By William Fisher
Honduras’s wealthiest businessman is suspected of being heavily involved in importing drugs to his country – and using US “war-on-drugs” money and resources since 2004 to train his private security force to keep his operation secret and to drive peasants off their land to make room for further expansion of his commercial interests.
This is the picture that emerges from several Wikileaks cables, combined with the testimony of a Honduras expert who is a professor at the University of California in Santa Cruz.
The professor is Dr. Dana Frank. She is a recognized authority on Honduras and author of a number of books on the subject.
The Honduran businessman is Miguel Facussé, a biofuels magnate whose private security guards, Frank says, “work closely with the Honduran military and police, which receive generous funding from the United States to fight the war on drugs in the region.”
Frank claims “new Wikileaks cables now reveal that the US embassy in
Honduras—and therefore the State Department—has known since 2004 that Miguel Facussé is a cocaine importer. US ‘drug war’ funds and training, in other words, are being used to support a known drug trafficker’s war against campesinos.”
In an article in The Nation magazine, Frank says Miguel Facussé Barjum, “in the (US) embassy’s words, is ‘the wealthiest, most powerful businessman in the country’, one of the country’s ‘political heavyweights’. The New York Times recently described him as ‘the octogenarian patriarch of one of the handful of families controlling much of Honduras’ economy’.”
Facussé’s nephew, Carlos Flores Facussé, served as president of Honduras from 1998 to 2002. Miguel Facussé’s Dinant corporation is a major producer of palm oil, snack foods, and other agricultural products. He was one of the key supporters of the military coup that deposed democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya on
June 28, 2009.
Prof. Frank explains that Facussé’s power base lies in the lower Aguán Valley, where campesinos originally settled in the 1970s as part of an agrarian reform strategy by the Honduran government, which encouraged hundreds of successful campesino cooperatives and collectives in the region. Beginning in 1992, though, new neoliberal governments began promoting the transfer of their lands to wealthy elites, who were quick to take advantage of state support to intimidate and coerce campesinos into selling, and in some cases to acquire land through outright fraud.
Facussé, the biggest beneficiary by far of these state policies, now claims at least 22,000 acres in the lower Aguán, at least one-fifth of the entire area, much of which he has planted in African palms for an expanding biofuel empire.
Campesino living standards in the region, meanwhile, have eroded dramatically. In December 2009 thousands of organized campesinos began staging collective recuperations of lands in the lower Aguán that they argue were stolen from them, or else legally promised to them by the government through previous agreements or edicts.
The campesinos’ efforts have been met with swift and brutal retaliation.
According to Committee of Families of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras (COFADEH), the independent, highly respected human rights group, at least forty-four have been killed, at least sixteen this past summer alone.
According to a recent statement by Human Rights Watch calling
for investigation, no one has been arrested or prosecuted for any of these
Many of these killings and related attacks have been attributed to Miguel
Facussé’s private security guards, as well those of his associates. Known
locally as sicarios or hired assassins, they wear either plainclothes or Grupo
Dinant uniforms and are reported to number between 200 and 300. Facussé himself admits that on November 15, 2010, his guards shot and killed five campesinos from the MUCA at the El Tumbador community.
A July 2011 report from a joint fact-finding mission from the World Council of Churches, Foodfirst Information and Action Network (FIAN) International, and other international groups on the killings of campesinos in the Aguán, states: “In all cases, according to witnesses and members of the peasant movements, the security guards working for Miguel Facussé and René Morales are seen to be the primary actors,” including in the deaths of three MUCA members on August 17, 2010.
Frank writes that “Alleged assassinations and armed attacks by Facussé’s guards continue. On October 5, Facussé’s security guards allegedly shot at and gravely injured two MUCA members at the San Isidro campesino community, according to FIAN. On October 11 at La Aurora, FIAN and other human rights groups report, at least six security guards on lands claimed by Facussé’s Dinant Corporation, together with police and military forces, shot and killed Santos Serfino Zelaya Ruiz, 33, and opened fire on fifteen women spreading salt, who hid for hours afterwards in the palm trees.”
She continues: “On January 8, 2011, opposition activist and journalist Juan Chinchilla was kidnapped in the Aguán Valley, tortured and interrogated. He escaped after two days and reported in an interview that his captors “almost all wore uniforms of the military, police and private guards of Miguel Facussé.”
A number of Wikileaks cables confirm the US Embassy’s suspicions about Facusse’s drug activities.
One cable, dated March 19, 2004, says, “On March 18, post received initial sketchy information involving the burned wreckage of a twin-engine aircraft in the area of Farallones in the Department of Colon on Honduras's north coast. It does not appear that any aircraft actually crashed on March 18. Upon further investigation, Post learned that the owner of the private property where the wreckage was discovered reported to the National Police on March 17 that an unauthorized plane had used a private airstrip on his property to land on March 16.
National Police responding to his report located the burned wreckage March 18. The property owner reported that his guards had shot at the plane, which then erupted into flames. This version does not track with other information post has developed on this wreckage ….
The Post…provided information to the HAF (Honduran Air Force) March 14 about a known drug trafficking flight with a 1,000 kilo cocaine shipment from Colombia, which resulted in a fruitless air interdiction attempt. Separately, a law enforcement source provided information that the aircraft successfully landed March 14 on the private property of Miguel Facusse, a prominent Honduran, who is one of the nation's wealthiest individuals, leading industrialist, and uncle of former Honduran President Carlos Flores Facusse.
Sources informed the police that the aircraft successfully landed March 14 and its cargo was off-loaded onto a convoy of vehicles that was guarded by about 30 heavily armed men. One source claimed that the property's single caretaker was shot at and fled the scene. The aircraft was then burned on March 14 during daylight hours near the runway. According to a source, a bulldozer/front-end loader buried the wreckage on the evening of March 15.
Based on Miguel Facusse's March 17 report to the National Police (see para. 1), police interviewed several of his employees at the property and residents in the area. It is clear that these witnesses were aware of what had happened but did not report it at the time to police authorities because they were afraid.
A second Embassy cable, published in 2011, notes that Facusse's property is heavily guarded and the prospect that individuals were able to access the property and, without authorization, use the airstrip is questionable. In addition, Facusse's report obviously contradicts other information received from the law enforcement source about the actual date of the event and TAT's intelligence about the March 14 air track.
The source also claimed that Facusse was present on the property at the time of the incident. Finally, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that the HAF was involved in any way with the end result of this air track, except that Post finds it improbable that the HAF interceptor would not have been able to see an aircraft being burned on the ground.
Of additional interest is that this incident marks the third time in the last fifteen months that drug traffickers have been linked to this property owned by Mr. Facusse. In July 2003, a go-fast boat crashed into a sea wall on the same property and engaged in a firefight with National Police forces. Two known drug traffickers were arrested in this incident and 420 kilos of cocaine were recovered. Earlier in the year, another air track terminated at the same property….
On March 30, Honduran authorities confiscated approximately 700 kilos of cocaine and arrested six individuals in the vicinity of Santa Cruz de Yojoa, near Puerto Cortes on Honduras' Caribbean coast. Police arrived in the area as the traffickers were in the process of preparing a false compartment in a Volvo van to transport the cocaine overland. Apart from the some 125 kilos discovered in the van, a search of the property yielded another approximately 575 kilos.
Police were alerted to the situation through a confidential informant. A high ranking official within the SIPDIS Ministry of Public Security speculated the cocaine may have come from the plane discovered March 18 burned and buried on the property of Miguel Facusse, a prominent Honduran businessman.
The US State Department has declined comment on this report.