Ag Missions’ Honduras Delegation Journal Part VI:
Written by Stephen Bartlett,
Testimonies of OFRANEH leaders transcribed by Steve Pavey;
Live interpretation from Spanish by Stephen Bartlett.
Access to the sea is vital for Garifuna culture and economy. Photo by Steve Pavey
There is a complicated and challenging correlation of political forces impacting the Garifuna struggle, including the blow to democratic process of the 2009 Coup D’Etat and illegitimately and fraudulently elected coup-successor regimes, the extreme wealth and power of a tiny Honduran elite, the U.S. government support for this elite and its police and military forces, as well as deepening neoliberal policies and deregulation applied across Honduras. There is also the reality and threat of more out-migration of Garifuna from rural communities and villages to cities, including the humanitarian immigrant crisis of Hondurans fleeing to the United States.
Yet with all that, the vision for the Garifuna leaders keeps coming into focus, clearer and clearer. Miriam Miranda, longtime organizer and current president of OFRANEH (National Fraternal Black Organization of Honduras) together with veteran leaders such as Alfredo Lopez, and young leaders such as Nahun Lalin, provided us with a look at those forces within a trajectory of struggle that has been happening through the efforts of OFRANEH since the 1980s.
Miriam Miranda addresses the assembled Garifuna Brigadistas and international guests at Vallecito, on October 23, 2014 Photo by Steve Pavey
The Garifuna struggle in Defense of Ancestral Lands: Resisting Land Grabs, Using International Human Rights Law and Strengthening Autonomy through Cultural Renewal and Self-sufficiency.
“This has been a hard fight. We have a lot of disadvantages in this effort to reclaim our land. We see that there is a governmental plan to displace indigenous people from their lands. We have had two hearings with the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights this year. On May 2nd 75 people went to Costa Rica for that hearing. It was a big excursion. Many of the people from Triunfo de la Cruz went because that was what the hearing was about. It was a marvelous experience. Many of the old women went saying this could be their last chance to advocate for what will become of us. It was very interesting to be there with groups from Nicaragua, with universities. They received us very well. “
“ In Costa Rica we understood the intention of our government. The Honduran government attorney argued that the Garifuna are not indigenous people, and therefore the UN Convention 169 of the ILO does not apply. We are foreigners, he argued. And, he said, “they have dislocated the indigenous Tolupan people who used to live there before the Garifuna came.” That was 217 years ago (long before Honduras became a nation). What the government lawyer said was well thought out. When they offer beach lands, they say no one is here. They say we don’t exist. They say the land is empty. This is what they say outside Honduras. It’s empty, they say. Why do they say that? Because they want to kick us out of there. And that is what is happening in Barra Vieja with these tourist mega projects. Who has the right? Those who invested in the project, they say. The eviction was even asked for by the DA, the attorney general, the attorney’s office, to get the people out of Barra Vieja.”
Guard post at road leading to INDURA tourism complex, restricting entry to that stretch of beachfront and accompanying banana plantations. The unpaved road to Barra Vieja skirts this down the slope to the left. Photo by Steve Pavey
Miriam: “In this area where we are, they call this a “special economic zone.” The famous “charter city” plans. One of these is going to be from Guadalupe all the way to the lagoon a little farther than Battala, the whole area, including the Miskito communities over there. What does that mean? That if the government proposes, all these communities… the government will try to remove the people from those communities. We have seen it in Trujillo. The Garifuna community of Rio Negro disappeared. They used the law to evict the people there. The people didn’t want to sell. So the government cited eminent domain. They expropriated the land. And now they have cruise ships come in there making millions of dollars for tourist companies. And the people have no benefit from that. From these cruise ships, the buses arrive there and take them to their hotels. There is no benefit for the Garifuna community. And that’s what they want to do for this whole zone. Vallecito is strategic because it is in the middle of all that territory. And we have a lot of sub soil resources. There are studies that have been done and they say there is oil under this land.”
“Miguel Facussé Barjum is one of them (that wants all this land). Look where his land lies. It starts in Limon and comes all the way up here. You’ve seen the fence that goes for miles and miles and miles. And he is on the other side too.
We drove for many miles with this fence along one side of the road. All that land is in the hands of Honduras’ largest landholder, African Palm magnate, owner of the Palm Oil refinery Dinant corporation, and boss to hundreds of “security personnel” some call a paramilitary, Miguel Facusse. Photo Steve Pavey
Miriam continues to address the assembly of Brigade youth:
“We celebrate that you are mostly young people. You can see in this campaign here, this brigade, 95 percent of you are young people. That is also a big challenge though. There are a few of you from Sangrelaya (which is rural). But most of you come from urban centers. Those of you raised in urban centers have experienced changes, significant changes in your culture which is part of what we want to do here. We hope that next year we will have a training center here for the recovery of the Garifuna culture. And that’s what we want to do on the other side of the gate there. We are going to build the center there. Pech people came to help us with the adobe. They cut the adobe. There are many adobes there to install a training center to strengthen the recovery of the Garifuna people. So you who are young people who do not know how to drum, or how to make drums, the traditional customs of making our traditional items. You must be able to make drums also. All our traditional crafts. Many young women no longer know how to make Cassava bread so we are struggling to do that. We have the right to be there. To have a center for the recovery of Garifuna culture.”
During the Assembly Carolina spoke of their struggle against the officials in Nueva Armenia community, where the Garifuna are fighting to resist a land grab and prevent an eviction. Photo by Steve Pavey
Nahun Lalin, OFRANEH leader elaborated on Miriam’s words:
It is a hard job, acompaniment to recover our food security, with our youth. It is important to remember our production knowledge. A person who loses their land, they lose their identity as people of the land. We need to change our daily habits. Some communities stopped growing because they don’t have land and others because they just lost the habit of doing farming. So we need to recover that part of our identity and to recover our food security.
It is a very big challenge because there are many interests. The Agrarian Institute for example. We have spent three months trying to get them to move on this invasion (in Vallecito) and they have not done anything. When there is an eviction order, those people should be removed immediately. When there is an eviction order signed to remove Garifuna, it is executed right away. They say we need to go the legal way but they only use the laws against us. And when it’s trying to enforce the law in our favor, they don’t. What happened in Barra Vieja and in Armenia where 50-100 armed men came to evict them. Yet here in Vallecito no troops have arrived to remove these invaders in our land.”
Lands in Vallecito belonging to the Garifuna have been invaded by campesinos of the area and planted in beans and other crops. There was evidence of third party financing behind their agricultural activities, including use of tractors, leading to the supposition that these campesinos are in the employ of people with interests in access to the land for Narco trafficking purposes.
Creek dug by persons invading the Garifuna lands in Vallecito, presumably for clandestine access to the sea for drug trafficking. Heavy machinery was employed.
Photos by Steve Pavey.
Alfredo Lopez, a veteran leader of OFRANEH from Triunfo de la Cruz spoke of the importance of communications by means of six community radio stations run in Garifuna communities. Alfredo had been imprisoned without charges brought for more than six years starting in the late 1990s. One of the first hearings and sentences issued by the Inter American Commission of Human Rights in a case relating to the Garifuna struggles helped provide sufficient pressure for his release. He founded the first Garifuna community radio station there: Coco Dulce Radio.
Alfredo Lopez spoke to us in Sambo Creek about the Vision and Struggle of OFRANEH
Photo by Steve Pavey
Garifuna community radio aims to strengthen the use of Garifuna language, inform and educate the community on issues relating to Garifuna well being, and provide local news, music, sports and cultural programming. Garifuna community radio also trains young people to broadcast and prepare radio programming, and do community based journalism. The results of this effort in six community radio stations and in media trainings OFRANEH has organized, have been decisive in various campaigns and actions by OFRANEH in defense of Garifuna territorial integrity, as can be seen by many excellent videos and audio posted on the OFRANEH website, blog, facebook, etc… Recently CONATEL, the government ministry regulating communications, sent a letter threatening to shut down the community radio station in Sambo Creek, saying it is using a bandwidth with permission. Alfredo Lopez informed us that there is no mechanism currently in place that community radio stations could use to legalize their status. The Garifuna radio stations are currently operated under the protections of Convention 169 for indigenous peoples’ autonomy in their territories, but this Convention is constantly being violated.
Community Radio Sugua in Sambo Creek, a Garifuna community east of La Ceiba, Honduras
Photo by Stephen Bartlett
Alfredo Lopez sees hope in recent decisions taken by the Inter American Commission on human Rights. He described the hearing in Costa Rica as historic. He said that the ceremony invoking the aid of the ancesters that was enacted in the hearing room by the Garifuna delegates was so powerful that when it came time for the government to testify, first their power point did not work, and then the electricity in the whole building went out, frustrating the government representatives. Soon their time elapsed before they had finished what they wanted to say and their frustration was evident. Cross examination of the government testimony displayed impatience and annoyance on the part of the judges of what the government spokesperson had said. OFRANEH expects the decision from this hearing to be issued before the end of the year. Alfredo also said that in addition to two other cases accepted but pending by the tribunal, a fifth case was accepted by the court in the record-breaking time of only four months. That case concerns Puerto Cortez, which evidence now available is showing that the entire Port there was built on what was Garifuna land, similar to the Port in Castillo.
The whole issue of migration is a critical one in the struggle to defend Garifuna territory and culture. Miriam in dialog with the AMI delegates broached the topic of immigration in a very clear way while addressing the assembly:
“We were in New York recently. A large group of Garifuna women who went with their children had these electronic ankle bracelets on their ankles. You’ve seen them on facebook right? They say that they cannot leave the city. They are being constantly monitored. It is a nightmare for them. The American Dream has fallen. Because there is a crisis there. There in Detroit where they built cars and now they are so poor. It is incredible to see abandoned houses just like that everywhere. There are huge sky scrapers in Detroit that are just empty. And if you walk where the Garifuna live in NY you see all the garbage. You see people without jobs. People without work because there is a crisis.”
Miriam speaking about the invasion of lands in Vallecito. Nahun Lalin in center. Photo by Steve Pavey
“I agree with what Stephen Bartlett said (when talking about a Three Sisters Ag Cooperative he coordinates in Kentucky_) The liberation of ours starts because we can plant what we eat. This is food sovereignty. There is a big job to do in the social movements of Honduras and everywhere because the people have to know that they need to produce. That’s why we are pushing for production here. We want what is beginning to exist here in Vallecito to spread across Honduras and to all our Garifuna communities. To bring the autonomy and the sovereignty of our peoples. If we continue to consume, it doesn’t matter how much we shout and protest. We may have big protests and big slogans, on May 1st for example. Great big marches. All the workers march and they save money all year to buy the paint for the big banners. And the social movements say “march” and they march. People go in and shout “ the people united will never be defeated” but they don’t produce. They are still consumers. It is a contradiction. We need to work to become producers. We need new forms of struggle. When you touch the pocket book…that is the surest way to overcome our enemies. This process of recovering, reaffirming our connections to the soil to our communities, to our land. We were in NY for the march on climate change and there is a very strong struggle there. So although there are many in solidarity there, yet, if there is not a change in the model of life, in the behavior of consumerism, there is no real struggle. What will happen when all the energy is consumed?”
Youth Brigade member waters a pepper plant in kitchen garden/farm in Vallecito, the new center for Garifuna struggle for autonomy and self determination. Photo by Steve Pavey.
Agricultural Missions delegation: Our delegation was struck by the strength and resilience of the coastal Garifuna communities we visited. The Garifuna people are blessed by fisheries and lands rich in biodiversity and fertility, which they have stewarded so well since their arrival here on this coast more than 200 years ago. Sea fishing, freshwater fishing, gathering of crabs and shrimp, growing of cassava, bananas, plantains, wild fruits and vegetables, the preparation of delicious casaba and coconut breads.
Fresh fish drying in Batalla, near ruins from Gamma storm. Photo by Steve Pavey
Their diet is wonderful and their subsistence economy rich and agreeable. Going back and strengthening those roots under the banner of food sovereignty is indeed a recipe for long term endurance and cultural resilience, and a basis upon which to continue to struggle for a democratic Honduras. We applaud the work of OFRANEH and the Garifuna communities they accompany and advocate for and with!! We will do what we can to stand with them in solidarity.
Garifuna children on beach in Triunfo de la Cruz, Tela Bay, Honduras. photo by Steve Pavey.
For more information and how to join Agricultural Missions and others in solidarity with OFRANEH and the rural social movements of Honduras, contact Stephen Bartlett: firstname.lastname@example.org 502 896 9171