“We believe that there is a clear persecution against the organization and the Garifuna people. They want to displace us from the coast. They criminalize our leaders and we have identified that there is an intentionality. The Honduran state wants to strip the Garifuna of our rights. They said the Garifuna are not indigenous, this is the worst that could happen to us,” explains Miriam Miranda, the coordinator for the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (Ofraneh).
Indigenous and subsistence farmer communities face incredible repression in Honduras. They are systematically intimidated off their lands by the state, foreign investors as well as drug traffickers and are constantly under the threat of eviction. The Honduran State consistently fails to defend indigenous people’s rights to their ancestral lands as cited by the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 169 and instead, sell the country’s sovereignty to the highest bidder.
The Garifuna, an afro-indigenous people of Arawak indigenous heritage and West African roots, have lead centuries of resistance since their arrival to Central America in the 18th century after shipwrecking on the coast of St. Vincent. The Garifuna arrived to Central America and fought to found independent nations across the region. In exchange, they began to build their societies along the Central American Caribbean coastline.
Presently, the Garifuna reside along the Central American coasts of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua making up approximately 600,000 people with their largest population in Honduras, spread throughout 46 communities.
In the last several months, the Garifuna’s struggle to remain on their lands and defend their communities from state sanctioned and drug-related violence has intensified. The Garifuna have fought against kidnapping, assassination attempts and several evictions. The expansion of tourist projects, agribusiness plantations along with the exploitation of natural resources along the coastlines threaten the very livelihood of the Garifuna people, their culture and their history.
Currently, the Garifuna have several cases open in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) denouncing the Honduran state for violating their rights as indigenous peoples.
Ancestral Lands for Sale in Honduras
The Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (Ofraneh) explains “Honduras is submerged in a labyrinth of criminality, where the institutions responsible for justice and security have become absurd serving an elite class dedicated solely to the looting of the state and the country’s commons.”
Under Porfirio Lobo’s administration (2010-2014), 24 Garifuna communities were targeted and their lands auctioned off to foreign investors to create “model cities” also known as “charter cities.” Presently, the five targeted regions along the Honduran North Coast include Puerto Cortes, La Ceiba, Trujillo, Rio Platano, and along the Honduran/Guatemalan border region.
These cities would become their own independent enclaves; establish their own government, laws and security all conditional upon the company or individual(s) that have purchased the land. Charter cities would create a pseudo-state within a state opening up neo-liberal approaches of governance potentially eliminating fundamental rights and liberties.
In 2012 the RED (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) law permitting charter cities was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court; however, the law was re-introduced in 2013 under the name of ZEDE (Special Economic Development Zones).
Miranda refers to this moment on December 12, 2012 as the second coup in Honduras when the Congress overrode the Supreme Court’s decision. Then president of the national assembly, Juan Orlando Hernandez drove the re-introduction of charter cities and as current president there is no doubt that the Honduran government is selling the country piece by piece to foreign investors.
In 2013, the government also introduced the “Mortgage Law” allowing for the auctioning off of communally held lands. That same year, the government issued a decree that authorizes the military to sell timber encouraging a long standing practice of the military illegally profiting off of indigenous lands.
In 2014, the government passed the Law for the Promotion of Development and Reconversion of Public Debt authorizing the government to leverage the country’s “idle” resources in order to attract foreign investment. Most of these so-called “idle” lands reside within indigenous territories primarily the Miskitu, Pech, Lenca, Tawahka and Garifuna.
Illegal Evictions and Invasions of Garifuna Territories
“This is our ancestral land and what happened was an illegal eviction,” explains community organizer Yilian David with Garifuna Youth in Defense of our Rights (Nanigu) after the most recent attempt by the Honduran armed forces to evict the community of Barra Vieja.
Barra Vieja is one of several communities along Tela Bay that faces ongoing threats of eviction and displacement in the name of mega tourism projects. Barra Viaja was officially founded by the Garifuna in 1950 although generations prior resided on these lands.
David explains that on September 30, the heavily armed Honduran military and police arrived to forcefully evict the community’s 450 inhabitants. The Honduran authorities have attempted to evict the Garifuna community, unsuccessfully, since August 6.
“We asked them to show us the documents that justified the eviction. They had an order of eviction for an individual. The name of the community didn’t appear anywhere, nor was there any official signature,” she emphasizes.
The authorities spent two days causing physical and emotional damage to families and their homes. After documenting the eviction, families recovered their belongings and returned to their homes. David says “they [Honduran authorities] have threatened to return with bulldozers to destroy our homes. Thankfully they haven’t brought any machinery yet.”
This expression of state sanctioned violence against the Garifuna people was perpetrated in the name of the Indura Beach and Resort tourism project previously known as Laguna de Micos & Beach Resort. David exclaims, “Since when do these lands belong to the Indura Project? We have so many years existing as Garifuna, these are Garifuna lands.”
According to Ofraneh, the resort is under the management of a powerful class of elite Honduran families directly involved in the 2009 coup. The public-private project covers 80 hectares of the Micos Lagoon. Communities surrounding Barra Vieja such as Miami and Tornabe have been coerced into selling their land. The Honduran government holds 49 percent of the share-holds while 51 percent is in the hands of private business.
When teleSUR asked David when the government may return to carry out the eviction, she responded, “We don’t know yet. They [Honduran authorities] just wait for the orders from Indura.”
Ofraneh has submitted the case of Barra Vieja to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for precautionary measures and filed for an appeal with the Supreme Court.
Ofraneh explains, “The human and territorial rights of more than 400 inhabitans of Barra Vieja have been violated, this is part of a strategy to expel the Garifuna people from the coast that we have inhabited for more than two centuries.”
Banana Coast Cruise Ship Arrives in Trujillo
On Wednesday October 15, he Norwegian Jewel cruise ship arrived to Trujillo, Colon with 2,376 tourists and 1,100 crew. Five hundred police and military authorities accompanied the tourists within 70 kilometres of the cruise line for the security purposes.
This is the second cruise ship to dock since February 2014 however, the first official inauguration involving government ceremonies and national media attention. The port dubbed “Banana Coast” is a project owned by Canadian Randy Jorgenson and is Honduras’ first mainland cruise port.
In the months leading up to the 2009 coup, Jorgenson illicitly acquired Garifuna land in Tela Bay. Following the coup, he later took over lands in Trujillo, Santa Fe and Guadalupe building villas for foreigners with the Life Vision development project.
Since then, the Garifuna communities have denounced the illegal sale of their communal lands. In the case of Guadalupe, they have communal land titles dating back to 1887.
The Norwegian Jewel is scheduled to arrive weekly in Trujillo throughout October and November whereas Holland America Line’s Ryndamn, Silversea’s Silver Shado and P&O Cruises Adonia have prepared to pass through Trujillo until April.
David explains, “The disadvantage with the people in Trujillo is that they have practically sold everything. Many of them live off of remittances. However, today, they saw the cruise ship arrive, they saw all the foreigners and realized that the cruise line has all their activities planned out. They witnessed that they will not benefit not one cent off this project….They woke up. Let’s see if next time they allow the cruise ship to dock.”
President Juan Orlando Hernandez tweeted welcoming the cruise line and thanking the industry for increasing the number of tourist by 15 percent this year. However, cruise ship companies provide minimal tax income to the countries they visit.
The inauguration of Banana Coast carries on the history of displacement that the Garifuna have faced over the last several centuries since their arrival to the Americas. The Garifuna continue their struggle to defend their survival and as Miranda stresses, “I believe we are in the most danger we have ever been in as a people. We have no other option than to fight back and denounce what is happening against our people.”