Canadian developers are stealing Garifuna lands. Literally.

Overview Canadian-owned tourism and residential development projects are displacing Garifuna communities in Honduras. This blog post complements a recently published article on the subject, providing photographs and further information.

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.

A Garifuna fisherman weighs his catch to sell and give to fellow community members in Guadalupe. They had been waiting nearby for him to come in for the day.All photos by Sandra Cuffe

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.

A lone house in the upper area of Alta Vista.

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. 

The lower area of the Alta Vista project.

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.

Local residents work together to sort a shipment of rhizomes and seedlings for distribution to community members. Because of the usurpation of the majority of Guadalupe’s community land title, though, there are few places left for people to farm.

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.

Norwegian Cruise Line passengers wait in the Banana Coast complex to re-board the Norwegian Jewel after its inaugural visit in mid-October.

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 Norwegian Jewel and other cruise ships anchor in deeper waters in the Trujillo Bay. Passengers are ferried to and from the Banana Coast cruise ship port and commercial complex.

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.

A white-faced capuchin monkey in one of the enclosures exhibiting animals at Campo del Mar. The first of four private nature parks, it is also the location of Jorgensen’s Coroz Alta residential development, and his home. Banana Coast Tours brings cruise ship passengers here on organized day trips.

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.

Cruise ship passengers gather in the Banana Coast complex, waiting to be ferried back out to their ship.

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