Posts Tagged ‘OFRANEH’

‘Canadian tourism mafia’ file trumped up charges against Garifuna leader Miriam Miranda in Honduras’ corrupted legal system
Honduras Solidarity Network and Rights Action alert, November 17, 2017


(Miriam Miranda, General Coordinator of OFRANEH demanding justice at a large protest outside of the Honduran Supreme Court in Tegucigalpa on the one-year anniversary of the assassination of Lenca indigenous activist, Berta Caceres of COPINH. Photo: Karen Spring)

A member of the ‘Canadian tourism mafia’ along Honduras’ north coast, that includes Patrick Forseth and Randy “the porn king” Jorgensen, filed trumped up charges against indigenous Garifuna leader Miriam Miranda and three other women, in Honduras’ corrupted legal system.

The four must go to court, November 24, to respond to these “charges”.  They potentially face up to 2-3 years in jail, and now must spend time and resources (of the few they have) to defend themselves from these manipulative charges.

Canadian tourism investor Patrick Forseth, of the CARIVIDA Villas company, has falsely accused Miriam Miranda, the General Coordinator of the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH), and three other Garifuna women – Medeline David, Neny Heidy Avila, and Letty Bernardez – of slander and defamation.

Miriam Miranda is a leading Honduran Garifuna activist who has faced numerous threats and direct acts of repression for her courageous, articulate long-time work with OFRANEH and other Honduran groups and movements.

The reasons behind the malicious charges against these four Garifuna women are quite simple.  Forseth and CARIVIDA are involved in a major land dispute with the indigenous Garifuna community of Guadalupe in Trujillo Bay, located on the Caribbean coast of Honduras.  Forseth has used several very questionable legal maneuvers in the now (since the 2009 military coup) deeply corrupted Honduran legal system, to criminalize any indigenous Garifuna people involved in land, territory and human rights defense work, in order to further claims that CARIVIDA’s illegal land purchase in Guadalupe was valid.

One of the local woman being charged, Medeline David already faces charges of illegal possession of land as a result of her participation in a community-led land reclamation project to recuperate their own land – land in dispute with CARIVIDA.


The land defense project in the Garifuna community of Guadalupe in Trujillo Bay. The area where many community members are camping out, is the land that is claimed to be owned by Patrick Forseth.  Forseth plans to build a resort and villa project on the land. (Photo Karen Spring)

Geovanny Bernardez, another OFRANEH leader and other Guadalupe community activists including leader, Celso Guillen, also face charges laid by the Honduran state and CARIVIDA as a result of the same land dispute.

The legal case against Miranda and the 3 women was presented on May 26, 2017 and the first court hearing is scheduled for November 24, 2017.  If found guilty, Miriam, Medeline, Neny, and Letty could face up to 2-3 years in prison.

This defamation accusation is a clear example of how wealthy North Americans use and take advantage of the impunity and corruption in Honduras’ post 2009 military coup political and legal systems to criminalize people that resist their economic interests and projects.

As the General Coordinator of OFRANEH, Miranda is being directed targeted in an attempt to silence the resistance of Garifuna communities not only in Trujillo Bay, but in other land disputes across the coast of Honduras.

Forseth is the husband of the stepdaughter of Canadian businessman, Randy Jorgensen (“the Porn King”) who owns and operates several gated community projects in the same Trujillo Bay region.  Some of Jorgensen’s tourist projects are adjacent to the land that Forseth claims he owns and “legally purchased.”

Forseth, Jorgensen and other North Americas continue to take control of lands that are inside ancestral indigenous Garifuna titles, some of which date as far back as the 1860s. Jorgensen is facing charges of illegal possession of land for his project Campa Vista owned by his company, Life Vision Development.

Karen Spring, Honduras Solidarity Network, spring.kj@gmail.com
Grahame Russell, Rights Action, info@rightsaction.org

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Background

OFRANEH members denounced for defamation by Canadian tourism investors Patrick Daniel Forseth (Carivida Villas) and Randy Jorgensen (Life Vision Developments)
http://mailchi.mp/rightsaction/ofraneh-denounced-for-defamation-by-forseth-and-jorgensen

“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.”

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

The Indigenous Fight for Lands and Cultural Survival in Honduras

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Honduras is the country with the highest level of homicide of any nation not at war, where government violence and human rights abuses occur with almost total impunity. It is also the country contributing most to the flood of children who have been recently forced to migrate to the United States by violence and poverty — both, in part, a legacy of U.S. policy in the region.

Yet something else is afoot. A fierce social movement, composed of many sectors, is pushing back to protect democracy, lives, and political rights. Indigenous peoples — including the Garifuna, Lenca, Pech, Miskito, Maya Chortí, and Tolupan — are also asserting their human right to autonomy, territory, and cultural survival.

The Afro-Indigenous Garifuna people are organized through the EH, or OFRANEH by its Spanish acronym.

OFRANEH is at the forefront of an effort to protect Garifuna territory against theft by multinational corporations, the state, and the oligarchy — theft that the United States enables through strong political support for the Honduran government and funding for its brutal military and police. OFRANEH aims to defend the Garigunas’ ecologically rich lands, rivers, forests, oceanfront, and other pillars of their identity: autonomy, community solidarity, and indigenous knowledge.

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“In strength, the Garífuna community in Honduras fought to defend the country against invasion and, in strength, the Garífuna community fights today to defend our land,” said Carla Garcia, a human rights organizer with OFRANEH.

The group also preserves and bolsters modernity-threatened elements of traditional Garifuna culture, including their language, Garinagu; music and arts; ancestral spirituality; and ceremonial life. Moreover, members are preserving ancient practices in ecological farming and sustainable small-scale fishing practices.

“Our lands and identities are critical to our lives,” said OFRANEH coordinator Miriam Miranda. “For us, the struggle for our territories and our commons and our natural resources is of primary importance to preserve ourselves as a people.”

Garifuna lands are being grabbed — with government approval — for tourism, a naval base, a deep-water port, and for gas and oil extraction. This is a gross violation of Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and Honduras’ own constitution, which all guarantee free, prior, and informed consent to any projects in indigenous territories. Narco-traffickers have seized additional lands.

A major element of OFRANEH’s organizing and advocacy is to recover and consolidate the 2,500 acres of their territory of Vallecito on the north coast. They hope to use it as a base for Afro-indigenous resurgence.

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Narcos, long interested in the strategic characteristics of the land for clandestine drug running — including space for a runway, a hidden creek to the sea, and its remote location — had invaded the legally titled Garifuna lands. In 2012, the community reoccupied its land with drumming and ceremony, despite threats and automatic rifle fire.

Since then, however, a portion of the land has been re-invaded. OFRANEH’s strategy to win back Vallecito is to apply strong enough pressure, together with allies around Honduras and the world, that the governmental Agrarian Institute of Honduras will be forced to evict the illegal usurpers.

The future of Vallecito is complicated by the Honduran government’s plans for so-called “charter cities.” Know as ciudades modelos in Spanish, these are foreign enclaves shielded from Honduran sovereignty and financed by international investors, with their own security and laws. Vallecito is at the center of a large swath of Garifuna territory the government has in mind for this project. If it is consolidated, dozens of Garifuna communities could be displaced.

Regardless, OFRANEH plans to recover Vallecito and transform it into a center of Garifuna renewal. All community members dislocated from their lands, for whatever reason, will be able to resettle there.

Strengthening traditional Garifuna agriculture, aquaculture, and culture in general will be an integral part of the resettlement. Immediate plans include the construction of a Garifuna ceremonial and cultural center. Youth leadership development is another part of the plan, so that urban youth and young adults can learn the same skills and knowledge as Garifunas living in remote rural locations.

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Like other indigenous and non-indigenous Hondurans standing up for their rights, the Garifunas suffer continual violence, threats, and human rights abuses. Both the land grabs and the violence surrounding them are part of a political climate resulting from a coup d’état against President Manuel Zelaya on June 28, 2009. Then, with the help of the U.S. government, a clique of the top oligarchs of the nation swept to power.

Since then, the U.S. government has played an enabling role with a series of post-coup regimes, funneling more than $114 million to Honduran security forces, providing political cover, and looking the other way as human rights violations mount. Hundreds of assassinations of opposition organizers and their family members have marked Honduras in recent years, bringing to mind the death squads of the 1980s.

In addition to the government’s impunity and corruption, the illegally imposed congress has conceded valuable land and minerals to foreign investors. Beyond what is happening in indigenous communities, campesino land across the country is being grabbed by agribusiness — and in particular by Honduras’ richest man, Miguel Facussé, who presides over a thriving empire of African palm plantations planted to feed the craze for biofuel in the North.

“If you map out the conflicts that are threatening our country, you’ll see they reflect exactly where transnational capital is trying to take more resources from indigenous peoples,” said Miranda on a speaking tour in the United States last year. “We ask ourselves: Hmm, are we the ones consuming all this energy? If those in the North are the consumers, why are we in Honduras paying? Why are we being displaced to generate energy for others?

“If the problem is global,” she continues, “we have to have a global response. It’s time for every human being in the global North to take up his or her responsibility in respect to the use of resources, responsibility relative to waste and to consumption. The standard of living that you all have in the U.S. is unsustainable. You are the button-pushers. The time has come.”

Stephen Bartlett is the Latin America Liaison for Agricultural Missions. Beverly Bell is an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and Coordinator of Other Worlds. She has worked with indigenous movements in Honduras for 15 years. 

For more information, write to sbartlett@ag-missions.org and/or check out Agricultural Mission’s website and Other Worlds’ website. Also see the OFRANEH website and their blog.

“We came back to Struggle”

Indigenous communities in Honduras are fighting against new mining projects

The dirt road winds its way up into the mountains of Yoro, dropping down to cross the Locomapa River at several points along the way. It’s March, nearing the end of the dry season in this part of Honduras, and the pink blossoms of carao trees stand out against the dusty landscape of corn fields and coniferous forest. Near the river, in the community of San Francisco Campo, Celso Alberto Cabrera sits outside his simple wooden home. It is here that Indigenous Tolupan members of the San Francisco de Locomapa tribe maintained a 13-day road blockade in August 2013 to protest antimony mining in the tribe’s territory. And it is here that three Tolupan blockade participants were murdered on August 25. Cabrera’s 71-year-old mother, María Enriqueta Matute, was shot and killed in her kitchen. Armando Fúnez Medina and Ricardo Soto Fúnez were shot on the dirt patio outside the house, next to the road that runs through the middle of town.

photo of a hillside that has been stripminedphoto John Donaghy

“They died because they were involved with the resistance,” Cabrera said. The blockade ended with the murders and, that same day, Cabrera and seven other community leaders fled the region due to death threats. An arrest warrant issued for the two murder suspects hasn’t been carried out, but after the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordered precautionary measures for 38 people from the region, Cabrera and six others returned to Locomapa in February.

In theory, tribal policies mandate that no resource extraction can take place in the tribe’s territory without the approval of the tribal assembly, in which a majority of the tribe’s 900- plus members must be present to make decisions. No such authorization has occurred. “If the communities say no to mining, then that must be respected,” said Ramón Matute, who spent six months in exile due to his leadership in the struggle against mining.

Extractive projects are moving forward at an ever-increasing pace across Honduras, as the government tries to stay afloat by putting natural resources on the auction block. A combination of militarization and the lack of proper consultation – let alone free, prior, and informed consent from local communities – is causing conflict and resistance in Indigenous territories.

“We’re up against powerful interests,” Bertha Cáceres, general coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, said of the struggles against extractive and energy projects throughout the country. It’s not only mining that worries her, but also hydroelectric dam construction, logging, and oil exploration. “Our concern is that all of the territories could end up in the hands of transnational corporations,” she said.

In the five years since the June 2009 coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya, the Honduran government has issued an unprecedented number of natural resource concessions. National and international energy corporations now hold rights to dozens of rivers, including waterways on which Indigenous Tolupan, Lenca, and Garifuna communities depend. In March, British multinational BG Group began offshore oil and gas exploration in a 13,500-square-mile area off the coast of the remote Moskitia region, and Chevron has expressed interest in the area. Mining activities are expanding, and mining interests are exploring the mineral potential of 950 sites throughout the country.

Honduras is a signatory to the International Labour Organization Convention No. 169 on the rights of Indigenous and tribal peoples, as well as a signatory to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Yet the government’s obligations under these international agreements have not been adopted into national legislation. At the same time, legislative initiatives such as the 2011 Investment Promotion and Protection Law have strengthened the legal protections for private investment.

“Never before in all the history of Honduras has there been a greater push by the state to guarantee foreign investment,” said Miriam Miranda, general coordinator of OFRANEH, a federation representing the 46 Afro-Indigenous Garifuna communities spread out along the Caribbean coast. The Honduran government is increasingly focused on natural resource exploitation, and particularly mining, as a solution to its crippling debt. “The greater the economic crisis of the state, the greater the crisis for Indigenous peoples as well because the resources in our territories are placed at much greater risk,” Miranda said.

A new General Mining Law, passed in January 2013, opened the floodgates for mining around the country. The law put an end to a moratorium on mining concessions in place since 2006. Less than a week before the National Congress ratified regulations defining how the new mining law would be enacted, the Honduran government announced that 280 new mining concessions were in the works.

North American and European companies are currently operating four large-scale metallic mines in Honduras that produce gold, silver, zinc, lead, and iron. The extraction of iron oxide for export to China is expanding at a rapid pace, and new metallic and non-metallic mining plans are underway. The environmental and social impacts from the now closed San Martin gold mine in the Siria Valley, less than 100 miles from Locomapa, have been the center of mining resistance. “We’ve heard and seen that mining in the Siria Valley left behind destruction, left behind illnesses,” Ramón Matute said. Siria Valley residents have carefully documented and shared with communities throughout Central America their experience with community displacement, contamination and depletion of water sources, and health problems in the region affected by Goldcorp’s open pit mine.

Tolupan activists don’t have to look far for positive inspiration, either. Fifty miles west of Locomapa, thousands of residents of the municipality of El Negrito took to the streets on March 28 to protest gold and coal mining concessions. During a packed town hall meeting, municipal authorities backed the communities’ decision to ban all mining in the municipality. More often, however, the official response to community struggles for their lands and resources is militarization, criminalization, and repression. For example, when residents in Santa Barbara in western Honduras took to the streets on March 24 to protest mining, the Honduran government sent in the military police to evict their road blockade. Under the 2013 mining law, a percentage of mining royalties are paid directly into a security fund that finances the military police and other recently created security forces.

In Tolupan territory the resistance movement continues despite the 2013 murders and ongoing threats. Since Matute and other community leaders returned home to Locomapa and reunited with those who stayed behind, they have been busy organizing. “We didn’t come here to stay hidden in our houses. We came back to continue the struggle,” said Matute, secretary of the grassroots tribal Preventative Council, which was organized in the 1990s to defend natural resources from unrestrained exploitation.

José María Pineda hasn’t returned to Locomapa since August 2013. One of the most visible community leaders speaking out against resource extraction in Tolupan territory, Pineda has been the main target of death threats. But his time away from home hasn’t been wasted. He has traveled as far as Washington, DC to denounce human rights violations to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. For Pineda, the issue comes down to consultation and consent. “So long as that doesn’t happen, we’re right to oppose the continuing extraction of the riches of our Indigenous tribes in the municipality of Yoro,” he told Earth Island Journal in an interview in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital.

Back in Locomapa, the sweet aroma of ocote pine lingers in the air as the sun begins its descent behind the mountains. Sitting outside the house where his mother was killed, Celso Alberto Cabrera plays with his granddaughter. “My mother died defending a right, and we have to do the same because we’re thinking of the children who will be around after we’re gone,” he said.

Cabrera takes comfort in the fact that communities throughout Honduras are speaking out against destructive mining practices. “We feel it gives us great strength because we know that it’s not just us, that there are other organizations that are fighting this same battle,” he said. “We know that if at a certain point all of us in this struggle shout together, we will be heard.”

Sandra Cuffe is a freelance journalist currently based in Central America. Follow her on Twitter: @Sandra_Cuffe.