; and is investigating and prosecuting in the civilian justice system, in accordance with Honduran and international law, military and police personnel who are credible alleged to have violated human rights, and the Honduran military and police are cooperating with civilian judicial authorities in such cases: Provided, that the restriction in this subsection shall not apply to assistance to promote transparency, anti-corruption and the rule of law within the military and police forces.
The new bill also includes interesting and unprecedented language under the “International Financial Institutions” section, which appears relevant to World Bank programs in Honduras. The following paragraph would seem to apply to the dam projects at Rio Blanco, where the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank has been offering financing for the projects through third parties:
(D) The Secretary of the Treasury shall instruct the United States executive director of each international financial institution that it is the policy of the United States to oppose any loan, grant, strategy or policy of such institution to support the construction of any large hydroelectric dam (as defined in ‘‘Dams and Development: A New Framework for Decision- Making,’’ World Commission on Dams (November 2000)).
As we and many other observers have noted (as well as affected communities, including the residents of Rio Blanco), some past World Bank-funded dam projects have been human rights and environmental disasters, such as the infamous Chixoy dam in Guatemala (where over 440 people were massacred and over 3,500 forcibly displaced) and the Narmada dam project in India.
The World Bank has come under criticism recently after its ombudsman determined that the IFC’s financing of Miguel Facussé’s Dinant corporation in Honduras’ Aguán Valley “violated its own social and environmental rules,” as Al Jazeera put it. Another paragraph in the bill seems particularly relevant to this audit, which found that IFC staff failed to act on information linking Dinant to alleged killings and attacks on scores of campesino leaders, as well as other crimes:
(e) The Secretary of the Treasury shall instruct the United States executive director of each international financial institution to seek to ensure that each such institution responds to the findings and recommendations of its accountability mechanisms by providing just compensation or other appropriate redress to individuals and communities that suffer violations of human rights, including forced displacement, resulting from any loan, grant, strategy or policy of such institution.
Over 100 campesinos in the Aguán have been killed since June 2009 by private security forces and Honduran authorities, and many others have been forcibly evicted, according to Rights Action. Facussé and other wealthy land owners in the area dispute local farmers’ claims to land, and the June 2009 coup against democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya cut short a land reform process that sought to resolve the conflict in the Aguán Valley region. In a January 10 release, Human Rights Watch noted that the IFC has provided an “inadequate response” to the audit, which may well be the most damning that the World Bank Group’s Compliance Advisory Ombudsman has made to date:
While the IFC agreed to address several of the findings, it largely avoided the findings of IFC’s systemic failures. And the IFC’s action plan falls well short of what is required by the IFC’s own standards. Further, there is no indication that the action plan was developed in consultation with the communities affected by the investment or the organizations that represent them.
The IFC’s action plan acknowledges that an investigation of the allegations against the company is needed and that it will “assess the feasibility of remediation to affected parties.” But it leaves it to the Honduran authorities and Dinant to deal with this, even though both parties are alleged to have participated in the violence.