Activists accuse World Bank of deadly dealings in Honduras

05/01/2014 01:39

WASHINGTON — A recent political coup. Drug trafficking. One of the world’s highest murder rates. With attributes like those, Honduras may not sound like an easy sell for international investment.

But that hasn't dissuaded the World Bank, whose mission is to encourage development in the countries that need it most.

The bank’s private lending arm, the International Finance Corporation, is spearheading several multimillion-dollar projects in Honduras, one of the poorest countries in the Americas. However, some are questioning whether the money is doing more harm than good.

Human rights groups accuse the IFC of ignoring warnings that its funding for the Honduran palm oil industry is helping fuel a deadly land conflict that’s turning the fertile Aguan Valley near the country’s northern coast into a virtual military zone.

Farmworkers say they’ve been forced off land that’s mostly taken up by oil palm tree plantations. The controversy is casting doubts about whether the bank and its 182 member countries can respect their own code of ethics while doing business in politically unstable, corrupt societies.

Concerns about the social and environmental impacts of the IFC’s investment in Honduras have triggered an internal investigation that activists are anxiously awaiting.

“It’s going to be very sensitive,” says Peter Chowla, coordinator of the London-based Bretton Woods Project, which monitors World Bank projects. “We’re talking probably explosive findings of the IFC’s continuing support after they knew death squads were operating in the region.”

Hondurans describe a state of terror in the Aguan Valley, according to testimony recorded by Rights Action, the International Federation for Human Rights and other advocacy groups. They say police, military and landowners’ security forces are working together to blockade roads, burn farmers’ homes and hunt down, torture and murder land activists, lawyers and journalists.

At least 92 people have been killed in land disputes in the Aguan Valley between 2009 and 2012, most of them land activists, according to the country’s human rights commissioner.

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