Posts Tagged ‘Zacate Grande’

Who really benefits from Honduras’ Model Cities?

October 25, 2014

An article by Erika Piquero, former PROAH volunteer, published on Latin Correspondent

The Honduran government’s website for Zones for Economic Development and Employment (ZEDEs) boasts promises of bountiful investment and employment opportunities.

These ZEDEs, commonly referred to as ciudades modelos – model or charter cities – are promoted by the government as free trade zones that will generate attractive foreign and national investment opportunities, coupled with legislative and governance systems that will offer substantial freedom: ZEDEs will have their own legislative systems. In a report regarding ZEDEs, the National Lawyers Guild maintains that “ZEDEs represent a significant expansion of free trade zones in that they facilitate the creation of autonomous privatized city-states designed to exist independently from the legal, administrative and social systems of the Honduran state.”

ZEDEs have gained support from free market enthusiasts and proponents of neoliberal development policies, especially libertarians who are eager to see their ideas put into practice. The ZEDEs are promoted as an opportunity to overcome some of the problems plaguing Honduras: poverty, social crisis, underdevelopment and so on.

Yet this plan, though it may seem innocuous to some, is not seen as a positive one among many Hondurans, especially rural and indigenous communities. Communities that have already been affected by plans for ZEDEs have read between the lines and see a more sinister side of these plans.

An ocean view looking out from Zacate Grande, where developers want to build one of Honduras' model cities. Photo: Erika Piquero

Decades of Land Struggle

The community of Zacate Grande, an island in Honduras’ Pacific Gulf of Fonseca (now connected to the mainland via a highway constructed in the 1970s), has dealt directly with the effects of ZEDEs as part of a decades-long territorial struggle.

The area was uninhabited until the 1920s, when indigenous Hondurans moved there. According to Honduran law, if uncultivated lands are occupied and worked for a minimum period of years, community land titles can subsequently be earned. However, this has not happened for the people of Zacate Grande.

To this day, Zacate Grande’s residents do not have land titles. They were promised under former President Zelaya, but the promise went unfulfilled after he was overthrown in the 2009 coup d’état, and the decree was declared unconstitutional in 2011.

Meanwhile, the community has been subject to the whims of a handful of wealthy Hondurans, who are eager to develop the lands in Zacate Grande for tourism, private vacation homes and (more recently) ZEDEs.

Some of the biggest names interested in the scenic waterfront lands of Zacate Grande are Miguel Facusse (owner of the Dinant Corporation) and his son-in-law Fredy Nasser. The terratenientes (large land holders) have been accused of forging land titles to ‘prove’ ownership, destroying the local ecosystem and engaging in numerous strategies to threaten and intimidate Zacate Grande’s community members off of their lands.

A sign in Zacate Grande: "Welcome to TK land, a zone free of big landowners." Photo: Erika Piquero

Land issues like this can be found throughout Honduras, following frighteningly similar patterns, especially among the Garifuna communities in northern Honduras and inhabitants of the Bajo Aguan region. According to University of California, Santa Cruz history professor Dana Frank, “you can see the pattern all over the country of these corporations and domestic Honduran elites using state security forces and private armies of security guards to intimidate indigenous people, afro-indigenous people and campesinos out of their lands.”

The Reality of Ciudades Modelos

In 2013, the Honduran government passed legislation allowing the corporations and individuals funding the ZEDEs to dictate the entire structural organization of the zone, including laws, tax structure, healthcare system, education and security forces. This kind of flexibility is unprecedented even in similar models around the world. More recently, specific zones have been identified for the implementation of the first ciudad modelo.

However, ZEDE law does not protect basic rights like Habeas Corpus, the inviolable right to life, freedom of religion, protection for free press and freedom from non-legal detainment, among many others. There is a blatant lack of transparency within the ZEDE structure, and it can even be imposed upon unwilling inhabitants under legislation recently passed in Honduras.

In a country where most citizens already lack political power, the potential implications of this are alarming. Daniel Langmeier, a human rights observer with experience in Honduras, notes: “We already have a state of defenselessness where laws and institutions are failing to protect citizens. Now, you get rid of those laws and the situation will spiral out of control, into true lawlessness.”

The Honduran state is actively surrendering Honduran sovereignty itself, allowing corporations and individuals to circumvent Honduran laws, while marginalized groups that already experience threats and extreme violence will face even greater threats of human rights violations.

A piece of street art reads  "Without Model Cities." Photo: Erika Piquero

Potential Violations of International Law

Rather than fulfilling promises of economic opportunities, ciudades modelos actually pose serious threats to human rights and indigenous rights in Honduras – which are already concerns in the current Honduran context.

Honduras has ratified both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). In doing so, it is obligated to uphold its citizens’ right to self-determination and property rights. However, the recent legislature permitting advancement of ZEDEs is poised to violate both of these rights.

Additionally, Honduras has ratified the ILO’s Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples and has signed the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, indicating an obligation to engage in free, prior and informed consent of indigenous groups when legislative issues might affect them. The Honduran government has failed to do this in many recent cases, and the increased lawlessness that ZEDEs bring will exacerbate this situation.

Dire and Deadly

What can be done? U.S. citizens should be having a public conversation about what is happening in Honduras, and the role that the U.S. government and foreign policy (and the lack of transparency around it) is playing. Media coverage and portrayal of the Honduran situation should be challenged and responsible, investigative journalism should accurately represent the Honduran situation.

There should also be greater awareness within the U.S. of citizens involved in the ZEDEs themselves: Michael Reagan (Ronald Reagan’s son), Grover Norquist, and others join the Committee for the Adoption of Best Practices for the Honduran ZEDEs.

There is an urgent need to strengthen human rights defense efforts in Honduras and for U.S. citizens to hold their government responsible for its foreign policy in Honduras and the region. The international community must remain vigilant and support those people and communities suffering these devastating impacts.

Erika Piquero was an international human rights accompanier with PROAH in Honduras from March to May 2014. PROAH provides international accompaniment to human rights defenders who find themselves under threat or harassment due to their individual and collective human rights work in an environment of repression and political persecution. For more information about the organization, please see their website.

Residents of Zacate Grande reject declarations by the Dinant Corporation in La Tribuna newspaper

January 23, 2012

Residents of Zacate Grande reject declarations by the Dinant Corporation in La Tribuna newspaper

Last week, members of the Movimiento de Recuperación y Titulación de la Tierra y Liberación de las Playas de Zacate Grande (Movement for the Recovery and Titling of the Land and Liberation of the Beaches of Zacate Grande) were made aware of an article published in the Honduran daily La Tribuna on Sunday, 15 January, 2012. The article stated that the Dinant Corporation had given land titles to various leaders of the movement, who were named in the article. The group rejects these claims in a public statement published here on the blog on 19 January, 2012. The statement reiterates that the leaders mentioned in the Tribuna article have not benefited from said individual land titles, and that, according to them, the Dinant Corporation is not the legitimate owner of the land and therefore not qualified to hand over such titles. The Movement considers the article to be a clear attempt to deepen existing divisions and create additional rifts among the residents of peninsula of Zacate Grande, located in on the Gulf of Fonseca on the Pacific coast of Honduras, and to sow doubt in the national population with respect to the true nature of the struggle for land on the peninsula.

Communal shrimp farms on Zacate Grande. September, 2011.

The article published 15 January also refers to an “Association of Youth Environmental Reporters” with a website listed as [which on the date of this posting, 23 January, 2012, was not yet online]. Youth reporters with the community radio La Voz de Zacate Grande (The Voice of Zacate Grande), who created and manage the radio station as part of the Asociación para el Desarrollo de la Península de Zacate Grande (Association for the Development of the Peninsula of Zacate Grande, ADEPZA) believe that the creation of the parallel organization mentioned in the Tribuna article can be interpreted as an effort to confuse the Honduran population and make them think that the youth at the radio station, and ADEPZA, are in favour of the activities of the Dinant Corporation on Zacate Grande. They stated to PROAH that they are concerned that the formation of this parallel group of young people will serve to try to whitewash the image of the Dinant Corporation and its owner Miguel Facussé in their region, nationally, and internationally.

Reporters with The Voice of Zacate Grande receive ID cards from the Ministry of Security identifying them as recipients of precautionary measures from the IACHR. September, 2011.

Reporters at The Voice of Zacate Grande have been granted precautionary measures from the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) due to the insecurity they have experienced as a result of their work as human rights defenders in the region, defending the right to freedom of expression and the right to land. The radio is located on recovered land in the village of Puerto Grande known as Playa Julián (Julián Beach). These lands are referred to in the Tribuna article as the subject of a lotification project to increase the town limits of Puerto Grande. If such a lotification process were to take place where the radio station is located, it would be in violation of the current precautionary measures granted by the IACHR, which cover the physical location of the radio station. Campesinos on the peninsula are afraid that the land conflict could intensify again in the next rainy season. In their experience, during this season, after planting, they have suffered more direct attacks against them as individuals and the lands they have cultivated and consider to be communally owned by all legitimate residents of Zacate Grande.

Residents of Zacate Grande travel to the Island of Amapala, where the local courthouse is located. May, 2011.

ADEPZA was waiting for communal land titles to be granted for their communal lands under decree 18-2008, a law created under the government of Manuel Zelaya that stipulated a process for land expropriation in cases where unused land had been occupied and cultivated by campesinos for a minimum number of years. According to members of ADEPZA, they received notice from the Instituto Nacional Agraria (National Agrarian Institute, INA) days before the coup d’état on 28 June, 2009 that there titles were only missing one official signature. After the coup, however, they were not able to acquire those titles. The decree was eventually declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2011 after an appeal was filed by the Federación Nacional de Agricultores y Ganaderos de Honduras (National Federation of Agriculturalists and Ranchers, FENAGH).

According to its website, the Dinant Corporation was founded in 1957 by businessman Miguel Facussé Barjum. The company has been implicated in various cases of human rights violations by various international human rights organizations, particularly in the lower Aguán Valley in the north of Honduras, but also on the peninsula of Zacate Grande.

PROAH has accompanied the Association for the Development of the Peninsula of Zacate Grande (ADEPZA) since January 2011. All fotos by PROAH.

The statement below was original published in Spanish here.


Movimiento de Recuperación y titulación de las Tierras y Liberación de las playas de Zacate Grande (Movement for the Recovery and Titling of the Land and Liberation of the Beaches of Zacate Grande) – Directorate-General of campesino groups

Through the coup-supporting media, Facusse is trying to cover up his campaign of death and dispossession waged against the people of Zacate Grande

To the people of Honduras

To social, indigenous, popular, rights and campesino movements

To alternative and community media

To human rights organisations, national and international

Friends and colleagues. As is public knowledge, the media octopuses continue to legitimise (according to them) attacks on the people, and being used as the big landowners’ intermediaries, as in the case of La Tribuna newspaper and Miguel Facusse Barjum.

On Sunday 15 January, in one of La Tribuna’s many publications, Miguel Facusse made use of his family ties to the newspaper’s owner to publish a flattering article on his wildlife park (which is what the Zacate Grande Peninsula has been converted into, according to the article), thereby covering up the manhunt unleashed against the country’s campesinos, smearing the region’s leaders by stating that in 2010 they were the beneficiaries of the fourth round of granting land title, and threatening through this newspaper a fifth round of granting land titles, which this time would entail subdividing the land in the community of Puerto Grande, in the areas known as El Curil and Playa Julián. Such a move would lead to a confrontation even more intense than the one on 22 August 2010, when employees of Facusse wanted to take possession of the land that we campesinos had sown.

We reject Facusse’s statements as published in the article:

1 – It states that species such as the macaw, iguana, and white-tailed deer are released into the wild by this businessman. This is not true, as he keeps them in captivity to be used as he sees fit.

2 – We reject Facusse’s argument that there would be no wild species if it were not for the breeding centres. The Zacate Grande Peninsula by tradition and by its very nature provides habitats for different kinds of animals and, contrary to what he says, breeding centres have never been necessary. In reality, his son Mauricio Facusse has been the most destructive force that the wild area has known, in practising his favourite sport of hunting white-tailed deer.

3 – We reject the argument that Facusse is creating jobs, particularly as far as women are concerned. As of some years now he has fired the few local people he employed, because he distrusted even his own guards. In reality, no kind of work or source of employment created in his tourist complex benefits the people in the area, as he now imports his workers from other regions.

4 – We reject the statement that leaders Pedro Canales, Antonio Zerón, Benito Pérez, Danilo Corrales, Lolo Chirinos y Mariana Posadas benefited from receiving land titles under the fourth round supposedly granting these deeds.


In 2005, Facusse took advantage of a period when there were talks between him and Zacate Grande’s campesino leaders to take over the access routes to the top of El Cerro (The Hill), as his lawyers requested a remeasurement of half of El Cerro, and once this had been carried out, he put wire fences across all the lanes and erected signs saying ‘Propiedad privada, prohibido el paso’ (‘Private property – keep out’).

It is true that some title deeds were granted, but the price paid for these documents was:

  • The arrest and imprisonment of 12 campesinos on 13 April 2005. They were taken away in the early morning, their houses surrounded by over 150 police officers from the department of Valle, who then transferred them to Nacaome Prison, by order of that municipality’s court.
  • The eviction of the Cárcamo family from Playa Las Gaviotas (Seagull Beach) in 2002.
  • Eviction of Doña Mariana Posadas’ family in Puerto Grande in 2008.
  • Legal proceedings against over 60 campesinos for the crime of land theft, with the result that they are still subject to alternative measures [medidas sustitutivas – that is, alternative to prison] imposed by the court in Amapala.
  • The constant persecution of the people of Zacate Grande by Facusse’s guards.

WE CONDEMN Miguel Facusse’s malicious campaign, seeking to monopolise the young people of the Communities of Zacate Grande, with whom he is now forming an Association of Young Environmental Reporters of Zacate Grande (Asociación de Jóvenes Comunicadores Ambientalistas de Zacate Grande) with the sole aim of widening the divisions between the people and discrediting the fight for land.

We are a movement of men and women who are fighting, with many ideas but also with clear and specific objectives – Recovering and Titling the Land and Liberating the Beaches of Zacate Grande. We therefore do not accept any smears targeted at our colleagues, nor Facusse’s dirty publicity campaigns, under which he grants land titles which he does not have, and never has had.






Movimiento de Recuperación y Titulación de la Tierra y Liberación de las Playas de Zacate Grande, 19 January 2012