[Author note: Apologies for paragraph spacing issues below. WordPress sucks.]
In law school, which was admittedly a few years back — and I have to admit forgetting gobs and gobs of data, cases, rules and legal precepts shoved into my brain in a scant three years — we learned that a defamation claim (be it slander, libel or trade libel, for instance) depended on a number of factors, not the least of which was who is being defamed. In other words, one couldn’t defame Nazis because the audience of the publication would already understand that the Nazis were defamation-proof. They were deranged genocidal sociopaths!
Well, I came across a similar hypothetical today. Huffington Post published an article (screenshot above) about the [alleged] murderous-goings on at an Honduran palm oil plantation. The article, as you can see, is calledBathed in Blood: World Bank’s Business-Lending Arm Backed Palm Oil Producer Amid Deadly Land War”. Among its jaw-dropping allegations are:
“These plantations are bathed in blood,” Glenda Chávez says. “Not only has my father died, but more than 100 peasants have died in defense of the land.”
The preacher’s death was one of 133 killings that have been linked to the land conflicts in Honduras’ Bajo Aguán valley, according to (Special Prosecutor Javier) Guzmán, who was appointed by the federal government to investigate the wave of violence that has ripped through the area in recent years. The circumstances of these deaths remain fiercely disputed in a struggle that has pitted Dinant and other large corporate landholders against peasant collectives, with both sides involved in violence that has at times turned gruesome.
So moved and spurred to simple action by this expose, I fired off this…ahem…controversial… email to the PR flack at the company exposed in the article, Corporacion Dinant. It merely profaned them (oh my!) and pointed him to the HuffPo piece that accused the company’s security force of murdering indigenous activists.
The whole world is watching, you evil, greedy fuckers!“Bathed in Blood: World Bank’s Business-Lending Arm Backed Palm Oil Producer Amid Deadly Land War”Quote: “These plantations are bathed in blood,” Glenda Chávez says. “Not only has my father died, but more than 100 peasants have died in defense of the land.”
I received a response — oddly forwarded to me by a confused pro bono client – who was “guilty by association” with me simply because this PR person trolled my LinkedIn profile and mistakenly assumed I wrote the above email as a representative of the charity for whom I volunteer. This charity had NOTHING to do with my personal email.
Yesterday, I received an e-mail from Mr. XXXX XXXXX, which you can find at the end of the following explanations, in regards to our Company Corporacion Dinant.Corporación Dinant is a family-owned agribusiness and consumer products manufacturer founded in Honduras by Miguel Facusse in 1960. Our products are sold throughout Central America, the Dominican Republic and exported to global markets. Dinant directly employs 8,000 people, supports over 22,000 livelihoods, and sources raw materials from hundreds of independent producers living and working in some of the poorest parts of Honduras.We protect many thousands of hectares of tropical rainforest at 4 Wildlife Conservation Centers in Honduras. Dinant is funding and managing breeding, rearing and release programs of endangered indigenous species at Farallones (jaguar and tapir breeding programs) and Zacate Grande (red macaw, white-tailed deer and green iguana breeding programs). As our African Palm plantations have matured, our organic practices and reduced use of artificial fertilizers have allowed flora to flourish, providing animals with better nutrition, shelter and wildlife corridors.We categorically deny the discredited accusations made against us in a recent article by the ICIJ and published in the Huffington Post, to which your colleague XXX XXX refers in his email below. I invite you to visit our African Palm plantations in the Bajo Aguán region, as well as the rest of our operations sites, to see the results of the extensive resources that Dinant is investing in community engagement, and environmental and social management.We acknowledge that some people have different opinions to Dinant regarding the land conflicts in Honduras. However, we recognize the value and importance of engaging peacefully and transparently with those that hold other viewpoints in the belief that some common points of mutual interest can be found. That is why Dinant is doing all we can in partnership with the Government, NGOs, civil societies, and financial institutions to help find a peaceful and final resolution to the fragile and delicate situation in the Aguán region of Honduras, with respect for the lives of all individuals and in compliance with all laws.Of course, we do not expect everyone to agree with what we are doing, but nor do we deserve the foul, abusive and disrespectful insult made by XXX XXXX in his email below.Yours sincerely,XXX XXXCorporate & Banking Relations Director
In other words, Corporacion Dinant attempted to embarrass me by forwarding my PRIVATE email on to whom he mistakenly assumed was my employer. Wrong! Asshole!
Well, that old defamation hypothetical (slightly shifted as is common in law school’s Socratic Method) came back to me:
No. 1: Can I be liable for defamation by an accused murderous Honoduran palm oil corporation?
No. 2: Can I be liable for defamation if I only republish the accusation in a private email?
No. 1. No. Hell, they’re accused murderers! (And I didn’t accuse them. The reporter did.) How can I defame them any more than they already have been? (The Nazis in the above hypothetical.) And truth is an absolute defense. It’s not libel if it’s truthful.
No. 2. No. There was no audience. I simply wrote an email to the PR person. (But now I have one!). However, am I liable for republishing a possibly defamatory article (like HuffPo did)? Maybe. But see No. 1 above. Do they really want the truth proven?
So I fired off the clarifying email to Dinant’s PR lackey:
I sent the  email to you as a private citizen — and my passion for the environment (and indigenous peoples) in the face of the palm oil scourge got the better of me and I used a profanity. However, this is in NO WAY connected to the pro bono (volunteer) work I do for XXX XXXX, which is concentrating its work in southeast Asia NOT in Honduras.I will thank you to NOT group unaffiliated organizations for whom I VOLUNTEER — with my personal email or me — or I will have to explore avenues to protect these organizations’ legal rights and interests. As the terms “pro bono” and “volunteer” predict, I am in NO WAY employed by XXX XXX. I merely donate my time (and money) when I can.
And I have a right to send any email I wish to you and your organization — with any language in which I wish to send it. Apologies if I offended the sensitive sensibilities of an accused murderous palm oil corporation — especially when it has been reported by mainstream news outlets. I was merely pointing to the Huffington Post piece. Take your objections up with that venue and its author.
Hey I can’t help it if you’re getting some bad PR. Maybe you deserve it.
It’ll be interesting if they respond. I’ll post it here.