“These funds, sooner or later, are used to buy arms” – interview on Honduran offset project
More of Rosie Wong's interview with Heriberto Alemán Rodríguez, of the MUCA (Movimiento Unificado de Campesinos de Aguán) farmers' movement, about the Clean Development Mechanism project in Bajo Aguan, consultation and human rights. La Confianza settlement, 15 December 2011.
Rosie’s article ‘Carbon Blood Money in Honduras’ about a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) Project in Bajo Aguán, Honduras, was originally published by Foreign Policy in Focus. The carbon offset project has fuelled aggression against small farmers already under siege, with over 50 organised farmers assassinated since September 2009.
The project with Facussé´s palm oil company Dinant involves capturing methane from the palm oil mill for ‘re-use’ to power the mill. The project facilitates the expansion of the palm oil industry, contributes to deforestation in sensitive tropical regions, and promotes the production of palm oil for export over food for local consumption.
Heriberto: My name is Heriberto Alemán Rodríguez, I belong to MUCA, I work with the education of school-aged children. I am a teacher. I am also part of the movement - we are there serving as a communication link between MUCA and the Permanent Human Rights Observatory in Bajo Aguán – a need that we have here. [The Human Rights Observatory] was inaugurated on the 11th of November 2011. So, I am also representing the movement within the structure of the human rights observatory
Rosie: You talked about Facussé´s palm oil processing plant, have you heard about a Clean Development Mechanism project in the plantations?
Yes, it began approximately two years ago, the pollution has gone down a little, but not totally. But this plant had been operating since 1994, 1995, and during all these years, there is a nearby community called Quebrada de Agua, that has been suffering the foul odours that come from the oxidation lakes.
When it is cloudy and there is not enough wind, well, the smoke spreads out at a low level. So it has caused lots of problems with respiratory illnesses for the communities that are near these processing plants.
Just two years ago the oxidation lakes were covered, in order to produce energy using biomass. There is also some product that they are using to fertilise the farms, but not the whole farm. They continue to use chemicals to clean the plantations, to get rid of undergrowth and bush. There is Gramozón, Roundup, or the herbicides, which they are still using. They also keep emitting large quantities of smoke into the air, right? With them, we still feel that there are still large carbon emissions, or CO2 as it's technically known, into the air due to the activities of the extraction plants.
How did you hear about the project? Who told you about it? Or did you do some research?
Well, when they were going to begin what is now the biomass project, with the oxidation lakes, they invited different people, community board presidents and organised societies of the communities that were close by. They told us about this project that they were going to put in practice, where they reduced the foul odours a little.
But they have still not been eliminated, especially during the rainy season, as we are in at the moment, during the afternoons or the evenings. In the Quebrada de Agua community, people always suffer the onslaught of these foul odours, because it is not possible to completely eliminate them, right? The community is located within just a few kilometres, some five kilometres from the extractive plant.
This is a really complicated project, how did they explain it to the community when they invited them?
The explanation that they gave us was that, due to the large quantities of CO2 emissions going into the air, that they were also concerned by the phenomenon of the greenhouse effect due to global warming. They said, 'concerned by this, we want to do this project in order to have the least amount of CO2 gas emissions in the air'.
It seems that this project is financed by European banks but not with financing from Honduras, and it seems that this financing, I believe, is not refundable, or that there are some pre-sales that they are giving to these companies.
But at the same time, it is regrettable, because with these funds that come from outside to finance these kind of projects, these funds sooner or later are used to buy arms, to contract guards and to repress farmers, right?
It's not true that all of these funds are used to reduce gas emissions into the air. It is not true, because they continue to emit large quantities of CO2 into the air, and well, the most regrettable thing is that those who finance these companies, like the companies of Miguel Facussé, Reynaldo Canales and René Morales, also become complicit in all these more than forty-six deaths that have occurred here in this struggle. Because, really, if their funding is cut, the company owners are going to feel a bit pressured to change their methods of defending their plantations, that don´t actually belong to them, right? [Plantations] that were acquired illegally.
So human rights aside, what do you think about the fact that there are funds for these companies? That is, that they are private companies receiving funds for carbon credits, for reducing pollution that they themselves were producing in order to make profits? And receiving carbon credits for being environmentalists?
Well, this should be strictly supervised by the banks who give the credits, and they should to come to confirm whether it's true that these credits are being used for these types of projects.
Here, we have not seen projects where carbon emissions could be reduced. What we have seen is a lot of arms in the hands of these large landowners; what we have seen is that they have bought new cars – but to equip their paramilitary teams.
We have not seen the reforestation of the waterways that are close to some of their plantations and properties – we have not seen that. Much less have we seen any true intention of eliminating carbon emissions, this is not something that is important to them. What is important to them here is sustaining huge profits, at the least possible cost. This is what we have seen here, and also that they are not disposed to return to the farmers what they took away from them.
These funds or credits that are given by international banks come to strengthen these companies, especially to strengthen the repression against the farmers. What they do is, this money is being used to pay judges or prosecutors so that they too remain silent and cannot carry out investigations of all these farmers' deaths, [deaths] that have been carried out by the guards from Miguel Facussé's private companies.
And for you, is it possible that this expansion of African palm in Honduras is good for the environment and world’s climate?
Well, it is not good, it provides good economic benefits, but we can't directly consume this product ourselves. This product responds to the interests of the transnationals, a large part of it is used for biofuels. Here in Honduras, especially in Bajo Aguan where this is all happening, we don't grow this product, this palm oil crop, because we need it here, but because the outside market needs it.
This is when we, the MUCA, propose that maybe we have a portion of the land for palm oil, but we also demand that most of the land is to produce food, such as corn, beans, rice and vegetables. It is for us to look after the rivers that are in our territories and that we can see the multiplication of local animals again... and also where what we produce can be for our meals. And that if there is excess then we can commercialise it, but in the first place, our vision is to have access to food, to have food sovereignty that is what we propose. Perhaps not to produce because the international market needs our product, but to produce because we need to eat.
I want to go back to the community consultation. I'd like to know how many people were invited, if there was transparency, what information they gave about the project financing, if they spoke much about this, and if they conducted a consultation, if there was consensus, if there was voting, or if opinions were bought?
They didn't consult us, they simply told us that they were going to carry out this project. It's not that they were going to come to us to say, 'Do you agree, yes or no?’ – no, they simply came and told us, 'We are going to carry out this project’.
About financing, they told us absolutely nothing, simply that the companies were going to carry out this project with them, leading to us understanding that it is them that are making the effort, and that it is not a project that comes from elsewhere, that it is not financed from elsewhere. What they practically had us understand was that it was them who was carrying out this project.
They simply informed us, nothing more, they did not ask for our opinions. Well, we saw it in a good light because whatever results in reduction of pollution, these are good effects. But what's behind this is what is regrettable, what is damaging, right? It is that these companies give the appearance of doing these projects, but with the goal of making a lot of money, of obtaining huge profits, with the goal that they get given credits, or that their credits are approved in the agencies or in the global funding agencies.
But the reality is that they are not interested in people's health, right? Nor are they interested in the environment, and what they are really most interested in is obtaining huge profits. And, if in order to obtain profits it is necessary to kill farmers, well, they are doing that. It is not that they can do it, but that they have done it and they are going to keep doing it, if there is no change of attitude by the authorities that we have in the state.