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HONDURAS
Attempts to disappear Garifuna people
Héctor Maradiaga, Jennifer Ávila
7/18/2016
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Development projects pushed by the government in the Atlantic coast threaten the survival of afro-descendant communities.

“The Garifuna people have suffered two displacements and they are now facing another one for living in the coasts that are so coveted by national and transnational capital,” explains Miriam Miranda, coordinator of the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH), which defends the rights of the Garifuna communities.

The first Africans settled in the Atlantic coast of Honduras some 219 years ago after their displacement from the island of Saint Vincent where they had been taken by Europeans as slaves. They were received by Carib aboriginals that inhabited that region; their descendants are known as Garifunas.

Currently the Garifuna people is made up of 40 communities that live along the Honduran Atlantic coast, or the coastal area of the Caribbean that encompasses the departments of Cortés, Atlántida, Colón and Gracias a Dios. The Garifunas have refused to abandon these coastal lands despite the pressures they have suffered since the inception of the banana enclave in the 50s, until the coup d’état in 2009.

“The approval of laws granting the territories to transnational capital increased following the coup, with a large number of these resources located in Garifuna territories. We as Garifuna peoples not only face the problematic of touristic megaprojects, but also problems with land concessions for iron mining exploitation and dams,” Miranda expressed in an interview with Latinamerica Press.

Miranda is a Garifuna leader and defender of the territory who has faced death threats. In 2014, she and seven members of OFRANEH were kidnapped by heavily armed men when traveling in the Garifuna territory located in Vallecito, Colón, which is disputed by criminal groups and drug traffickers because of its strategic location as a transit point for drugs. Indeed, drug traffickers had invaded an area of their territory to build a runway. Miranda and her colleagues were rescued five hours later by members of the Garifuna community of Vallecito.

Miranda describes many cases of conflict in which the Garifuna communities suffer serious threats on their rights over their ancestral territories.

“In the area of La Ceiba, in the community of Sambo Creek, the two rivers in the area [Sambo y Cuyamel] are threatened by the installation of hydroelectric dams, and the community has been waging fierce opposition for eight years now. In the case of the communities of Cusuna and Punta Piedra, in Tela, the threat comes from iron mining; and there are dammed rivers in Trujillo Bay. This build up at the national level is not only affecting the indigenous peoples, it is reaching the Garifuna peoples too, but there is a permanent resistance coming from the communities to accept that the rivers be conceded,” she says.

“The worst danger lies in that these concessions are being backed and managed by municipal corporations that are near the communities and that are generating discord,” she explained.

I/A Court Ruling
The situation of dispossession experienced by the Garifuna people has reached the international courts and the ears of the special rapporteurs of both the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations.

In October 2015, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (I/A Court) issued a judgment against the state of Honduras for violating the rights of the Garifuna people to their ancestral lands, for allowing the sale of land belonging to the Garifuna community of Triunfo de la Cruz and for the installation of residential and tourist projects without permission from the community. This is the third sentence of the I/A Court against the state of Honduras, but the first one that has to do with the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples.

The I/A Court declared “the State of Honduras as internationally responsible for the violation of the right to collective ownership, to the detriment of the Garifuna Community of Triunfo de la Cruz and its members, for having breached its obligation to delimit and demarcate the lands titled to the community, for not having entitled, delimited and demarcated the territories that were recognized by the state as traditional lands of the Garifuna community of Triunfo de la Cruz, for failing to ensure the effective enjoyment of the right to collective property of the community, in relation to an area awarded in guarantee of their title of occupancy and recognized as traditional land by the state, and for not having carried out a proper process to guarantee the right to consultation to the community.”

Also, I/A Court blamed the state of Honduras for not having adapted its norms to guarantee the right to consultation, and ordered the Honduran state “to proceed to demarcate the land on which the collective property has been granted to the Triunfo de la Cruz Community” and to grant the collective property title properly delimited and demarcated.

However, organizations such as OFRANEH assure that there has been no progress made since the judgment.

“There is a plan to make us disappear, because we’re the ones on it and we occupy the areas of last remains of raw materials and resources and common goods necessary for life and the pursuit of life,” Miranda said.

A sample of this is the Garifuna community of Barra Vieja, in Tela, Atlántida, created in 1885. Barra Vieja was always a community abandoned by state institutions, without school, a health center, electricity or running water. A group of doctors visit Tela to provide them with health care.

In the 90s, particularly after Hurricane Mitch in 1998, there was a massive migration from Barra Vieja inside and outside the country. The place was then overrun by tourism projects affecting five Garifuna communities.

In 2003 the young people from the community decided to return to occupy their ancestral lands and to defend the Garifuna territory. As a result, the Public Ministry accused the community of usurping the land allegedly belonging to the National Port Authority (ENP). In 2007, the Honduran Institute of Tourism (IHT) filed through the ENP a complaint with the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Tela against the community of Barra Vieja for alleged usurpation of lands belonging to the state.

Tourist megaprojects
Barra Vieja is located next to the tourism project of Indura Beach and Golf Resort, a company accused by the community of instigating military evictions perpetrated in September and October 2014.

The population of Barra Vieja has managed to return to their homes and is once again occupying the ancestral territory. When the military presence declined, they bravely returned to rebuild their homes and live in them again.

“We are concerned because we are the victims of these megaprojects that take away our lands and territories that our ancestors have given us and have asked us to care for,” says Carlos Castillo, president of the council of Barra Vieja.

Castillo says that when a tourist megaproject such as Indura wants to establish itself in the area, they are not consulted as a community; on the contrary, they deceive them by promising benefits that never materialize.

“They came fooling us, saying that they would give us a percentage of the profit, but now they tell us that they need to make the second phase and that we have to leave our lands and make room for them,” he says.

“We call on the authorities to come to the area, because what they are doing to us is an injustice,” says Castillo to Latinamerica Press. “A project of a few and they intend to capitalize on the benefits, they want to bring foreigners because they do not even give us work.”

The Indura resort in Tela Bay was built with an investment of US$ 122 million, an equivalent to more than 2,400 million lempiras, through a public-private partnership in which the government of Honduras owns 49 percent of the shares and the remaining 51 percent belongs to a group of businessmen. The project was inaugurated in November last year simultaneously to a meeting of the Business Council of Latin America (CEAL). It has more than 3 km of beach with exclusive access for customers and one of the best 18-hole golf courses in the continent.

Meanwhile, Castillo and other community leaders have been sued for land usurpation and the crime of sedition. They cannot leave the country; they must sign every 15 days in the courts and their trial has already been postponed twice for lack of staff.

“The state’s role is to support investors, they do not support the poor,” he says. “The process of Barra Vieja is proof of that situation. Neither the government nor the mayor has come to offer their support, but they help the investors of these projects with all their might.”

“Despite the ruling of the I/ACourt, the situation has not changed. Protected by international law, all the Garifuna communities have condemned the state, but this has not yet brought any results, because the state has not changed its way of doing things in this situation,” he said.

Organizations are demanding that the state of Honduras respect the right to prior consultation established by the Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of the International Labour Organization, ratified in 2005, for them to be heard when development projects intend to operate in their territories. —Latinamerica Press.


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The situation of expropriation lived by the Garifuna community has reached the international courts. / Jennifer Ávila
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