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Massive UN-Supported African Palm Plantations Leading to Oppression, Kidnapping and Murder

The promise of carbon credits and free money from schemes like the U.N.-backed Clean Development Mechanism, appear to be among the causes of renewed violence.

Since the 2009 coup that overthrew the government of President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras, the countryside of the lower Aguan Valley, a long embattled region and one of Central America's richest agricultural areas, has undergone a brutal rash of kidnappings, murders, detentions and intimidation.

The region has been long marked by conflicts over land and land reform; but today in the Aguan Valley -- prime real estate for plantations of African palm -- the stakes have increased dramatically. With the global biofuel rush, and with the expansion of carbon markets, which can provide massive underwriting for projects that appear "green," but in many cases may be anything but, the promise of carbon credits and free money from climate-financing schemes like the U.N.-backed Clean Development Mechanism, appear to be among the causes of renewed violence.

A signal occurrence was the recent kidnapping of a local campesino (peasant farmer) named Juan Chinchilla. Chinchilla is a leader of the Unified Peasant Movement of the Aguan (MUCA in its Spanish acronym) and a member of the National Front of Popular Resistance (FNRP), a movement that rose up after the 2009 coup that ousted President Zelaya. On January 8, Chinchilla was on the road when his motorcycle was fired on. He was quickly taken captive by men identified as wearing police and military uniforms and uniforms of the private security guards of Miguel Facussé, a Honduran businessman who owns vast plantations of African palm in the Aguan Valley.

By the time Chinchilla managed to escape two days later, he had been burned and beaten, though suffered no critical injuries. When he was interviewed, Chinchilla said his captors included "several foreigners who spoke English, and another language I didn't recognize." When asked why he thought he'd been kidnapped, Chinchilla said, "We're in a war with the landowners. We know that our enemies are Miguel Facussé, Rene Morales, and Reinaldo Cabales, and that the government sides with them, not with the people."

In poring over accounts from the Aguan Valley, including frequent reports by Italian journalist Giorgio Trucchi who has been in the Aguan during much of the past year, the name Facussé comes up again and again. A widely known figure in Honduras, Facussé owns thousands of hectares of African palm, among the fastest-growing biofuel feedstock crops. His agribusiness consortium, Grupo Dinant, has reportedly received millions of dollars from International Financial Institutions. If its registration is approved in coming weeks, one of Grupo Dinant's key projects will become the latest of about sixteen projects in Honduras -- including hydroelectric dams, biomass electricity, and methane capture projects -- to receive financing under the Clean Development Mechanism.

What Is The Clean Development Mechanism?

The Clean Development Mechanism, or CDM, is a policy approach to mitigating climate pollution built into the Kyoto Protocol, and likely to be extended under the recently signed Cancun Agreements. When the Kyoto Protocol mandated that signatories reduce their domestic emissions by an average of 5 percent below 1990 levels in the period 2008-2012, industrialized countries saw the challenge as too great to undertake through actually cutting emissions, so several market-based "flexible mechanisms" were developed. One of these market-based mechanisms, the CDM, was designed to allow industrialized countries to reduce emissions wherever in the world those reductions are cheapest, and then count those reductions toward their national target.

In theory, the CDM works like this: an investor from an industrialized country, or an industrialized country government, can provide financing for a project in a developing country that reduces greenhouse gas emissions compared to what would have happened without the CDM. The investor then gets credits toward meeting their Kyoto target. Third-party consultants are hired to validate that the projects being funded will actually result in reduced emissions in relation to what might have happened in the absence of CDM funding. Such an approach, byzantine as it may be to actually implement, monitor, and oversee, is lustily perceived by green investors as a "win-win."

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