Co-written by Lauren Elliott
"At this very moment we have advanced our struggle. We succeeded in breaking the gate of shame in Vallecito!" wrote Miriam Miranda on September 13 in the latest communiqué from the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH), a human rights organization of the Afro-indigenous Garífuna people. Writing from Honduras, Miriam, the coordinator of OFRANEH, told about the first victory in the Garífuna's most recent campaign to win back their legal and ancestral lands lost to mega-development projects.
Two weeks ago, OFRANEH and its allies set out to reclaim a significant portion of Vallecito, the site of the largest single landholding of the Garífuna people. This most recent action was part of a decades-old struggle to maintain their territory, agriculture, and livelihood on the northern coast of Honduras. They established a camp outside the locked gates that surround the disputed land and demanded the government resurvey the territory and put it back in Garífuna hands. They also demanded protection from wealthy developers' intimidation tactics, including regular death threats and nightly visits from the developers' hired guards.
Last week they succeeded in opening the gates and walking again on their land, the first victory of hopefully many more to come. "A judge [originally]... decided against our ancestral and legal rights. But after great pressure, patience and accompaniment by our ancestors, we were able to open the gate," Miriam wrote.
According to a September 4 statement by OFRANEH, Vallecito "is in the heart of the coastal strip that the Honduran state plans to hand over to foreign companies under a new Law or Special Regions for Development (RED)." Wealthy tourism and agricultural developers, some with known ties to organized drug crime, have taken the land, developed it, and kept the Garífuna out. Often this means preventing the coastal Garífuna from reaching the ocean which they depend on for sustenance fishing.
The businessmen won't give up the land lightly. Yesterday Miriam went on to write of the struggle ahead:
"The process of land surveying has not even been concluded, yet the Garifuna people are already receiving death threats! The security guards of the [developer] have said that after tomorrow they will assassinate any Garifuna person who enters the town of Icotea [a non-Garífuna town near Vallecito]."
In an era when corporations and governments don't blink one eye before taking ancestral and farming land from indigenous and small-farming communities, OFRANEH's action is of global significance. The Garífuna's relationship to the land is as old as their ancestors, and their philosophy in defending it demonstrates a clear alternative to modern-day commodification of land and the earth's resources. As Carla García of OFRANEH said, "Our ancestors fought so we could inherit this land and the Garífuna culture. We are obligated to protect this legacy for our children to inherit. In this way our culture will live forever."[i]
On a conference call with allies on August 29, Miriam gave the background to the struggle and called for international support. She said:
We are doing peaceful work. We are not here invading any land. We are reoccupying the land that historically and legitimately belongs to us as Garífunas.
It's very important to alert people that we need protection. Imagine: We're here fighting and every day that passes we feel that we could be attacked at any moment. Armed men with illegal weapons are confronting us as if we were in a warzone, shooting guns off in the mountains just to frighten us. We're facing organized crime here, people connected to drug trafficking. There has been no political will from the state to send protective forces in to protect us at night. We can't sleep. We have to organize our own security.
Has the government of Honduras done anything [to Miguel Facusse, a main developer on disputed Garífuna land]? They've protected him. The state of Honduras has designated him as a model businessman. Also, the World Bank and the IDB [Inter-American Development Bank] and recently the European Union granted him loans as a model businessman even though it's proven, even by the United States, that he is linked to drug trafficking in Honduras. But, the drug trafficking policies in the U.S. are hypocritical, as we've said many times.
At this point, the best option [for international solidarity] is sending emails to government officials. If there's a direct message from each of you and if you are going to send this to 3,000 people, that's critical.
Brothers and sisters, I want to say one more thing. We have to focus on protecting our leaders. We have discovered that there is a great interest in determining who leads our movement. There's a practice in many parts of the world of cutting off the head of an organization in order to stop it.
For that reason, for us, it is important to continue with the solidarity since many of you are people linked to social movements. International pressure on the state is vital to protect the lives of people like us, who are in an ungovernable area, where there is no authority, because even the authorities are protecting the criminals. That's why international, worldwide pressure is important, so the government realizes that many people are paying attention to what happens to our lives.
Please take action today to answer OFRANEH's call for support. The following is the global call of support that OFRANEH released September 4:
"To those in solidarity with us nationally and internationally, we request that you demand that the Government of Porfirio Lobo Sosa: (1) Assure the physical integrity of the director/members... of OFRANEH, as well of other persons who are in the camp in Vallecito. The security for the Garífunas must be guaranteed before, during and after the process of land remediation; (2) Give responsibility to any violence suffered by the Garífunas to the paid gunmen of Reinaldo Villalobo and of Miguel Facusse, as well as the government itself; and (3) Conclude the process of remediation with the restitution of the lands of the Garífuna cooperatives of Vallecito."
[i] From email to Stephen Bartlett of Agricultural Missions, September 13, 2012.
Thanks to Tim Burke for transcribing and translating the conference call and to Stephen Bartlett of Agricultural Missions for having organized it. The quotation in the title is by Carla Garcia taken from this conference call.
Lauren Elliott is the Program Associate for Other Worlds. Click here to see more articles by Other Worlds.
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