Mining megaproject illegally built on land destined for agrarian reform

Between 2017 and 2022, representatives of Inversiones Los Pinares, acting in complicity with officials from the administration of Juan Orlando Hernández – including Ramón Lara Bueso, former director of the National Agrarian Institute (INA), and Ilsa Lorena Torres, former congressional candidate from the Libre Party – illegally obtained title deeds of land destined for agrarian reform to build part of a mining megaproject, which has caused an environmental conflict that still has consequences for the municipality of Tocoa, northern Honduras.

Text: Fernando Silva

Jennifer Ávila contributed to this report
Photography: Fernando Destephen

Cover: Catherine Calderón


A complaint filed to the Attorney General’s Office by the Municipal Committee for the Protection of Public Goods (Comité Municipal de Defensa de los Bienes Comunes y Públicos – CMDBCP) on June 11 represents yet another irregular activity of Los Pinares, a company that owns a mining megaproject in the Colón department, northern Honduras. Between 2017 and 2022, as sanctioned by the previous and current administrations, Inversiones Los Pinares purchased 12 plots of land which had been previously adjudicated to eight people within the framework of the Agrarian Reform Law (Ley de Reforma Agraria) and should therefore be acquired for that purpose.

Some of those plots of land did not meet the criteria to be adjudicated by INA, and Inversiones Los Pinares used them to develop the mining megaproject in the Carlos Escaleras National Park instead of using them to reduce poverty and boost food security.

Inversiones Los Pinares leveraged the influence of its close associates and benefitted from the mediation of corrupt public officials from the previous and current administrations. This is how the company purchased plots of land originally intended for agrarian reform.

Security guard who helped build a mining empire

Allan Edgardo Escobar Navarro, born in 1989, bought a property in the Villa Florencia neighborhood of San Pedro Sula in 2018 and works as  a security guard in that city, according to the National System for the Management of Property (Sistema Nacional de la Administración de la Propiedad). He took out a 645,000 lempira mortgage to buy that property, with Lenir Pérez acting as guarantor, which suggests they have a trusting relationship.

But title deeds of five properties that INA adjudicated to Navarro in 2021, under the framework of agrarian reform, say he’s a farmer with residence in Tocoa, Colón department. In April 2022, he irregularly sold those properties to Inversiones Los Pinares.

To act in compliance with the agrarian law, Navarro had to use that land exclusively for agriculture. However, once he acquired the five plots of land, vegetation was completely removed in two of them and partially removed in the rest, which constitutes a violation of that law.



Navarro bought the land from INA for 686,657 lempiras, and sold it to Inversiones Los Pinares for 22.1 million lempiras only six months later, even though there were no visible improvements and no constructions were reported to the Property Registry.

Plots of land adjudicated by the National Agrarian Institute (INA) to Allan Navarro in October 2021.

People behind the legal process were instrumental in Navarro’s acquisition of those plots of land. The transaction, in which Inversiones Los Pinares was allegedly not involved, was conducted by Jorge Luis Ramos Navarro (employee of the company who was summoned as its legal representative by the Secretariat of Economic Development in November 2023), and witnessed by Ilsa Lorena Torres Matamoros, a notary public and then Atlántida’s congressional candidate from the Libre party. In 2022, Torres unsuccessfully sought an appointment as magistrate of Honduras’ Supreme Court and is now a member of the Honduran Bar Association’s (Colegio de Abogados de Honduras) board of directors.


In 2021, when Torres was a congressional candidate, she took part in Contracorriente’s platform “A quién elijo” (Whom do I vote for) in which she talked about her policy goals: the environment, parks, green areas and land management. She also said she opposed mining under the conditions it was taking place at the time, which haven’t changed.


Ramón Lara Bueso, then director of INA, played a critical role in the transaction since he signed the deed, adjudicating the plots of land to Navarro. He was appointed as director of the institution in 2015 and accused in 2018 by UFECIC and MACCIH of embezzling more than 282 million lempiras from the Secretariat of Agriculture and Livestock (SAG).


The investigation revealed that a criminal network comprising congressional representatives and public officials (current and former) funneled funds to their personal accounts and political campaigns. In the case of Lara, the Attorney General’s Office charged him with money laundering for allegedly receiving close to 6 million lempiras from Fundación Todos Somos Honduras for no justification. However, Lara and 22 other persons were acquitted by the judiciary branch’s appeals court in August 2020.


Lara was mayor of the municipality of Las Vegas, Santa Bárbara department, and coordinator of Juan Orlando Hernández’s first electoral campaign in that region. Now, after being charged and then acquitted, he’s still in the business of producing and exporting coffee, and has managed the hotel La Casa de Don Juan in Las Vegas since 2023.


In a telephone interview with Contracorriente, Lara said he doesn’t remember that particular adjudication, but “the Aguán is a conflictive region” and “such reactions always follow those decisions.” Although his name appears on the writings attested by the notary public, he says he upheld the adjudication because he considered INA’s regional office, the General Secretariat and the Land Titling Department had ensured the process was in compliance with the law.


Regarding the prohibition against the use of land for non-agricultural activities, Lara said that after an adjudication, INA no longer oversees land use or to whom the properties are sold. The Property Registry “should ensure” that the buyer uses the land in accordance with the agrarian reform. Although the goal of the reform is to guarantee food security for the population, INA has granted title deeds to energy companies, he said.


Onil Toledo – who was head of land regularization at the Property Registry when Inversiones Los Pinares bought the plots of lands from Navarro – says the title deed does not specify any ownership limitations. This is why INA was not able to determine if the properties were destined for agrarian reform or had to be used exclusively for agriculture.


Another irregularity was found before the transaction in 2017, when Inversiones Los Pinares included three plots of land, which INA later adjudicated to Navarro, in an environmental evaluation with the aim of requesting a permit for a pellet plant as part of the mining project. Moreover, the company built two buildings on land which Navarro had newly acquired and still owned, according to satellite images from 2022.


In July 2017, before those transactions took place, Navarro submitted documents on behalf of Grupo Empresas Corporativas S.A. – where Pérez is an associate and acted as representative and president of the management board until February 2024 – to purchase the island Bell’s Cay, Islas de la Bahía department, for $800,000.


One of the legal requirements for purchasing land to INA is to have a regular occupation in agriculture. However, it’s not clear if both Navarro’s occupations, security guard and farmer, constitute an illegality.


Contracorriente sought references of Navarro from municipal authorities, members of civil society, members of the campesino movement and people from the community, but none of them said they knew him.

An open meeting of the council (cabildo abierto) at the Instituto Froylán Turcios in which communities discussed whether to approve Grupo Emco’s energy project Planta Ecotek. Tocoa, Colón department. December 2023. Photo CC/Fernando Destephen

Relationship between Lenir Pérez and the Castro administration


On November 16, 2023, the Secretariat of Economic Development inquired with Inversiones Los Pinares’s legal representative, Jorge Luis Ramos Navarro, about the lack of exports, considering the company “is not exporting goods nor receiving a revenue,” which raises the question: how can the company pay its employees?


Inversiones Los Pinares is a Honduran company and part of business conglomerate Grupo EMCO – owned by Lenir Pérez and his wife Ana Facussé – which carried out mining activities in the Carlos Escaleras National Park under a concession until January 2024.


The company has allegedly influenced institutions through its association with public officials from different administrations, generated violence in communities close to the project and encouraged the criminalization of environmental defenders.


The complaint filed by the Committee for the Protection of Public Goods is yet another phase of irregular actions by the company.


According to the Modernization and Agricultural Development Bill (Ley para la Modernización y el Desarrollo del Sector Agrícola), Navarro was not allowed to sell the properties unless the buyer is a farmer and would use the land for agriculture. Despite this, Navarro sold the five plots of land, which have a total area of 74 hectares, to Inversiones Los Pinares for 22.1 million lempiras on April 22, 2022, only six months after purchasing them from INA.


Owners of properties purchased from INA, the law stipulates, have the obligation to use the land for agriculture and guarantee the efficient use of natural resources – objectives which would be far from attainable if the mining project is allowed and iron is extracted from a national park. Additionally, per Article 70 of the bill, buyers who intend to register their property should ensure that conditions of sale are met.


Once again, the influence of Pérez on the Property Registry could explain why the illegal transaction was allowed.


Shortly after Navarro acquired the plots of land, Honduras held elections, which saw Xiomara Castro from the Libre party win the presidency. She promised to review irregularities in contracts involving Pérez’s other companies and ban open-pit mining in the country.


What seemed like an uphill battle for Pérez was eased by the newly acquired political power of his associates. For example, Tomás Vaquero – associate and husband of Lourdes Pamela Blanco, lawyer and notary public who has been providing legal services to dozens of Pérez’s companies since 2020 – was appointed head of the Secretariat of Governance, Justice and Decentralization. Vaquero also served on the management board of the Property Registry, which approved the sale of Navarro’s properties to Inversiones Los Pinares.


On May 30, President Castro announced an intervention in the Property Registry after finding alleged irregularities in the allocation of 1 billion lempiras between June 15, 2022, and July 2023. Castro said there are complaints about the illegal registration of property and vehicles which is why the institution will be audited. Following her announcement, the Technical Criminal Investigation Agency (Agencia Técnica de Investigación Criminal – ATIC) seized documents from the institution and took statements.


In addition to the properties Inversiones Los Pinares bought from Navarro, between 2017 and 2022, it purchased seven plots of land, which INA had acquired from seven different owners between June 1993 and July 2017. The company paid 72.6 million lempiras for 90.2 hectares under the same conditions as the other five properties. At least one of those seven properties had been included in an environmental evaluation.


Inversiones Los Pinares’s mining megaproject has been surrounded by uncertainty since May 6, when the government – through the official gazette – enacted a decree reinstating the protected area status to the national park. The decree also disqualifies the Honduran Institute of Mining and Geology (INGEOMINH) from extending the mining concession to the company.

Ecotek, which hasn’t started processing iron yet, is 50 meters away from the Guapinol River and little less than a kilometer away from the Guapinol community. Photo CC/Fernando Destephen

Members of the Municipal Committee demand that criminal liability be imposed on institutions and individuals complicit in authorizing the mining project, which has caused serious socio-environmental harm to communities.


ATIC had previously announced that the Mayor’s Office in Tocoa and the offices of Honduras’ Forest Conservation Institute of Honduras (ICF) were under investigation for allegedly exploiting natural resources, causing environmental damage, polluting water resources and abusing authority to the detriment of community boards and environmental defenders in the area.


That investigation is conducted in parallel to two others on Inversiones Los Pinares over “alleged harm to 14 communities who live in areas surrounding the project,” according to the Attorney General’s Office. In addition, by January 2024, indictment proceedings against Pérez were underway.


On April 28, 2023, prior to those actions by Honduran prosecutors, the FBI conducted a raid on a large equestrian center in Palm Beach, Florida, valued at $10 million and owned by Pérez. His lawyer said the FBI was not going after him but after Nucor, one of the largest steel companies in the world, and did not disclose additional information on the case.


Contracorriente attempted to reach Erick Spears, Pérez’s attorney, but calls and messages went unanswered. Public relations officers who had worked for Pérez were also contacted, but said they no longer work for the conglomerate. 

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Fernando Silva is an investigative journalist. His work focuses on covering corruption, power structures, extractivism, forced displacement and migration. He is also an audiovisual producer and has worked for half a decade in this field with organizations that defend human rights and development institutions in the country. In 2019 he graduated from the Investigative Journalism Course at Columbia University and that same year was part of Transnacionales de la Fe, which in 2020 won the Ortega y Gasset prize for best investigative journalism awarded by the Spanish newspaper El País. She is a fellow of the International Women Media Foundation (IWMF).

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