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The Breakthrough: How an ICIJ Reporter Dug Up the World Bank’s Best Kept Secret

by Jessica Huseman

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ICIJ reporter Sasha Chavkin had been investigating the World Bank for months when he visited a sweltering military post in Honduras and sat with the colonel. Sasha had heard the Honduran military was violently evicting local peasants to make way for a palm oil plantation — a project funded by the World Bank to boost the local economy. The reporter wanted the colonel to answer for these allegations.

But the man knew far more than Sasha expected. He knew who Sasha had been speaking to, and where he planned to travel next. He’d even sent his troops ahead of Sasha, to await his arrival. “If you go there,” the colonel said, “I can’t guarantee your safety.”

Sasha was scared, but he went anyway.

He was chasing a big story — that the World Bank was complicit in violently displacing people from their lands in order to make way for development projects all over the world. When Sasha got to the village in Honduras, called Panama, he heard about the brutal treatment of the peasants firsthand. Their land had been stolen from them, and a local priest had been murdered. His body — which showed signs of torture — was found under palm leaves on the land now taken over by the plantation.

This treatment wasn’t isolated to Honduras. Sasha found similar stories across the globe. In Ethiopia, he heard from villagers chased from their land by the Ethiopian military. Women reported being raped; others said they were beaten.

It was all part of what Sasha had been told was the World Bank’s biggest secret: Around 2009, the bank had stopped requiring governments to fill out detailed forms with a census of how many people were being displaced and what was being done to help them. Instead, it allowed governments to say that some people might be displaced, and that details on relocation would be worked out later. Often, the World Bank offered no clear plan to help displaced communities at all.

Using extensive data analysis and on-location reporting, Sasha and his team published a series that spans three continents and details how 3.4 million people were forced from their land by World Bank projects. Five days after Sasha and his team sent questions to the World Bank, World Bank President Kim Jong Kim held a press conference. He said the organization had taken a “hard look” at the resettlement policies and that it would be reforming supervision procedures.

The series is called “Evicted and Abandoned,” and today, Sasha talks with us about what he found and how he found it.

Have an idea for an episode? Email us your suggestions at podcasts@propublica.org.

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The music for this podcast is from Podington Bear and​ Blue Dot Sessions.​


Source: ProPublica

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