Friday, February 14, 2020

The Tragedy Facing the Garifuna People of Honduras- A Guest Post by Geraldo Sambola

As many Blacks in the U.S. face systemic violence and challenging policies threatening their livelihood, Blacks in Honduras, Central America also face distressing threats to their survival.  Last year 2019 Honduran Blacks also known as “Garifuna or Garinagu (plural),” faced unprecedented deaths from criminal acts.  Though many of their murders were associated with the cycle of violence in Honduras, some deaths were associated with Garifuna activist organizing and resisting seizure of their lands by outsiders.  

The largest Black population in Honduras are known as the Garinagu, a mixed Black and Amerindian group which established coastal towns along the Circum-Caribbean coast in Central America the late 1700s, there population concentration area.  Although Garinagu largest population is in Honduras they are also in Guatemala, Belize, Nicaragua, and hold population segment in the U.S. specifically in New York with their highest concentration in the Bronx.  Due to their many contributions, including as soldiers in Honduras this Black population was recognized by their government in the 1821 Constitution.   Since the early 1900s till the present the Honduran businessmen, and government have collaborated with foreign businesses utilizing the Caribbean coastal areas, Garinagu region, to reap their economic development goals.  At first 1900s development initiatives were large scale banana plantation and railroad by U.S. based agro-industries, and 1970s cattle-ranching projects. This was followed by increase tourism development initiatives the 1990s.  At the turn of the century mineral extraction, hydroelectric plant projects and African palm growth and large-scale tourism continue challenging Garinagu subsistence. 

In the northeast Garifuna community of “Masca,” 25 miles from San Pedro Sula, several Garifuna community leaders lives have been threatened and some murdered.  On September 8, 2019 an unidentified assailant arrived at the restaurant of Mirna Suazo Martinez shot and killed her driving away on his motorcycle.  Mirna was president of the community board in the region.  The community board historically rejected the construction of a hydroelectric power plants in the Masca river.  Mr. Oscar Francisco Guerrero, was also shot to death the following month on October 18, 2019.  He was assigned as part of Mirna security team due to death threats she constantly received.  On December 28, 2019 Karla Ignacia Piota Martinez, Mirna’s sister was also shot receiving seven gunshot wounds and two weeks later dying.  Ignacia was seventy years of age and president of the Masca community board of trustees.  These occurrences continued from the past as, four years ago October 14, 2017 Garifuna community leader/businessman Silvinio Zapata Martinez was killed, shot 5 times by unknown individuals while closing his restaurant business also in Masca.  Zapata contributed in leading the community successfully resisting the building of the hydroelectric dam in the Masca river, which was to be supported by the United Nations Carbon Fund.  Community protests and involvement of the Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH) resulted in pausing development efforts, nonetheless threats and assassinations continue.   

In another Garifuna residential coastal area, earlier last year January 24, 2019 Garifuna leader Celso Guillen was detained by authorities although he was freed from charges by a Canadian landowner in his community.  Mr. Guillen an activist from the Garifuna community “Guadalupe,” in the municipality of Trujillo, 140 miles from San Pedro Sula, was arrested and mistreated by police on October 2017.  A lawsuit and order of capture was filed by a Canadian businessman against Guillen for trespassing land he purchased originally belonging to the activist.  Canadian businessman Randy Jorgensen obtained about 1,500 acre of Garifuna land constructing tourism and real estate project in this Trujillo bay region of the Garinagu territory.  OFRANEH was successful in contacting the United Nations as well as the Honduran government Special Prosecutor of Ethnic group absolving and freeing Guillen of his arrest, nonetheless he continues facing threats. 

At a September 2019 meeting at “Casa Yurumein,” a Garifuna meeting place in the Bronx, Omar Suazo alongside other leaders explained challenges faced in their individual communities.  Suazo was imprisoned since May 2017 on false charges and eventually freed in 2018.  Mr. Suazo was the president of the village township association of Sambo Creek in La Ceiba, 85 miles from San Pedro Sula, and successfully for years resisted the building of a dam in the Sambo Creek river in which the Japanese International Cooperative Agency is involved.  At a public gathering in his hometown Suazo was attacked and sought to defend himself as he was thrown to the ground by several men and was knifed by one of them in his back injuring him.  Gun shots came from the outside injuring one individual and killing one of the Ladino individuals. The result was Suazo arrest and charges with murder and jailed with his injuries.  Suazo explained being accustomed to death threats and that he was set up because of his community activism.  He shared his thankfulness to all who rallied behind him resulting in his released imprisonment. Nonetheless, challenges continue as Honduran officials have re-opened the case again charging him with murder.

On August 2019 the Bronx based, Garifuna Coalition organization submitted a letter to the Honduran Minister of Human Rights expressing its solidarity with The Black Fraternal Organization OFRANEH demanding the government to comply with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, December 18, 2015 verdict.  OFRANEH filed the grievances 2006, focusing on two Garifuna communities, due to exhausting their possibilities of justice through the Honduran court system and the Special Prosecutor for ethnic groups.  Part of the verdict resolution declared that the Honduran government was to provide demarcation of land originally granted with collective ownership to the community of “Punta Piedra,” also to assign the demarcation of the land to the community of “Triunfo de la Cruz,” and ensure that the Garinagu have free access to their entire land undermined by mining regulations.  In addition, the resolution called for the government to investigate the past murders of Garifuna activists Óscar Brega, Jorge Castillo Jiménez, Julio Alberto Morales, and Jesus Alvarez.  The response deadline December 2017 passed, nonetheless the Garifuna community continues waiting for response to this and many others grievances filed regarding territorial challenge in their other coastal communities. 

An estimate of 47 Garifuna communities exist along the Honduran coast, and those mentioned here are just a few facing land challenges, violence and repression.  Meanwhile, with territorial and other difficulties, many Garifuna continue migrating to North America (some as part of the Central American migrant caravan) seeking safety from the cycle of violence, and better economic opportunities for their subsistence. 

By Geraldo Martinez

Dorchester resident fighting to protect Garifuna community, by Yawu Miller

A Letter to Honduras’s Minister of Human Rights by José Francisco Ávila López- Garifuna Coalition USA, Inc. info@garifunacoalition August 27, 2019

El Exterminio del Nuevo Amanecer by Juan Almendarez January 10, 2020

La Ofraneh denuncia que la expansión de la frontera de agrocombustibles y el impulso de ciudades modelo, compromete la sobrevivencia de los pueblos ancestrales.

HONDURAS, HUMAN RIGHTS, INDIGENOUS RIGHTS, OFRANEH, Racism in Honduras: New Attack on Garifuna Leader in Masca, Posted by INTERNATIONALIST 360° on JANUARY 3, 2020

Silvinio Zapata Martinez

#WHRDAlert HONDURAS / Assailants kill Mirna Teresa Suazo, community leader and Garifuna territorial defender

IACHR condemns the prevalence of murders and other forms of violence against Garifuna women in Honduras REPORTfrom Inter-American Commission on Human RightsPublished on 24 Sep 2019 

Honduras: Policía detiene ilegalmente a Miriam Miranda defensora de la tierra y territorio, tras horas ella y su compañera fueron liberadas Autor(a): Criterio (Honduras), Publicado en: 22 April 2019


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