Archive for the ‘Canadian investor threatens Garifuna in Honduras’ Category

“They captured me for defending our collective rights.”

Inside the efforts of Honduras’s Garifuna people to protect their ancestral lands from tourism development

Photos by Mónica González Islas

 http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/they-captured-me-for-defending-our-collective-rights
 

 

  • Medelin David Hernandez near the community of Guadalupe. OFRANEH members say that the land there was illegally sold to international developers.

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  • Derick Garcia works to make bricks for the community of Guadalupe. When OFRANEH members reoccupy their ancestral lands, they often build homes out of adobe.

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  • The Indura Beach and Golf Resort, one of several tourism developments on the Honduran coast that Garifuna members say have occupied their ancestral lands.

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  • Carlos Castillo, an OFRANEH member, has fought against what he says is the Indura Beach and Golf Resort’s illegal appropriation of Garifuna lands.

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  • Medelin David Hernandez, one of the cofounders of the Garifuna community of Guadalupe.

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  • Miriam Miranda, president of the Afro-Honduran organization OFRANEH, at a rally in the Honduran capital marking the one-year anniversary of the assassination of indigenous environmental leader Berta Cáceres.

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  • Juliana Flores, an OFRANEH member, works the land in the Garifuna community of Vallecito.

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  • A woman named Gabriela in the communal kitchen at the Garifuna community of Vallecito.

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  •  A woman in the Garifuna community of Guadalupe.

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  • A woman named Rosa works to clear the land for the construction of a home in the Garifuna community of Guadalupe.

Last February, I traveled to Honduras with photographer Mónica González Islas to report on the murder of indigenous environmental leader Berta Cáceres for Sierra. Before going to Intibucá—the territory of the indigenous Lenca people, where Cáceres’s organization, the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), is based—Mónica and I traveled along the Honduran Atlantic coast visiting COPINH’s closest ally in its many years of struggle, the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras, or OFRANEH.

OFRANEH began in 1978 as a grassroots group struggling against racism in the banana industry. It has since grown into an organization that continues to battle racism while also defending the cultural, spiritual, and territorial rights of Honduras’s Afro-Indigenous communities. The Garifuna descend from Africans who escaped from slave traders in the Caribbean and then formed alliances with the region’s indigenous societies. In Honduras, there are at least 46 Garifuna communities in four departments along the Atlantic coast. There are also Garifuna communities in Belize, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.

Like many indigenous peoples across Central America and Mexico, a large number of Garifuna migrated to cities in Honduras and the United States looking for work in the 1980s and 1990s. In the wake of this out-migration, foreign, mostly Canadian, businesspeople began to purchase Garifuna lands along Honduras’s Caribbean coast and to set up various tourist enterprises—vacation homes, cruise-ship ports, luxury resorts, and restaurants. Many of those purchases were illegal. The Garifuna’s ancestral claim to the lands stretches back at least 200 years, and their legal claim to the lands dates to the communal land titles granted to them in 1901.

In recent years, under OFRANEH’s guidance, the Garifuna have been challenging the land sales in court, arguing that the titles used to sell parcels of land were falsified. At the same time, the Garifuna have engaged in direct action to reclaim their lands. OFRANEH has helped organize land reoccupations during which Garifuna families build adobe homes by hand and replant fields to re-establish their claims to the land. These largely subsistence communities stand in sharp contrast to the cruise-ship terminals, expensive hotels, and restaurants that serve international tourists.

The Garifuna’s struggle to secure their land rights has led to repression. Garifuna communities are routinely subject to police raids during which community members are sometimes arrested and charged with trespassing. Often the police and other armed men act with violence; OFRANEH members have been beaten and kidnapped.

An attempt to secure land rights to a property near the town of Guadalupe, in the department of Colon, offers a glimpse into the difficulties the Garifuna face in trying to reclaim their territories.

In the predawn hours of October 12, 2016, some 20 young men and women entered an unoccupied parcel of land adjacent to a small vacation-home enclave of eight houses that is owned by a Canadian company called Alta Vista. The group had already consulted with OFRANEH’s lawyers to begin the legal work of securing the land title; in the meantime, they would try to recuperate the abandoned property themselves.

When they arrived, around 4:30 A.M., no one was on the property, which was overgrown with weeds. Some people began working in the dark with machetes to open up the land. Others performed spiritual ceremonies to honor their ancestors. “The spiritual part of the struggle” is incredibly important, Medeline David, an OFRANEH activist, said. David was born in Guadalupe, but then left the area to study in the city of San Pedro Sula. She returned to Guadalupe in 2015 after graduating from university because city life left her “anxious and depressed.” She told me, “We took the initiative to recuperate this land, which lies within the ancestral titles of our community.”

David told me that women from Guadalupe used the contested property from about 2003 to 2009 as a rest and relaxation area. After two men were murdered on the nearby beach, women in the community were afraid to spend time there. Garifuna community members hired a local man to look after the property, but the custodian then sold the land (illegally, according to OFRANEH attorneys) to a Canadian investor in 2010 with forged land titles drawn up with a local judge.

“The first days here were hard,” David said. “There was nowhere to sleep at night. The first weeks were all hard work. But the system excludes us as young Garifuna so we are building our own communities with our own resources.”

It took less than a month for the authorities to attempt to push the Garifuna off the land. On November 10, at around 4:50 P.M., some of the land-rights activists were at the site looking for firewood when one of them got a call warning that the police were on their way. “We didn’t worry, because the police had come by several times,” David said. On that day, however, “they came on the land as if they were going to capture Chapo Guzmán [the notorious Mexican drug trafficker].” The police entered the property with their faces masked and their rifles aimed at David and the other OFRANEH members.

“They grabbed me,” David said, “and Antoin [her young son] screamed. That scream set me off and I struggled. The police started clubbing people. It took three of them to handcuff me. They took four of us to jail. But I never lost hope. I never got scared. I’m not a criminal; I’m not a narco.”

Three OFRANEH members were released after a few minutes, but David was held in custody for 24 hours. The police accused her of trespassing. “Imagine that,” she said, “trespassing. How am I going to trespass in my own community if I’m from here? They didn’t capture me for drug trafficking or any other criminal activity. They captured me for defending our collective rights.”

Mónica and I visited several other OFRANEH land recuperation sites. Speaking with OFRANEH members, we routinely heard anger about the sharp inequities between the posh tourism development and their own struggles to survive.

“Those boats that come here, they don’t benefit us,” Carmen Álvarez told me as we stood on a Garifuna-claimed beach on the outskirts of the coastal town of Trujillo. In May 2012, Álvarez was one of some 500 Garifuna who occupied the site and fought in court to restore the community’s formal title.

“Their cruise-ship docks out in the ocean—speedboats pick up the tourists and take them to a bus that takes them around the center of Trujillo and then to Banana Coast, and they stay there,” Álvarez said. “None of that benefits the Garifuna peoples at all. In no way. If someone has a restaurant near the beach, they benefit more from local or national tourism than from international tourism. Randy bought three restaurants on the beach. The whole network is only for him. This whole region has the same problem.”

The Randy she’s talking about is Randy Jorgensen, a Canadian businessman who made millions selling pornography before moving to Honduras and buying large parcels of land—illegally according to OFRANEH—on the Atlantic coast. My attempts to contact Jorgensen were unsuccessful. In an interview with a reporter from the China Global Television Network, however, Jorgensen said that the Garifuna were “foreigners, immigrants in Honduras” and that buying their land was perfectly legal because it “benefits” the Garifuna. When the reporter pushed him on OFRANEH’s claims, Jorgensen said, “If you are on a witch hunt, you need to go someplace else and look for a witch. Are we done now?”

“Before Randy showed up, international tourists used to come and enjoy the beach, but with Randy that doesn’t happen anymore,” Álvarez said. “Randy came here about 20 or so years ago. And about 10 years ago he started buying up land. They said it would benefit us, bring development. There is no benefit for us. All he does is create private property.”

“The titles to these lands are ancestral titles,” she continued. “The lands belong to us as Garifuna peoples. Sadly, we lost a lot of land, and we are struggling to recuperate it. I was arrested in 2014 for fighting for this land. Since we know they are our lands, we keep fighting. And we’ve recuperated this land here. We won this battle. Last year, they came twice to try and kick us off the land. . . . We didn’t let that happen.”

“You used to be able to walk the entire length of this beach. Not anymore,” Álvarez said. If you walk to Banana Coast, Banana Beach, that is private property. You can’t walk on the beach there. There are guards with huge dogs patrolling there. They want to dispossess us. They’re trying to force us off. If we grow weak, they’ll stay here. But if we stay strong, they’ll be the ones to leave.”

At one land encampment literally across the road from Jorgensen’s Banana Beach Resort, two brothers, Noel and Nilfor Flores, showed us around the Wani Leé recuperation camp, speaking with excitement about the coconut, banana, and mango trees they have planted, the many varieties of chilies as well as yucca, beans, avocado, and sweet potatoes.

“The struggle is hard,” Noel Flores told me after hours working in the communal orchards. “The investors are coming at us hard, and the government supports them. They are trying to take away our future and our children and grandchildren’s future.”

Since reclaiming this property, the Flores brothers and another 60 people have built their homes by hand and worked the land. Last September, police stormed the land site and burned seven cabins.

“Our lives were in danger that day,” Noel Flores said. “They came in here violently and started burning the cabins without asking us a single question, without asking whether or not there were women and children inside the cabins.”

“We know that this land is ours,” Noel Flores continued as we walked around. “All the documents saying that these people are buying land, they are false. And they’re suing us now. They flipped the whole thing and are suing us now. They should be suing the government for lying to them. But they’re suing the community of Sante Fe because we’re claiming our land back.”

The Garifuna’s strategy of using people-powered nonviolent direct action to reclaim their lands has been guided by OFRANEH’s charismatic leader, Miriam Miranda. Born in the Honduran coastal community of Sante Fe, Miranda was raised in a banana work camp where her father had migrated. She then went to university in Tegucigalpa. “While studying, I got involved in social movements and I never graduated,” she told me, remembering her 1980s-era student activism against the U.S. military’s cold war presence in Honduras, which was used as a base to support the Contra rebels in Nicaragua’s civil war. Miranda then started working with a women’s organization in the poorer neighborhoods of Tegucigalpa. “It made a major impact on me to see the way that women lived in those barrios. With one bucket of water, they would have to do all the day’s work: cooking, dishes, laundry.” The machismo was heavy there. “I would give women copies of a magazine we published and the women would have to hide it from their husbands,” she said.

Miranda emphasized to me that OFRANEH’s advocacy is cultural and spiritual as much as it is political and legal. The efforts to recuperate illegally appropriated lands are just one piece of a larger struggle that includes reclaiming—and being proud of—the Garifuna’s unique history. OFRANEH promotes instruction in the Garifuna language— a Arawakan language that also includes words from English, Spanish, and French—as well as activities such as traditional drumming. ““We need to strengthen our identity,” she said. “We are an Afro-Indigenous mixture. The state denies our indigeneity, and migration puts our indigeneity at risk. People who do not know their identity are more manageable.”

The movement is also grounded in feminist ideals. “The Garifuna are matrilineal peoples,” she said, emphasizing OFRANEH’s work with women and youth. “Women are leading many of the processes of struggle.”

Since the 2009 coup that removed from office president Manuel Zelaya, OFRANEH’s advocacy has had to grow to challenge the expansion of extractive industries like logging and mining. “They treat Honduras like some kind of private plantation,” she said, referring to multinational corporations that are conducting operations there. But the organization remains focused on reclaiming the Garifuna’s ancestral lands. “We don’t believe in projects; we believe in processes,” she said. “You have to defend what you are. That is terrible. It shouldn’t be like that.”

Such resistance has been dangerous for Miranda, just as it has been dangerous for OFRANEH’s rank-and-file members. In July 2014, Miranda and other Garifuna were abducted by heavily armed men as they traveled to visit an OFRANEH community where a few years prior drug traffickers had built an illegal airstrip. OFRANEH had demanded that the airstrip be destroyed and had traveled out to make sure it had been when they were abducted. Quick action by local community members—along with swift national and international condemnation of the kidnapping—forced the release of Miranda and her colleagues.

Given the political violence and impunity that pervades Honduras, I asked Miranda about what steps she and OFRANEH have taken to protect themselves. She told me, “Protection must be collective. There is no individual protection. The struggles have their roots, their reasons for being, and they must be supported. Otherwise, you can’t protect a single person.”

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Canada’s Controversial Engagement in Honduras

By: Sabrina Escalera-Flexhaug, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Photo Credit: The Dominion

Increasing Involvement

Since Hurricane Mitch struck Honduras in 1998, Canada has cast an increasingly long shadow over the small Central American country’s economy and policy; a presence that has grown stronger since Honduras’ controversial 2009 coup. The self-proclaimed peacekeepers have since built a stronghold over Honduras via investment in industries and support for the illegitimate government created in the wake of the coup. Canada’s relationship with Honduras is emblematic of its shifting position within the international community, as an imperial presence, establishing and expanding industries in the less developed country at the expense of local citizens and the environment.

Canadian economic and political ties with Honduras intensified following Hurricane Mitch. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch ravaged much of Central America and resulted in the deaths of over 11,000 people.[1] It also left Honduras with $3 billion USD in damage from the catastrophe, causing utter economic devastation in one of the poorest countries in Latin America.

Following the hurricane, Ottawa responded with a “long-term development plan,” offering the Honduran government $100 million USD over four years for reconstruction projects. Part of this proposal included the introduction of forty Canadian companies into Honduras for investment purposes, which provided them with the opportunity to claim Honduran land and mineral assets. Canadian and U.S. developers helped rewrite the Honduran General Mining Law, and created the National Association of Metal Mining of Honduras (ANAMINH) to advance their interests in the nation. Under the new law, foreign mining companies have the right to subsurface land rights and tax breaks, marking a sharp change from the mining laws of the colonial era.[2]

Not surprisingly, mining—bolstered by foreign capital—has grown to be the dominant industry in Honduras. Foreign mining companies have done well under the new laws, with the Honduran government granting approximately 30 percent of Honduran territory in mining concessions.2 These companies, now owning a substantial portion of Honduran land, have a vested interest in the country’s politics. This is particularly true for Canadian mining corporations, which dominate the Honduran mining sector. According to the president of the ANAMINH, 90 percent of foreign mining investments in Honduras are Canadian.[3]

The Coup

Canadian mining corporations have a deep-rooted interest in keeping Honduran regulatory mining laws weak. These interests were threatened, however, when left-of-center candidate Manuel Zelaya was elected in 2006. Shortly after taking office, Zelaya announced his plans to reform the mining sector by restricting foreign mining companies in Honduras, distinguishing himself as a leader of an anti-foreign mining viewpoint. In May 2009, only a month before the armed forces ousted Zelaya, the Honduran Congress drafted a new mining bill. The bill was set to increase taxes on foreign mining companies, prohibit open-pit mining, and outlaw the use of toxic substances in mining activities. The bill would have required approval from local communities before mining operations went forward. However, Zelaya was forcefully removed from power on June 28, ending all discussion of mining reform.[4]

A Pointed Silence

After the coup, nearly every country denounced the removal of the democratically elected president. However, Ottawa remained silent and the Canadian media hardly reported on the political crisis.[5] According to Professor Tyler Shipley at York University in Toronto, Canadian reporters waited over twenty-four hours to report on the issue, even as international media immediately flooded into Honduras to report on the coup. When the Organization of American States (OAS) met to discuss the issue in July of 2009, Canada stood out again for its asymmetrical relationship with Honduras. Although most countries favored the return of Zelaya and the implementation of sanctions against the coup government, Canada argued that the international community had no grounds to intervene. Peter Kent, a minister of state for the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, wanted to restore democratic order with Honduras’ interim government and strongly opposed Zelaya’s return. In contrast, the U.S. ambassador claimed that the U.S. government would most likely move to suspend economic development and military assistance to Honduras.[6] However, behind the scenes, U.S. support for the coup government was key in keeping the new regime in power. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went as far as to criticize Zelaya for wanting to return to his own country, calling it “reckless.”[7] Nevertheless, Canada declined to condemn the coup and publicly supported the status quo, while most of the international community rejected the coup government.

Illegitimate Democracy

In November 2009, the Honduran government held its scheduled elections. However, only the United States, Colombia, Costa Rica and Canada argued that the elections were fully democratic.[8] Most nations dismissed the elections as an obvious attempt to retroactively provide legitimacy to the coup government. In the eyes of many onlookers, the elections left much to be desired in terms of legitimate electoral participation.

One of the major flaws of the election was the pressure placed on the political opposition. The coup government accomplished this through mass arrests, illegal detentions, and violence. International human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (at the OAS) thoroughly documented these violations.[9]

In response to this widespread repression, more than 50 candidates for public office, including one would-be presidential candidate, removed their names from the ballot in protest against the interim government. Meanwhile, the coup government compiled the names of anti-coup activists and gave them to the military, which then threatened these leaders, making it difficult for protesters to unite against the fraudulent election.[10] Due to the lack of progressive candidates and political coercion, only 35 percent of the population voted, and 70 percent of voters were from Honduras’ wealthy neighborhoods.[11] This was not an election in which the poor were invited. In short, the election that brought President Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo to power was far from democratic; nevertheless, countries such as Canada and the United States endorsed it.

Lie and Reconciliation Commission

After the coup and the fraudulent election, a dispirited Honduran society scrambled to return to normalcy. One of the primary ways Canada sought to help Honduras return to business as usual under the new government was by offering to help create a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The role of this commission was to investigate events surrounding the coup.

Shortly after President Lobo created the commission, Canada supplied funding and nominated Michael Kergin to be a commission member. Kergin had been a Canadian diplomat and employee of Bennett Jones, a Canadian corporate law firm that specializes in investment law and mining.[12] In spite of Canadian support, the commission was not recognized by any social or human rights organization that had spoken out against the military coup. Furthermore, the commission failed to consult the family members of victims that were tortured, murdered, and repressed by the post-coup government. [13] Therefore, the commission claimed to validate the post coup government without consulting the necessary parties.

Readmission into the OAS

Immediately following President Lobo’s inauguration on January 27, 2010, Peter Kent announced his support of the Lobo administration’s initiative to reintegrate the country into the international community, particularly into the OAS. Kent met with OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza on February 16 of that year to push the Canadian government’s goal of reinstating Honduras into the OAS. [14] After the OAS accepted Lobo’s administration, Canada further solidified its role as the government’s protector. In 2011, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper became the first foreign leader since Lobo’s inauguration to visit Honduras and meet with the President.[15]

Industrial Abuses

Critics have long held that Canadian involvement and investment in Honduras is plagued with corruption, and that the situation has only worsened since the coup. In particular, many criticize the manufacturing sector, which is Honduras’ second largest industry, for mistreating its workers. One of the industry’s worst offenders is Gildan Active Wear Inc., a Montreal-based textile manufacturer that laid off hundreds of Canadian workers in order to facilitate its move to Honduras in 2007. Gildan Active Wear Inc. is one of three dominant, low-wage sweatshop companies operating in Honduras. The company’s stated goal for the relocation was to improve its competitiveness and efficiency.[16]However, there is a darker side to its operations in Honduras. Many women working in Canadian-owned sweatshops have reported serious injuries caused by repetitive work in the factories. These injuries include musculo-skeletal problems and injuries sustained from major accidents, and they often leave women unable to work. Still, female workers must continue to feed and clothe their families while paying costly medical bills. According to Karen Spring with Rights Action, Gildan is aware of these atrocities; it has refused to provide compensation.[17] The company has also been accused of firing workers for attempting to unionize.[18][19]

Exploitive Tourism

Similarly, many criticize Canadian investment in Honduras’ tourism industry for its impact on the local population. One of the industry’s leading promoters is Randy Jorgensen, who is also the president of the Canadian pornography chain Adults Only Video and the owner of the real estate development company Life Vision Properties, based in Trujillo, Honduras. In 2007, Jorgensen and some local intermediaries purchased property illegally in the Bay of Trujillo, resulting in the expulsion of an Afro-Indigenous community known as the Garífunas from the region. Jorgensen has also acquired Garífuna land in other Honduran towns such as Santa Fe, San Antonio, and Guadalupe. Prior to the 2009 coup, local inhabitants had lodged formal complaints about these fraudulent purchases, but government authorities failed to intervene. Jorgensen used the chaos and the political instability during the coup to acquire environmental permits to construct villas on the hillsides overlooking the Caribbean in the protected area of Capiro and Calentura National Park. In spite of these offenses, Ramon Lobo Sosa, President Lobo’s brother, strongly supported Jorgensen. In 2011, Lobo himself praised the businessman in a cabinet session. To make matters worse, Jorgensen receives financial support from the Canadian Shield Fund, which itself receives funding from controversial mining companies Barrick Gold and the Canadian Oil and Gas Company. [20] These economic earnings come at the expense of factory workers and local inhabitants. Canadian investment in Honduras operates without restraint, and the industry’s ability to manipulate the Honduran economy and its local population only increases with time.

Free Trade Agreement

Once the chaos surrounding the coup quieted down, Canada made quick use of its newfound political capital and began discussing a free trade agreement (FTA) with the Honduran government. The Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement was signed into law on November 5, 2013, along with parallel labor and environmental cooperation agreements.[21] By June 2014, the Canada-Honduras Economic Growth and Prosperity Act—designed to implement the Free Trade Agreement—received royal acceptance. [22] According to the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, “The Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement includes provisions on market access for goods, services (including financial services), investment and government procurement. Once the agreement is fully implemented, over 98 percent of tariff lines will be duty-free.”[23]

The free trade agreement is meant to create transparency and promote a rules-based commercial and investment environment. However, the Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement is a flawed agreement, benefiting only foreign corporations and those that support them, much like other FTAs in Latin America. For example, Gildan Activewear Inc. recently closed its last North American factory in Alabama as a result of the agreement and announced that it would be investing 100 million dollars into a new sock factory in Honduras.[24]

The corporation will increase investment and hire additional workers in Honduras, despite its failures to properly provide for its current employees. The agreement will lower taxes for Canadian corporations and encourage further investment, thereby increasing their power and influence in Honduras. Canadian companies are bound to benefit from the agreement while the Honduran population continues to suffer environmental and human rights abuses.

Expansion of the Oil Industry

Canadian investment and influence has expanded since the FTA was signed, as shown by Canada’s growing interest in oil development in the country. The Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development has been financing technical assistance to the hydrocarbon sector in Honduras as part of a larger project managed by the Latin American Energy Organization. The Canadian International Development Agency originally approved the project to set out a five-year plan that would start by reviewing the country’s oil and gas potential. Initial tests revealed that the land with the most hydrocarbon potential was offshore, in the inland region along the Caribbean coast, and in the Moskitia, a remote region in the northeast with a large indigenous population.[25]

Some indigenous organizations have voiced their opposition to expanding oil and gas activity in Honduras. A closer examination of the history of extractive industries in the region causes the indigenous communities to suspect that these industries will only benefit transnational corporations at the expense of local communities.[26] However, Canadian corporations now hold considerable political and economic clout in Honduras and will most likely profit off of these social losses.

The New Imperialism

Canada’s increasing dominance over Honduras is indicative of its shifting imperial role in Latin America and the international arena. Over time, Canada has increased its influence through subtle diplomatic and economic manipulations in Honduras. These political maneuvers include Canada’s response to the 2009 coup, its recently enacted free trade agreement, its manufacturers’ abuses, and its dangerous policies with regard to oil. Unlike the outright militant actions pursued by other superpowers in Latin America over the past century, Canada has increased its hold on Honduras without impactful restrictions on its industries in Honduras. Thus, Canadian relations with Honduras demonstrate a new, subtle, and insidious imperialism.

Special Thanks to Professor Tyler Shipley, York University Toronto, Ontario 

Please accept this article as a free contribution from COHA, but if re-posting, please afford authorial and institutional attribution. Exclusive rights can be negotiated. For additional news and analysis on Latin America, please go to: LatinNews.com and Rights Action. 

References

[1] “Mitch: The Deadliest Atlantic Hurricane Since 1780,” National Climatic Data Center, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/reports/mitch/mitch.html

[2] Ashley Holly, “Shame on Canada, Coup Supporter,” The Tyee, July 9, 2009, accessed July 16, 2014, http://thetyee.ca/Views/2009/07/09/ShameOnCanada/

[3] Todd Gordon, “Military Coups are Good for Canadian Business: The Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement,” Global Research, March 3, 2011, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.globalresearch.ca/military-coups-are-good-for-canadian-business-the-canada-honduras-free-trade-agreement/23492

[4] Jennifer Moore, “Canada’s Subsidies to the Mining Industry Don’t Stop at Aid: Political Support Betrays Government Claims of Corporate Social Responsibility,” MiningWatch Canada, June 2012, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.miningwatch.ca/sites/www.miningwatch.ca/files/Canada_and_Honduras_mining_law-June%202012.pdf

[5] Dawn Paley, “Canada, Honduras and the Coup d’Etat,” The Dominion, January 8, 2010, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.dominionpaper.ca/articles/3080

[6] Ginger Thompson and Marc Lacey, “O.A.S. Votes to Suspend Honduras Over Coup,” The New York Times, July 4, 2009, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/05/world/americas/05honduras.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

[7] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-zuesse/hillary-clintons-two-fore_1_b_3714765.html

[8] “Nations Divided on Recognizing Honduran President-Elect,” CNN World, November 30, 2009, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/americas/11/30/honduras.elections/index.html?iref=24hours

[9] http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/11/25/the_sham_elections_in_honduras

[10] ibid

[11] Rory Carroll, “Honduras Elects Porfirio Lobo as New President,” The Guardian, November 30, 2009, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/nov/30/honduras-lobo-president

[12] Todd Gordon, “Military Coups are Good for Canadian Business: The Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement,” Global Research, March 3, 2011, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.globalresearch.ca/military-coups-are-good-for-canadian-business-the-canada-honduras-free-trade-agreement/23492

[13] http://hondurashumanrights.wordpress.com/2011/01/24/sweatshops-mining-tourism-free-trade-negotiations-canadas-involvement-in-honduras-support-for-the-post-military-coup-regime/)

[14] .( http://www.counterpunch.org/2010/03/19/canada-s-long-embrace-of-the-honduran-dictatorship/

[15] Todd Gordon, “Canada Backs Profit, Not Human Rights, in Honduras,” The Star, August 2, 2011, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/2011/08/16/canada_backs_profits_not_human_rights_in_honduras.html

[16] “Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement Will Deepen Conflict,” The Council of Canadians, February 13, 2014, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.canadians.org/blog/canada-honduras-free-trade-agreement-will-deepen-conflict

[17] http://hondurashumanrights.wordpress.com/2011/01/24/sweatshops-mining-tourism-free-trade-negotiations-canadas-involvement-in-honduras-support-for-the-post-military-coup-regime/)

[18] “Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement Will Deepen Conflict,” The Council of Canadians, February 13, 2014, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.canadians.org/blog/canada-honduras-free-trade-agreement-will-deepen-conflict

[19] Adrienne Pine, “Sweatshops, Mining, Tourism & “Free” Trade Negotiations,” Quotha, January 13, 2011, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.quotha.net/node/1468

[20] http://www.wilderutopia.com/international/earth/honduras-mega-tourism-and-garifuna-communities-collide/

[21] “Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement,” Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada, June 26, 2014, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.international.gc.ca/trade-agreements-accords-commerciaux/agr-acc/honduras/index.aspx?lang=eng

[22] “Canada-Honduras Economic Growth and Prosperity Act Receives Royal Assent,” Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada, June 19, 2014, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.international.gc.ca/media/comm/news-communiques/2014/06/19a.aspx?lang=eng

[23] Ibid.

[24] http://www.globalresearch.ca/military-coups-are-good-for-canadian-business-the-canada-honduras-free-trade-agreement/23492

 

[25] Sandra Cuffe, “Canadian Aid, Honduran Oil,” Upside Down World, March 24, 2014, accessed July 16, 2014, http://upsidedownworld.org/main/news-briefs-archives-68/4759-canadian-aid-honduran-oil

[26] (http://www.breakingthesilenceblog.com/general/the-media-coop-canadian-aid-honduran-oil-ottawa-funds-set-to-encourage-oil-investment/)

No Light At End Of Tunnel:
Summary conclusions of Rights Action delegation to Honduras

From June 5-11, 2016, Rights Action led a human rights solidarity trip to Honduras. (The trip was co-sponsored by the Mir Centre for Peace at Selkirk College). In the aftermath of the March 2, 2016 assassination of Berta Caceres and attempted assassination of Gustavo Castro, the focus of our trip was:

Honouring The Life, Vision & Struggles Of Berta Caceres:
What Do The U.S. & Canada Have To Do With Repression, Human Rights Violations, Corruption & Impunity In Honduras?


(Olivia and Laura, daughters of Berta Caceres, and her mother at Mama Berta’s home, La Esperanza, June 6, 2016)

Over the course of seven days, our delegation – 5 Canadians, 4 US citizens, 1 US-Argentinian, 1 Australian – travelled to and met with:

  • The family of Berta Caceres in La Esperanza, Intibuca;
  • COPINH, the Lenca-campesino organization co-founded by Berta Caceres, at their “Utopia” solidarity center in La Esperanza, Intibuca;
  • The Azacualpa Environmental Committee, in Santa Rosa de Copan, resisting harms and violations caused by the Canadian Aura Minerals gold mining company;
  • CODEMUH (Collective of Honduran Women) working with women whose rights are being violated by the garment “sweatshop” industry, including the Canadian company Gildan Activewear, the US company Hanesbrand Inc, and more;
  • OFRANEH (the Honduran Fraternal Organization of Black and Garifuna peoples) working in defense of Garifuna Indigenous rights and territorial control along the north coast of Honduras, resisting violent and illegal evictions and human rights violations carried out in the interests of Canadian and US tourism operators, the African palm industry (including the World Bank funded Dinant corporation);
Summary Conclusions: No Light At End Of Tunnel In Honduras
In the foreseeable future, there will be no remedy to human rights violations, poverty, repression and impunity in Honduras.  The country is characterized by systemic exploitation, poverty and racism; by government sanctioned repression; by government tolerated and induced crime and violence; and by corruption and impunity in all branches of the government, police and military and most aspects of the economy, particularly the dominant national and international business and investment sectors.

During our short, but intense and moving road trip to visit communities and organizations around the country, we were able to confirm:

  • No justice has been done in the political murder of Berta Caceres and attempted murder of Gustavo Castro, even as members of Berta’s family are targeted with threats and harassment;
  • COPINH member continue to be criminalized and threatened, as they carry on with their Lenca community and territorial defense struggles, and as they support efforts for justice for Berta and Gustavo and for the multiple victims of political murder and government repression since 2009;
  • The Aura Minerals Canadian mining company continues, direct supported by the military, police and government, is applying huge and even threatening pressure on Azacualpa community members to force them to “agree” to allow Aura Minerals to move a 200 year old cemetery, to continue with their mountain-top removal, cyanide leaching, gold mining operation;
  • CODEMUH continues its courageous work with exploited garment industry workers (mainly women), even as labor and health rights violations have further increased since the 2009 military coup;
  • OFRANEH members continue to be victims of criminalization, threats, attacks and killings, all of which have worsened since the 2009 coup, as they organize and work to defend their territories, collective rights and culture against forced and illegal evictions and human rights violations caused by US, Canadian and other international tourism companies and investors.
There will be no end to this situation as long as the “international community” – particularly the US and Canadian governments, the World Bank and IDB, a host of international companies and investors – maintain mutually beneficial military, economic and political relations with the post-coup regimes and dominant economic sectors in power.

Forced Migrancy: This situation took a serious turn for the worse after the US and Canadian-backed military coup in 2009, and is directly causing the highest rates of forced migrancy in Honduran history.

Over the next weeks, Rights Action – as well as delegation members and their organizations – will publish information related to the community, environmental and life defense struggles that we directly learned about.

More Information: Grahame Russell, Rights Action director, grahame@rightsaction.org, 416-807-4436

Delegation Members

  • Cara-Lee Malange, Mir Peace Centre, British Columbia
  • Professor Claudia Chaufan, California & Toronto
  • Alison Fjerstad, Texas
  • Warwick Fry, Australia
  • Kay Gimbel, Mining Justice Action Committee, British Columbia
  • Barb Hill, Texas
  • Steven Johnson, Texas
  • Scott Martens, British Colombia
  • Margaret Anne Murphy, British Colombia
  • Danny Vela, Texas
*******

See conclusions of a Canadian delegation to Honduras, April 12-19, 2016, that Rights Action participated in:

The Lethal Arms of the Drug War in Honduras

On December 28, 2015 in the early morning, the Honduran Navy shot and killed two Afro-Indigenous Garifuna men, Jostin Lino Palacios, age 24 and Elvis Garcia, age 19 in Barra de Iriona in the department of Colon, on the northeast coast of Honduras.

Immediately, the Honduran Armed Forces issued a communiqué stating, “During an anti-drug operation, the occupants of the two cars began firing against the naval patrol which as a result left one civilian dead and one wounded. It happens repeatedly since special operations began, that they fire on Navy patrols upon being discovered moving drugs.” Later they said the victims were caught in a crossfire between the Navy and narco-traffickers.

Still later they had to eat their words. A survivor of the attack, Jefferson Martinez, father of one of the dead said, ““We were heading toward the community of Limon, carrying ice and other products to sell when we got to Iriona and got stuck in a sandbar. We called some compañeros to help get us out. Two cars arrived and they pulled us out when we were attacked.” Arnulfo Mejia, ex-Mayor of Iriona who was driving one of the three cars stuck on the beach said, “The agents came out of a pasture. There were approximately 20. It was a miracle that we’re alive. There were women and children in the cars.”[i]

The incident was followed immediately by a wave of protests by residents in Iriona including the burning of a military vehicle. Then on January 5, the Honduran government filed charges against seven soldiers from the Naval Base in Puerto Castillo, on Trujillo Bay. Then it granted them bail.[ii]

The public outcry over the killings is no doubt why the soldiers were charged, but where are the charges against officers? No doubt there is great skepticism that anyone will be convicted. The Garifuna organization, OFRANEH, commented, “The criminalization of the Garifuna people by government officials and the military is no more than a smoke screen to hide the alliance of mayors, judges and narcos.”

In January, 2016 a delegation from Kansas City’s Cross Border Network and the San Francisco Bay Area’s Task Force on the Americas, both members of the Honduras Solidarity Network, visited northern Honduras to investigate land grabs by the hotel and palm oil industries and the impact of our 40 year-long drug war on the people. We were in Trujillo and decided to go talk to the Honduran Navy at the Puerto Castillo base, a base frequented by U.S. military personnel. We were welcomed in by Captains Ernesto Avila and Juan Antonio de Jesus.

They told us their principle responsibility is to patrol the coast for drug smugglers from close to the Nicaragua border to Trujillo Bay. They patrol marine, land and air looking for planes flying in from Colombia and traffickers moving cargo to boats for transportation to the US. Ten months out of the year ten American Marines are there to train Hondurans in tactical operations, physical training, and weapons. Special U.S. Navy units also come there as do 20-30 trainers from Colombia. At the time of our visit, the U.S. had three helicopters at the base.

We asked Capt. de Jesus if he thought they were making progress in the drug war. He said, “In the last two years, drug traffic has been reduced a lot . . . We are making progress in our space, but now they’re going other ways.” He said drug traffic had moved to the Pacific coast, or they go directly to the U.S.[iii]

As for the two men killed in Iriona, De Jesus readily admitted that it was his men who did it and added only that they were investigating. What happened “is no good for anybody. Sometimes there can be a mistake.”

Some context on the U.S. drug war

The presence of U.S. training teams and proliferation of at least eight[iv] American bases in Honduras under cover of the drug war has been little noticed at home, but it is the latest phase in a history which began over a century ago with gunboat diplomacy and Honduras as the banana republic. At least since 1954 Honduras has served as the fulcrum of U.S. power in Central America and the Caribbean. Our government has leveraged regime changes, engaged in counterinsurgency and low intensity warfare, and narcotics interdiction. In a 2015 article, Fred Alvarado writes,

“Strategically well-located at the center of Latin America and the Caribbean, Honduras has become an important American military platform, operating as a center for advanced tactical training and joint military operations under the Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM). From the Honduran coast, foreign military forces are able to control the Caribbean and carry out regional monitoring along maritime borders of Colombia, Mexico, Grand Cayman, Nicaragua, Cuba, Belize, Guatemala and Jamaica.” [v]

In the 1980s, the U.S. staged the Contra War in Nicaragua from Honduras and trained and armed the Honduran military for domestic terrorism. The U.S. financed this illegal war by shipping cocaine in league with Honduran military officers.[vi] Since 9/11, as part of the global war on terror, the U.S. has been remilitarizing Mexico and Central America, citing narcotics trafficking as a threat to the security of American citizens. Like Plan Colombia and Mexico’s Merida Initiative, the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI – 2008) has poured in millions of dollars to militarize control of narcotics trafficking while criminalizing campesinos and anyone who dissents.[vii]

The latest plan, in response to the surge of refugees from Central America’s Northern Triangle, is more of the same. It’s called the Biden Plan, a $750 million component of the new Alliance for Prosperity, partnering with the Inter-American Development Bank, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. It’s modeled on Plan Colombia. The Biden Plan’s first proposal is security.[viii] An analysis of its budget reveals a doubling of money for International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement. $349 million is going to CARSI.[ix] The rest calls for fighting government, police and military corruption and economic development. The former will necessitate government cooperation – a tall order for Honduras whose police and military routinely violate human rights, and whose government is corrupt and rife with cronyism – and the latter is based on the same neoliberal model that is wiping out worker protections and privatizing vast stretches of the land and economy, and natural resources.

The Ahuas Massacre

 

Our skepticism about a conviction in the Iriona murders was fueled by our experience on a delegation in May, 2012 when several of us went to the remote village of Ahuas in the Mosquitia to investigate the killing of four indigenous Miskito people and wounding of four others at the hands of Honduran police and a U.S. FAST team[x] under command of the DEA’s Honduras chief, James Kenney. Those killed were all traveling in a pipante, a passenger boat headed for Ahuas. They included two pregnant women, a 14 year-old boy and the boat’s 21 year-old co-pilot. None were drug traffickers. The killers were aboard four helicopters owned by the U.S. State Department. After shooting at the boat, the helicopters landed and held the wounded and family members at gun point for hours while they collected cocaine aboard a different boat. The helicopters then flew away, leaving dead and wounded in the water. To date, the U.S. government has failed to complete its investigation or admit its mistake, and the survivors and families of the dead have received neither justice nor compensation.

Our delegation went to the island of Roatán to meet with families of the Ahuas victims. There we met Sabina Lucas, mother of Wilmer Lucas who was fourteen at the time and was shot, Brenly and Yani Trapp, whose mother Candelaria Trapp Nelson was killed, and, Edmor Anthony Brooks Wood whose brother Hasked Brooks Wood was killed.

We met at our hotel, an enchanting beach resort, but the stories we heard were dismaying. Sabina, came to Roatan from Ahuas to work at age 14 after her father died. Life has been a real struggle. She’s a single mom. Her son Wilmer was going to Ahuas with Hasked, his best friend, and Hasked’s mother Clara to visit his grandmother. Wilmer was shot in the right hand, fracturing several bones. She said, “The hospitals were terrible. They wouldn’t operate on Wilmer until a specialist arrived. We had to wait 32 days.” Sabina had to leave her job in a shrimp factory to care for him. Today, after a second surgery, paid for by a US religious group, and two years of physical therapy, his arm still has limited movement. He can move his fingers but his hand is weak and the muscles are atrophied. She thinks he needs more physical therapy, but there’s no money for doctors. Wilmer is still suffering trauma from the attack. Sabina said Wilmer is changed since the incident. “He angers easily. Two weeks ago he witnessed an accident in the street. He got so upset he almost fainted, his heart beat so rapidly.” She added, “We want justice, but there’s no money for lawyers.”

Edmore Anthony Brooks Wood is 29. He said he was representing his mother, Clara who was in the boat that night with her son Hasked. “It’s difficult to talk about my brother, Hasked. It makes me very sad. My mother goes to the cemetery every day and cries. She is not the same as before.” He said the authorities dug up Hasked’s grave to test the bullets. They couldn’t identify them as having come from the Honduran police guns.

A man came to find Clara and said the gringos wanted her. They took her to Tegucigalpa and gave her a lie detector test. He was an American. She thinks he was a handler for the DEA. Clara said killing Hasked wasn’t enough. They also had to pressure her to lie (meaning say that someone on the pipante was a narco trafficker). She was harassed with calls. She changed her number. She was followed.

Edmore said, “The politicians are running the drugs. We want justice. It would help my mother.”

Candalaria’s son Brenly Trapp is 24. Yani, is 23, the oldest daughter. After their mother was killed at Ahuas, all six brothers and sisters had to come to Roatán because there’s more work there. Candalaria was a single mother. She and Brenly supported all the kids. Brenly said, “What hurts me most is that my mom had worked very hard to keep the kids in school.” Brenly didn’t graduate, and all the kids had to drop out. “I am the only worker. Yani takes care of the kids.” “The work here is only temporary; sometimes one month, sometimes 15 days, or just a week.”

The Trapps have received no compensation, not even scholarships so they could go back to school. We asked, “What do you want?” He said, “We want support for our people. We want something that stops this. The US government has the power to stop this; to stop our government.”

Brenly and Yani took us to their room in a row of rooms housing several families. It was in a swamp, and water was running across their doorstep. It was so crowded, dark, and fetid, that we could hardly stand to be there.

Yet despite efforts by Senator Patrick Leahy, the investigation has stalled because the DEA refused to turn over evidence to Department of Justice investigators.[xi] So after nearly four years there’s no accountability for the killings and maiming at Ahuas, and more and more victims of our war on drugs pile up. Our organizations will work to help all the Ahuas survivors and families stay united and strong until they get justice.

Vallecito: The Power of Solidarity

On the last day of our tour we went to Vallecito. Here the insanity of the drug war meets the firm resistance of the organized Garifuna. They are reclaiming Vallecito to keep narcotraffickers, palm oil barons, and others interested in resource exploitation from encroaching on their land. It’s a place with a vision for the future of the Garifuna people where they can pass on their amazing culture and language to their children, with space for communities dislocated by the rising sea. We met a traditional healer, Selvyn Lopez, who was boiling herbal medicine in a giant pot. We visited a huge building they’d constructed, destined to become a school to teach agriculture and the Garifuna language and culture. We saw people happy, hard at work, and full of plans. They were about to celebrate their New Year the next day and plan on a big conference of up to a thousand this summer.

In Vallecito we met Miriam Miranda, the General Coordinator of OFRANEH. She gave us a tour to see a landing strip where narcotraffickers landed planes coming from Colombia. The Garifuna hold title to a vast tract of land at Vallecito. They discovered that it was being used as a transit point for drugs and was heavily guarded. They were barred from entering. So in 2011 they began to reclaim their property. In January 2014 they got the government to dynamite the airstrip, blasting six craters that would prevent planes from landing, but they did nothing to prevent , the narcotraffickers from coming back. In July, before Garifuna moved in, they saw local campesinos cutting pine trees to fill in the craters. In Vallecito the narcotraffickers control the local authorities, the police and military, and the campesinos. Miriam describes what happened next:

“We came back the next morning and a crater was totally filled with pine trees but no dirt yet and another was half filled. Around 7:30 we walked back to where our car was, and a car with tinted windows approached. Several armed men sicarios – with bulletproof vests got out. They had nothing covering their faces. We realized they planned to kill us. The chief ordered everyone to gather together. They wanted all our cell phones, but someone was able to make a call. Within minutes the authorities began to get calls and emails demanding our release. There was lots of international pressure, and they released us about 9:30 am. It was very hard. We’re so isolated here and we’re surrounded by Miguel Facusse’s African palm plantations[xii]. This is a zone of resistance against African palm. . . This area is important for the government, especially for a Model City and for the extension of African palm into this area. Also, they suspect that there’s oil here. Studies have been done. . When you live in a narco state, it’s dangerous. If you don’t abide by what they want, you put yourself at risk . . . That’s why international solidarity is very important for us, and every time groups visit and learn about our struggle there are more voices to counter the government’s statements that everything is OK.”

What we saw in Honduras, despite the fear, were people protesting, fighting back and struggling for justice. We also saw the ugly international face of our endless War on Drugs. The U.S. plays whack-amole pushing narcotics trafficking from country-to-country and innocent people die. While there’s plenty of evidence of this war’s failure, it continues because it keeps feeding the interests and profits of politicians, the prison industry and the military-industrial complex. The war on Hondurans is mostly invisible to Americans. We only see the blowback in the thousands of desperate women and children washed up on our borders. So we send more military trainers, more guns and ammo, more helicopters. And, of course, it’s a sham, a cover for maintaining a corrupt government and the U.S. strategic grip on Central America.

Yet, we were inspired by the resistance and hunger for justice that we saw. We will tell their stories, but we know that it’s going to take all of us: Hondurans and Americans to end the drug war.

This essay was originally published by Americas’ Program.

Judy Ancel is a member of the Cross Border Network, Kansas City info@crossbordernetwork.org

Garifuna Communities of Honduras Resist Corporate Land Grabs

FINALLY 2

 

By Samira Jubis | Council on Hemispheric Affairs | September 23, 2015

The fate of the Garifuna people of Honduras hangs in the balance as they face a Honduran state that is all too eager to accommodate the neoliberal agenda of U.S. and Canadian investors. The current economic development strategy of the Honduran government, in the aftermath of the 2009 coup against the democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya, has not only benefited the political and economic elite in Honduras, but it has also encouraged the usurpation of some of the territories of indigenous peoples of this Central American nation. The often-violent expropriation of indigenous land threatens the Garifuna’s subsistence.

The Garifuna people are descendants of African slaves and two indigenous groups originally from South America—the Arawaks and the Carib Indians. In 1797, the British deported 5,000 Garifuna, also known as Black Caribs, from St. Vincent to Roatán. Since then, the Garifuna people have immigrated throughout North and Central America.[i]

Triunfo de la Cruz and Punta Piedra are home to two of the forty-eight Honduran Garifuna communities along the Honduran Atlantic coast corridor. Due to an ecologically rich geopolitical position, these regions have attracted foreign-backed investments, including tourist and recreational centers, natural resource extraction industries, and self-governing corporate zones. The concept of “self-governing” does not apply to democratic procedures of native citizens, but to the domination of foreign elites who view the Garifuna land as a mere means to the private accumulation of wealth.

Mega development projects have been advertised as a stimulus to economic growth and employment within the country. However, in practice, they have aggravated discrimination and harassment against indigenous and ethnic groups, whom developers generally perceive as obstacles to the expansion of such economic projects. Hence, the Honduran political system, in thrall to ambitious tycoons and foreign interventionism, has infringed on the Garifuna community’s relationship to and management of their ancestral lands. The displacement of these Honduran Afro-descendant communities from their ancestral lands for the development of economic projects accelerated after the coup d’état of June 28, 2009 against the democratically elected President, Manuel Zelaya, and the installment of a U.S. backed golpista regime.

The United States and Canada perceived the center-left policies of former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya as an intolerable restraint on American and Canadian investment objectives in Honduras. The alignment of Honduras with the left-leaning Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) and PetroCaribe along with stricter domestic reforms to rein in the damage caused by neoliberal policies, emboldened the U.S.-Canadian intervention in the Honduran political system. The coup brought the golpista regime of Roberto Micheletti (June 28, 2009 to January 27, 2010) to power and was followed by the subsequent election of two right wing presidents. Tegucigalpa has pursued policies that are more obedient to the economic consensus of Washington and Ottawa, reversing its march towards progressive land and labor reforms and opening the doors wide to foreign investors. As a result, Honduras has been the bloody stage for human rights violations against those who have resisted some of the more intrusive features of the neoliberal economic model.

The Garifuna community of Triunfo de la Cruz, for example, possessed title deeds of full ownership to their ancestral territories. However, the U.S. and World Bank-backed 1992 Agrarian Modernization Law not only led to the expansion of Tela’s city boundaries, but also stimulated future transactions of ancestral lands without consent of the Garifuna community members.[ii] Grahame Russell is the director of Rights Action and has devoted his life to protecting human rights in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Russell points out: “All along the north coast, most particularly in the Tela Bay and Trujillo Bay areas, Garifuna villages are being pressured—with false legal documents, with forced sales and with repression—to sell their lands and territories to international tourism operators that are supported by the illegitimate and repressive Honduran regime.”[iii]

The municipality of Tela sold ancestral territories to a corporation called Inversiones y Desarrollos del Triunfo S.A de C.V. The municipality later issued construction permits for the development of tourist projects, such as the Indura Beach and Golf Resort.[iv] Government officials and foreign investors have overlooked the Garifuna people’s opposition to these projects. In turn, there have been frequent territorial disputes between the investors and members of the Garifuna community. In 2014, the Honduran national police and military officials attempted to violently dislodge the Garifuna population from their lands. Despite the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declaring that the Garifuna culture is one of the nineteen Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity (2001), violence and physical force have been constantly used to threaten the livelihood of the Honduran Garifuna communities. Oscar Bregal and Jesus Alvarez, two committed Garifuna leaders, were murdered in 1997 while protesting against the violation of the human and civil rights of the Garifuna communities. Oppression and harsh conditions been the principal causes of displacement and emigration of the Honduran Garifuna inhabitants

According to the Indura Beach investors, the first phase of this US $120 million tourist-complex development has created 400 direct jobs and 800 indirect jobs.[v] The Honduran Tourism Institute insists that these jobs have primarily benefited the communities around the complex, especially the Garifuna communities. These benefits, however, have not reached the hands of the Garifuna population. As a matter of fact, unsustainable tourist projects have threatened the Garifuna people’s food sovereignty. As stated by Miriam Miranda, leader of The Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH), the Garifuna people cannot continue to exist without the land required to grow their subsistence crops. Foods like rice, beans, and yucca not only make up the Garifuna daily diet, but also represent critical components of the Garifuna culture. The women of the communities sow and harvest the land for household consumption and income. The Honduran state’s failure to protect the interests of these Honduran citizens has led Garifuna indigenous communities to request the intervention of international organizations.

From August 24 to August 29, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights held its 53rd period of extraordinary sessions in Honduras. During the sessions, the court visited the Garifuna Communities of Triunfo de la Cruz and Punta Piedra to commence proceedings against the Honduran state. OFRANEH— speaking on behalf of the Garifuna inhabitants of Triunfo de la Cruz, Punta Piedra, and Cayos Cochinos—claimed that Honduras has failed to ensure these communities’ right of land ownership as well as their right to free, prior, and informed consent. Although Honduras has ratified the International Labour Organization Convention no. 169, and the Honduran constitution recognizes the rights of indigenous and ethnic peoples, the Honduran Garifuna communities continue to face discrimination and harassment within the Honduran economic and political systems. The petition of the Honduran Garifuna communities was presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human rights on October 29, 2003. [vi] Following the commission’s hearings, the Honduran state agreed to put in place measures to protect the property rights of the Garifuna people. The state, however, has failed to uphold this agreement.

In February 2013, the commission submitted the case Garifuna Community of “Triunfo de la Cruz” and its Members v. Honduras to the Inter-American court after the Honduran government failed to inform the Commission of the measures it had taken to enforce the property rights of the Triunfo de la Cruz inhabitants.[vii] This case not only confirms state collaboration with the violation of Garifuna people’s rights in Honduras, but it also challenges the effectiveness of the international community—in this case the court’s jurisdiction, in protecting those rights.

It has been 12 years since the petition was presented to the commission and the Honduran Garifuna communities are still living in despair and fear. Do we hear their call for justice in the North? Russell remarks that “while OFRANEH and the Garifuna communities are waiting for the Inter-American Court to render its final decision, which—if justice is to prevail—will find in favor of the Garifuna people, against the actions and omissions of the Honduran State, they are not depending on it.” Furthermore, Russell adds that the Honduran Garifuna communities, “resist peacefully, resolutely, on and on, from one community to the next.”

The usurpation of ancestral territories by multinational corporations backed by the political and security structure of the Honduran state has evoked justified skepticism among the Honduran Garifuna communities in regards to neoliberal economic policies that put profits before human needs and respect for participatory democratic procedures. While the Garifuna communities are still waiting for the court’s final decision on their case against the State of Honduras, they have been committed to voicing their grievances. The leadership and determination of the Honduran Garifuna has encouraged other indigenous and ethnic groups in the western hemisphere to fight against hegemonic neoliberal policies that threaten their ability to live and develop in community.

Featured Photo: Chachahuate, a small Honduran island inhabited by Garifuna communities. From: Dennis Garcia

[i] Escure, Geneviève, and Armin Schwegler. “Garifuna in Belize and Honduras.” In Creoles, Contact, and Language Change Linguistics and Social Implications, 37. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2004. http://public.eblib.com/choice/publicfullrecord.aspx?p=622399.

[ii] Brondo, Keri V. “La pérdida de la tierra y el activismo de las mujeres garífunas en la costa norte de Honduras.” Journal of International Women’s Studies, 9, no. 3 (May 2008): 374.

[iii] Grahame Russell, e-mail message to author, September 20, 2015

[iv] IACHR, Merits Report No. 76/12. Case No.12.548, Garífuna Community of “Triunfo de la Cruz” and its Members (Honduras), November 7, 2012, paragraph 159, 160.

[v] Diario El Heraldo Honduras. “Lista Primera Etapa De Indura Beach and Golf Resort.” Accessed September 20, 2015. http://www.elheraldo.hn/alfrente/566419-209/lista-primera-etapa-de-indura-beach-and-golf-resort.

[vi] IACHR, Merits Report No. 76/12. Case No.12.548, Garífuna Community of “Triunfo de la Cruz” and its Members (Honduras), November 7, 2012, paragraph 1.

[vii] The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, (2013). IACHR Takes Case involving Honduras to the Inter-American Court. Available at: http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/media_center/PReleases/2013/076.asp [Accessed 22 Sep. 2015].

Meet Miriam Miranda, Honduras

Miriam Miranda

Miriam Miranda

December 9, 2015

 

“We live almost on the sea, right on the beach. It’s a blessing but recently it’s also become a curse, because of course all those with power want to have a place on the beach. The displacement of communities and the loss of cultures that come with the development of tourism is growing… but the Garífuna women, many of them elders, have incredible strength. They participate in meetings, in actions, tearing down walls that are built on the beach. They’re sustaining the Garífuna youth so that they know who they are, without shame.”


Miriam has dedicated her life to defending the cultural and land rights of the Garífuna people in Honduras. Miriam’s brave, unwavering leadership is currently guiding the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH).

Miriam was born in Santa Fe, Colon, a small Garífuna village located near Trujillo on the north coast of Honduras. Like many other Garífuna in Honduras, Miriam and her family eventually had to leave their village in order to find work and educational opportunities. As a young adult, Miriam moved to the capital city Tegucigalpa to study at the public university.

Still a student, Miriam immersed herself in social movements that worked closely with women living in poor neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa. Miriam traveled to these neighbourhoods to listen to the women’s stories and speak to them about their rights. In these conversations, Miriam’s lifework as a feminist took root.

Miriam’s pride as a Garífuna woman lies at the heart of her activism. After years of working alongside mestizo, or mixed indigenous women, Miriam decided to shift her focus to promote the rights of her own people—the Garífuna.

The Garífuna people are descendants of West Africans who escaped the slave trade and found refuge on the island of San Vincente, an island in the Caribbean, in the early 1600’s—where  they intermarried with Carib, Indian and Indigenous peoples. Following expulsion from San Vincente in 1797, the Garífuna people arrived on the coast of Honduras. Approximately 100,000 Garífuna now live in Honduras, but there are also community strongholds on the coasts of Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Garífuna culture is intrinsically linked to the land and access to the sea.

Land reforms in Honduras have disregarded cultural land titles, and have made it easy for foreign tourism and real estate investors to displace Garifuna communities to build hotels and retirement communities. Illegal drug cartels also steal Garífuna land for their operations. The Honduran government has failed to protect Garífuna land titles against foreign interests and, in many cases, has been directly involved in their displacement.

Under Miriam’s leadership, OFRANEH and the Garífuna people have organized to defend their land and their culture. They currently have two cases against the state of Honduras pending at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR). Most recently, the Garífuna succeeded in bringing Canadian investor Randy Jorgensen to trial in Trujillo, Honduras for his mega-tourism project illegally built on Garífuna land.

Miriam’s activism has come at a cost. She faces incredible risk for the work she is doing and has been threatened many times and kidnapped. Miriam and her colleagues are regularly arbitrarily detained and portrayed as criminals in the media. In the face of these threats, Miriam is not backing down from her struggle to ensure the Garífuna people’s land and culture is protected.

– See more at: http://nobelwomensinitiative.org/2015/12/meet-miriam-miranda-honduras/#sthash.IB26Bxpo.dpuf

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.

‘Little Canada’ displacing Afro-Indigenous communities in Honduras

Canadian investor Randy Jorgensen blames concerns on ‘extremist factions’

As Canadian investors gradually take over lands in Honduras’ Trujillo Bay for tourism and real estate projects, Afro-Indigenous Garifuna communities along this stretch of Caribbean coastline are being displaced.

A new cruise ship port is now open for business in Trujillo, a town of just over 10,000 about 400 kilometres north of the Honduran capital. Rio Negro, a Garifuna community, was largely displaced under threat of forced expropriation to make way for the project. Sixteen kilometres to the west, the Garifuna community of Guadalupe is now bordered by Alta Vista, one of Canadian investor Randy Jorgensen’s several residential development projects marketed to Canadian snowbirds.

It’s 32 degrees out but it feels like 40 in the midday sun as local Garifuna activist Celso Guillén points things out along the short walk through Guadalupe and over to Alta Vista. A group of youth are busy separating plantain rhizomes into piles by size and other men and women are organizing the shipment of cacao seedlings for distribution. The problem is that community members don’t have much land left to plant the crops.

“We’ve lost almost 80 percent of our community’s lands, and the majority of those lands are in Mister Randy’s hands,” says Guillén.

Guadalupe’s inalienable community title covers nearly 250 hectares, but the municipal government of Santa Fe has issued deeds within those lands and they have been registered by the country’s Property Institute. The municipality “has issued fee simple land titles — overlapping titles that are basically fictitious and without validity because there’s already a collective title,” says Guillén. “The title says that the lands are inalienable, and any act of that nature violates the spirit of the title.”

‘They don’t have a purpose’: Jorgensen

Just after six in the morning, Jorgensen sips his coffee outside his home in Coroz Alta, a residential development a few kilometres west of Trujillo on an estate now billed as a private nature park. Beside the road leading down to his house, monkeys, coatimundis and scarlet macaws are on display in enclosures.

Cruise ship passengers come here on day trips organized by Banana Coast Tours, one of Jorgensen’s companies linked to the new Banana Coast cruise ship terminal, another of his projects.

Jorgensen dismisses the Garifuna community land claims. It’s the same story in Guadalupe as it is in Rio Negro and it’s not really about the land, he says. “They have extremist factions in there that are extremely politically motivated and go out of their way to create whatever problems that they can for anything that doesn’t actually put money into their own personal pockets.”

Other Canadian developers have since followed, but Jorgensen remains the main player in the area. He opened an Adults Only Video store in a small town in Saskatchewan in 1987, and the company quickly expanded to dozens of outlets across Canada. After more than a decade of winter visits to Trujillo, Jorgensen decided to make the move permanent, and later began working on plans for a cruise port facility and real estate projects in Trujillo Bay.

“Our goal is to create $300 million of investment in this area to create $100 million economic activity annually. So it’s not a small thing,” says Jorgensen. His company, Life Vision Developments, is developing several projects in the area: Campa Vista, Coroz Alta, New Palm Beach and Alta Vista. “We have about 1,500 acres of residential development underway now. We sold 500 properties to Canadians. They’re starting to call it Little Canada.”

Jorgensen categorically denies that the Alta Vista project overlaps with the Guadalupe community title, but he also alleges the community didn’t use the land for anything anyway. “It’s not as though this land needs to be preserved for ‘this purpose.’ They don’t have a purpose. They don’t have a plan. They don’t have something to do with it. The whole purpose of the exercise is ‘how do I get money into my pocket?’”

‘We used to go there to work’: Guillén

Alta Vista, however, is one of the main areas that was used by community members to grow subsistence crops like yucca, plantains and beans. “I know this because we used to go there to work the land with our parents. That’s where we worked. We would work in another place for a while and then there for a while,” says Guillén.

Along with fishing, Garifuna communities traditionally practice the fallow system of farming, rotating between areas to allow the soil to recuperate for periods between crops. Both land and sea are vital to both the sustenance and culture of the Garifuna.

The ethnogenesis of the Garifuna began in the early 17th century on the island of Saint Vincent, where shipwrecked Africans trafficked as slaves for colonial plantations in the Caribbean — and later also escapees — mixed with local Arawak and Carib Indigenous people. The Garifuna were forcibly expelled by the British in 1797 and dropped off on an island off the coast of Honduras, from where they spread out and formed communities along the Caribbean coast of Central America from Belize to Nicaragua.

Both the Garifuna language, part of the Arawak family, and culture have diverse African and Indigenous Caribbean roots. In 2001, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization declared the Garifuna language, dance and music to be among the 19 inaugural Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Today, though, many Garifuna communities in Honduras are facing yet another expulsion.

Leaving Guadalupe behind, the old yellow school bus rattles past the Garifuna community of San Antonio before passing Njoi Santa Fe, another real estate project under construction by Canadian developers. After the community of Santa Fe, it’s a steady stream of Canadian-owned tourism and real estate projects along the 11 kilometers back to Trujillo: New Palm Beach, the Banana Beach Resort, Njoi Trujillo, Coroz Alta and Campo del Mar, Campa Vista and the Tranquility Bay Beach Resort.

There has been some critical outside attention on tourism projects in Garifuna territory further west along the Caribbean coast. This stretch, however, has flown largely under the radar, according to Miriam Miranda, the General Coordinator of OFRANEH, a Garifuna federation at the forefront of the struggle to defend Garifuna rights, lands and territory in Honduras.

“No one really talks about all the investment that’s happening in the Trujillo Bay, all the way out to the Guadalupe area even. They’re taking over the whole corridor,” said Miranda. The new Banana Coast cruise ship port has certainly been a hot topic of discussion in the area lately, but there too, the issue of land acquisition usually goes unmentioned.

“That case is the first experience we had where eminent domain legislation was used, facilitating Randy Jorgensen’s takeover of Rio Negro,” said Miranda.

Cruising the Canadian-owned Banana Coast

The atmosphere of anticipation was almost palpable in Trujillo on Oct. 15, 2014. The Norwegian Jewel, a 2,376-passenger Norwegian Cruise Line ship with more than 1,000 crew members, was about to arrive. The Jewel and other companies’ cruise ships will be calling at Banana Coast all season, through April 2015. Banana Coast is owned and run by Grande Trujillo Autoridad, of which the driving force, primary owner and president is Randy Jorgensen.

There was little cause for celebration in Cristales and Rio Negro, two historic Garifuna communities on the coast at the western and eastern edges of Trujillo respectively. The Banana Coast cruise ship terminal and retail complex is located in Rio Negro.

“It was a community. That was part of their habitat. That’s where they would leave their cayucos [dugout canoes], where they would go fish. Now they can’t go to leave their cayucos on the beach. The entry of Rio Negro community members is strictly prohibited there because it’s a private zone now,” says Victor García, a member of the Cristales and Rio Negro community council.

When some Garifuna community members refused to give up their lands, the municipality of Trujillo declared the Banana Coast project in the public interest in December 2009. The decree was published in the Official Gazette in February 2010, allowing the state to exercise the right of eminent domain. Through threat of forced expropriation, the cruise ship port developers were able to acquire the remaining lands.

But the contested Banana Coast project still lays within one of two inalienable Cristales and Rio Negro collective land titles. The 1886 and 1901 titles cover nearly 100 square kilometers in various sectors in the region, including some of Jorgensen’s real estate development.

Colluding with the state

Jorgensen’s projects may benefit from the investment protection provisions in the new Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement, negotiated in the wake of a June 2009 coup d’état, but attracting tourists and snowbirds to the country with the highest per capita homicide rate in the world outside of a war zone is no easy task.

On Aug. 4, 2014, the Honduran government signed a $133,334 contract with Burson-Marstellar, an international public relations firm, to build a “national image” and “country brand” to boost foreign investment, exports, and tourism. That same day, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández launched a new national tourism website.

Tourism and real estate promoters in Trujillo maintain that the violence plaguing Honduras is largely concentrated in certain pockets elsewhere around the country and particularly in its two main cities, San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa. In fact, the 2013 homicide rate in the municipality of Trujillo was 93.3 per 100,000 inhabitants, higher than the national rate and even that of the capital district. From Banana Coast, it is only about 10 kilometers to the edge of the heavily militarized Bajo Aguan region, where more than 100 people involved in farm worker movements and land occupations have been killed since the 2009 coup.

The area has also been identified by the government as one of 14 possible sites for Economic Development and Employment Zones, regions that would essentially function as semi-autonomous, privatized city-states. These zones “embrace trade liberalization beyond simple tax and infrastructure incentives: they enable the corporate entities, organizations and individuals who will fund and participate in the zones to structure the social organization itself. This process includes the content of laws, the tax structure, educational, labor and health care system, security forces and other basic elements typically managed by the state,” wrote the authors of a September 2014 National Lawyers Guild report.

Attention on specific Economic Development and Employment Zones projects is largely focused on southern Honduras, where feasibility studies, investment agreements and community resistance are all underway. However, documents obtained by Ricochet reveal that detailed maps, plans and studies have been drawn up for a special development zone encompassing the full territorial area of the municipalities of Trujillo and Santa Fe.

The principal author of the studies was Arquitecnic. The company’s president, Honduran architect and planner Dino Rietti, was commissioned as the construction and project manager for the Banana Coast cruise ship port complex. Rietti has also advised the government on special development zones.

Turning to the law

Garifuna communities continue to defend their lands despite the difficulties. “The government’s in collusion with everything that’s going on here,” says Guillén, adding that a lawsuit might be one of the only options. However, neither Guillén nor García consider it likely that their respective communities will be able to address illegal community lands sales or obtain justice within the domestic legal system.

“We’re going to have to launch both national and international lawsuits,” says García.

The cases of three other Garifuna communities, accompanied by OFRANEH, are currently before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Two of them involve tourism projects in Garifuna territory. At least one ruling is expected next year.