Honduras  |  LANDS





With Marco Ramiro Lobo

SABMiller lands expropriated

Strong pressures to withdraw resolution


SABMiller makes the news once again in Latin America, this time in Honduras. Last May, the National Agriculture Institute (INA), by resolution 050-2012, expropriated some 6,600 hectares of land held by the sugar mills Azucarera del Norte SA (Azunosa) and Compañía Azucarera Hondureña SA (Cahsa), for failing to legally and duly apply for an extension of the landholding ceiling established under the Agrarian Reform Act. One of the companies affected by this decision is the transnational corporation SABMiller, which in Honduras owns the Azunosa mill and the Cervecería Hondureña SA brewery. SIREL spoke with Marco Ramiro Lobo, head of the legal division at INA, to learn about the process leading up to this decision and the reaction of the British-South African transnational corporation.


-How did the INA arrive at the decision to expropriate the lands of these huge sugar mills?

-In November 2011 we met with sugar industry companies and came to an agreement to inspect the lands held by them. All the companies in the industry accepted this and in 2012 we began the process of examining and regularizing the lands owned by the companies Azunosa and Cahsa, whose mills are located in Valle de Sula.


Upon completing our examination we found that they exceeded the landholding limits established by the Agrarian Reform Act and did not have the authorizations necessary to hold land above the mandatory ceilings established under this law.


-How large a landholding are we talking about?

-In Valle de Sula, the maximum ceiling for landholding is 200 hectares, however Azunosa owns a little over 10,000 hectares, under an authorization to exceed the legal ceiling in up to some 6,000 hectares. Cahsa was in a similar situation.


When we detected these irregularities we immediately issued a resolution ordering the expropriation of the hectares that exceeded the authorization to go above the ceiling - that is, 3,644 hectares in Azunosa’s case and 2,969 hectares in Cahsa’s case. Pursuant to the Agrarian Reform Act, lands expropriated under this provision are then assigned for agrarian reform purposes.

SABMiller is trying to stop rural families from going into these lands or driving them out using private security guards who are heavily armed and have turned into a private army.


-Who owns these two companies?

-Because they are corporations they are under no obligation to reveal who their owners are, only their administrators, who were found to be Honduran individuals.


However, when we moved to enforce the expropriation, Azunosa appeared before the INA to file an appeal, which was accompanied by a document that stated that Azunosa was owned by the British-South African corporation SABMiller.


Moreover, Azunosa representatives invoked a treaty between the United Kingdom and Honduras, whereby Honduras undertook to protect British companies that operated in the country.


-What was SABMiller’s reaction?

-It reacted very strongly. In the days following the expropriation several SABMiller officers and British diplomats came to the INA, claiming that these lands could not be expropriated because they were British-owned.


Ever since the expropriation resolution was issued, SABMiller has been waging a media campaign aimed at discrediting the INA and its officers, with the argument that we are acting against foreign investment in the country, driving investors away, generating instability and encouraging land occupations.


We have been strongly pressured [to go back on our resolution] by the Honduran Private Business Council (COHEP), the National Federation of Agriculture and Livestock Producers (FENAGH) and the National Association of Industrialists (ANDI). SABMiller went as far as threatening to leave the country and take its investment to El Salvador.


-Do you think this resolution does in fact harm Honduras?

-Our position is that the law must be applied in general and our actions have to follow the law, regardless of who the land belongs to. In this case we’re applying relevant provisions of the Agrarian Reform Act and the Agricultural Industry Modernization Act.


-What stage is the process of expropriation at?

-The resolution is now before the National Agrarian Council (CNA), which is the INA’s highest instance, and we’re waiting for it to rule.


-Meanwhile, hundreds of rural families have “recovered” these lands and are being cleared out, arrested or threatened with arrest…

-We’ve spoken with these groups and we’ve explained that until there is a final resolution from the CNA, these lands are not considered expropriated and can’t be assigned to them.


What alarms us is that SABMiller is trying to stop rural families from going into these lands or driving them out using private security guards who are heavily armed and have turned into a private army.



From Tegucigalpa,  Giorgio Trucchi


August 7. 2012






Photo: Giorgio Trucchi



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