This week, Ricochet published ‘Little Canada’ displacing Afro-Indigenous communities in Honduras, an article I wrote about some of the Canadian-owned tourism and residential development projects displacing Garifuna communities in the Trujillo Bay. As with any article, there’s more to the story.
The Garifuna community of Guadalupe sits at the western edge of the Trujillo Bay in northeastern Honduras, where lush rainforest-covered mountains meet the Caribbean Sea.
More than three-quarters of the community’s 237.75 hectare land title, though, has been illegally sold and taken over. Canadian developer Randy Jorgensen’s Alta Vista residential project overlaps with the westernmost part of the community title, covering both mountain slopes and beachfront.
Alta Vista and other projects have taken over stretches of coastline. Walking along the beach between communities in the Trujillo Bay is no longer possible for local residents. Security booths, guards and fences have sprung up with the new real estate developments.
One of the most recent scandals in Guadalupe, though, is that the developers have been stealing the community’s lands — not just in the sense that the project overlaps with the collective land title, but in a much more literal sense.
Guadalupe community member and local Garifuna activist Celso Guillén showed me what that looks like as we walked past the last houses in Guadalupe along the road that leads to Alta Vista.
The sandy plot in front of Guillén in the photo above is lower than it used to be. Backhoe operators working at the Alta Vista project drove the short distance down the road from the project to the edge of the residential center of the community and excavated sand from this and other community plots. Some of the hills in and around Guadalupe have a gravelly kind of sand that is useful for fill in marshy areas, explained Guillén.
“They have come here to the community and broken into spaces and removed earth, diminishing plots,” he said. In some cases, like this particular plot, the owner was away from the community when the theft occurred. The stick-and-wire fence is an attempt to prevent a recurrence.
“They come, they excavate, they take the material and they go,” said Guillén. There was no warning, no consultation, and no permission.
A stone’s throw down the street, the hillside pictured on the left was excavated by backhoes as well, jeopardizing the subsistence crops above. “What people have done in the face of this abuse is fence in the spaces to obstruct the way for the machines,” said Guillén.
The extraction of earth from Guadalupe community members’ plots is a minor incident in the face of the large-scale land grabs for tourism and residential development projects in the area. But the blatant and very literal theft of community lands is revealing as a microcosm for the take-over of collective Garifuna territory in the Trujillo Bay.
Jorgensen is by far the main developer in the area these days. His Life Vision Developments company is behind several residential projects marketed to Canadians: Alta Vista, New Palm Beach, Coroz Alta, and Campa Vista. He owns the Jaguar Construction company often tasked with building. He’s the key figure behind the new Banana Coast cruise ship port and its affiliated tour operator, Banana Coast Tours.
While many Trujillo locals greeted the Norwegian Jewel’s first call at Banana Coast with excitement and hope, Guillén and others are worried that the influx of tourists and snowbirds is going to drive the cost of living up in the area, and with good reason. Studies have shown numerous negative economic impacts of tourism on local communities in “less developed countries.”
The cruise ship industry is a prime example of enclave economic tourism, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. “On many ships, especially in the Caribbean (the world’s most popular cruise destination with 44.5% of cruise passengers), guests are encouraged to spend most of their time and money on board, and opportunities to spend in some ports are closely managed and restricted,” noted the UNEP.
That certainly seems to be the case in Trujillo. Banana Coast Tours is the only tour operator coordinating with the cruise lines. Everyone else has to wait outside the gates and hope to pick up clients after they have left the complex.
According to Hernán Batres, Manager of Banana Coast, this is due to the cruise lines’ regulations. “The cruise ship companies demand that a tour operator exists for a certain number of passengers that they want to mobilize with certain standards and levels of security and attention,” Batres said in an interview in his office. But it’s not just the organization of excursions. Day trip destinations include other projects owned by Jorgensen. For example, passengers are bused to the Campo del Mar “Nature Park” from the gated Banana Coast port complex.
Batres insisted that the cruise ship port benefits Trujillo as a whole. “The trickle-down economic benefit is for everyone,” he said. The same argument was used by the municipal government when it formally declared the project to be in the public interest, triggering the government’s right to exercise eminent domain in order to acquire lands from Garifuna residents who had refused to sell. Regardless, the lands acquired fall within Rio Negro’s inalienable collective land title.
The Banana Coast complex displaced most of the historic Garifuna community of Rio Negro, located at the mouth of a river on the eastern edge of Trujillo. Local Garifuna fishermen used to leave their dugout canoes by the shore, not far from where the Restricted Area sign is now posted.
While Jorgensen’s projects are the most advanced and most contested, other Canadian developers are now building in the Trujillo Bay as well. Gino and Cristina Santarossa and Paul and Lucia Todos, all Ontario residents, are the partners behind two new residential development projects under construction being marketed to Canadians and other foreigners.
Njoi Trujillo, pictured above, is just up the road from Coroz Alta and Campo del Mar. Njoi Santa Fe is located in the short stretch between the Garifuna communities of Santa Fe and San Antonio.
What was once a 20 kilometer stretch of nearly uninterrupted territory between five Garifuna communities is quickly becoming a patchwork of residential enclaves, resorts, the cruise ship port, and alarmingly diminishing community-controlled lands.
“It is going to destabilize our economy,” said Guillén. He expects food costs to rise substantially. He is also worried that Garifuna from the Trujillo Bay region currently working in Honduran cities and in the United States who don’t have a plot of community land will face difficulties upon returning home, due to the massive encroachment onto community titles and the rising prices of other lands nearby.
“I fear that many people may actually have to leave their own territories because of this,” said Guillén.
You can read my Ricochet article about the development and displacement in the Trujillo Bay here. And if you read Spanish, you can find out more about struggles for Garifuna territory in Honduras and related issues here.