Col­or­ful, ruth­less Honduran ty­coon

Los Angeles Times - - OBITUARIES - By Tracy Wilkin­son tracy.wilkin­son@latimes.com

Miguel Fa­cusse, an old­school ty­coon and one of the rich­est men in Honduras, felt ex­tremely com­fort­able in his pow­er­ful skin. So much so that his aides left him alone for nearly six hours with a Los An­ge­les Times re­porter for a wide- rang­ing in­ter­view in 2012.

The aides might have felt some cha­grin later, when The Times quoted Fa­cusse talk­ing about hid­ing the gun he usu­ally kept on his desk so that the re­porter wouldn’t see it. And when he said that he “prob­a­bly had rea­sons to kill” a prom­i­nent hu­man rights lawyer who had been mur­dered, but in­sisted “I’m no killer.”

Fa­cusse, a col­or­ful, of­ten ruth­less and enor­mously suc­cess­ful en­tre­pre­neur, died Mon­day in the Honduran cap­i­tal of Tegucigalpa, his food- pro­cess­ing com­pany, Di­nant Corp., an­nounced on its web­site. He was 90. A cause of death was not given.

As part of a gen­er­a­tion that ran im­pov­er­ished Honduras like a pri­vate fief­dom, Fa­cusse was not shy about throw­ing his weight around, ad­vis­ing pres­i­dents, U.S. am­bas­sadors and the mil­i­tary. Some in Honduras say that it was of­ten Fa­cusse call­ing the shots.

And as Honduras in re­cent years de­scended into wide­spread deadly vi­o­lence, po­lit­i­cal chaos and so­cial dis­as­ter, Fa­cusse and his se­cu­rity guards were re­peat­edly ac­cused by hu­man rights groups of re­spon­si­bil- ity in bru­tal land grabs and clashes with peasants. Scores of peo­ple have been re­ported killed in the vast Lower Aguan Val­ley in north­east­ern Honduras, much of it con­trolled by Fa­cusse and Di­nant.

The vi­o­lence and his pos­si­ble role in it cost Fa­cusse nu­mer­ous World Bank loans and other in­ter­na­tional fi­nanc­ing that he said had helped build his busi­ness em­pire.

Born Aug. 14, 1924, in Teguci- galpa, Fa­cusse was the son of Beth­le­hem- born Pales­tinian Chris­tians who came to Cen­tral Amer­ica in the early 1900s.

Ed­u­cated at Notre Dame in In­di­ana, he worked in the avi­a­tion in­dus­try in var­i­ous Cen­tral Amer­i­can coun­tries be­fore re­turn­ing to Honduras to launch the busi­ness that would make him mil­lions man­u­fac­tur­ing and mar­ket­ing snack prod­ucts, de­ter­gents and, most re­cently, bio­fu­els such as African palm oil.

“I have been a very suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man,” he told The Times.

And a light­ning rod for badly po­lar­ized Honduras.

As for the ac­cu­sa­tions from hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions, Fa­cusse said he had been made a scape­goat by peo­ple with an ide­o­log­i­cally mo­ti­vated agenda.

He ac­knowl­edged that his pri­vate jet was used to re­move the Honduran for­eign min­is­ter from Honduras against her will as part of a coup un­seat­ing the pres­i­dent in 2009. But he said the pi­lot was a mil­i­tary man and acted with­out his knowl­edge.

He con­firmed as­ser­tions made in leaked U. S. diplo­matic ca­bles that planes car­ry­ing co­caine for Mex­i­can and Colom­bian drug traf­fick­ers were land­ing on his farm­land. But he said he was work­ing to stop it.

The hu­man rights lawyer whom Fa­cusse de­nied killing was An­to­nio Trejo, who was locked in nu­mer­ous le­gal bat­tles with Di­nant on be­half of peas­ant farm­ing co­op­er­a­tives. Also an evan­gel­i­cal preacher, Trejo was cut down by six bul­lets in Septem­ber 2012 as he left a Tegucigalpa church. He had re­ceived death threats and had pub­licly stated that if any­thing ever hap­pened to him, Fa­cusse would be re­spon­si­ble.

For­mer U. S. Rep. Howard L. Ber­man took the un­usual step of sin­gling out Fa­cusse in a 2012 let­ter to then- Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton, urg­ing that aid be cut to hu­man rights abusers in Honduras.

For all his wealth, Fa­cusse main­tained a folksy de­meanor with visi­tors and a rel­a­tively mod­est of­fice in his cor­po­ra­tion’s Tegucigalpa head­quar­ters. There were no TVs or com­put­ers, and a credenza was packed with fam­ily photos.

He clearly com­manded the re­spect of his em­ploy­ees. At one point, as he gave The Times re­porter a tour of the com­pound, he en­tered a room and ev­ery­one im­me­di­ately stood.

The Di­nant state­ment praised Fa­cusse as a “pi­o­neer” and “a man with an un­break­able spirit” who had cre­ated thou­sands of jobs in Cen­tral Amer­ica and greatly ex­panded the con­sumer mar­ket. He “would take the pulse of the world ev­ery morn­ing, and be­fore his eyes see an in­ter­minable pa­rade of op­por­tu­ni­ties, for him­self and his coun­try.”

Com­plete in­for­ma­tion on his sur­vivors was not im­me­di­ately avail­able, but Fa­cusse was known to have sev­eral chil­dren, grand­chil­dren, nieces and neph­ews, in­clud­ing one who once served as pres­i­dent of Honduras.

Tracy Wilkin­son Los An­ge­les Times

POW­ER­FUL EN­TRE­PRE­NEUR Miguel Fa­cusse was part of a gen­er­a­tion that ran Honduras

like a pri­vate f ief­dom.

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