Of summits and counter-summits: The Forum on Land Grabs in Latin America and Africa

The Caribbean city of La Ceiba, Honduras, was the venue for the World Summit for African Descendants, held from 18 to 21 August 2011 and organised by ODECO (Organisation of Ethnic Community Development).  The event took place at CURLA (Atlantic Coast Regional University Centre) on the outskirts of the coastal city.  According to its organisers [1], the summit was primarily conceived with aim of “taking advantage of the unique opportunity presented by the declaration of 2011 as the ‘International Year for People of African Descent’ in order to conduct a critical analysis, assess the state of Afro-descendant populations and the successes achieved through the implementation of international treaties”.  However, the event, supported by the government, was not regarded with as much enthusiasm by the various groups representing Honduras’ Garífuna community, such as OFRANEH (Black Fraternal Organisation of Honduras), CENONH (National Coordinating Group for Black Organisations) and Alianza 2-14 (2-14 Alliance).  These groups complained that the Summit failed to address the most important issues affecting the survival of Garífuna culture in Honduras [2], in particular, the seizure of the ancestral lands of Afro-descendant peoples, in Garífuna territory and elsewhere.

To compensate for this lack of representation, OFRANEH and Alianza 2-14 organised a counter-summit – the Forum on Land Grabs in Latin America and Africa, at which PROAH was present.  The event was held only a short distance from CURLA in La Ceiba, right on the route to the ‘official’ Summit.  For two days, from 18 to 19 August 2011, despite the fear of reprisals by the state security forces  [3], about 500 members of Garífuna communities from all along the Honduran North Coast came to the counter-summit, together with various representatives from other communities  and national organisations concerned with the problem of the usurpation of ancestral lands.  Over these two days, the 500 participants were divided into 10 discussion groups to address the following issues: Land Dispossession in Africa and Latin America; Community Media and its Function in the Defence of Land and Territories; The Role of Women in Farming and the Defence of Territory;  Territories and Food Sovereignty; Oil and Gas Exploration and Exploitation;  Water as a Human Right; Model Cities and the REDs; Neo-colonialism and Sovereignty; Health and the Black Population; Climate Change and its Consequences for the Peoples of Africa and Latin America;  the Role of Education as a Fundamental Element in Strengthening Cultural Identity; Young People and Migration.  At the end of the two days a declaration was drafted and adopted unanimously by the assembly (available below).

As well as the central task of reflection, the participants of the forum took part in a peaceful march in the centre of La Ceiba, and attended a performance of Loubavagu, a bilingual play (in Garinagu and Spanish), directed by Rafael Murillo Selva.  Fortunately, the threats of heavy repression of the Forum were not realised, although there was an abnormally heavy police and army presence around the site, as well as continual surveillance by vehicles and individuals identified as agents of the state.

For more information on the Forum, see OFRANEH’s website and blog:

Website: http://ofraneh.wordpress.com/

 

***

 

DECLARATION BY THE FORUM ON LAND GRABS IN LATIN AMERICA AND AFRICA

Joined together in the city of La Ceiba on 18 and 19 August 2011, we, Garífuna men and women from 46 communities ranging from Masca in the department of Cortés to Plaplaya in the department of Gracias a Dios, members of OFRANEH, representatives of NABIPLA, of CENONH and Alianza 2-14; and with the presence of sister organisations such as COPINH, MASTA, and campesino  organisations from Bajo Aguán: MCA, CNT, Vía Campesina, and Feministas, publicly declare, both nationally and internationally, the following:

That this activity which we have called The Forum on Land Grabs in Africa and Latin America is the communities’ own initiative and arises from the agreements reached at the Funda Assembly (Garífuna community of Guadalupe, Colón) on 9 July.

The main purpose of this Forum has been to devise strategies to counter the third exile of black people from their lands, based on critical analysis by the legitimate representatives of the Garífuna communities in all their diversity, including young people, women, the elderly, artists, members of community councils and NGOs.

Problems and experiences were shared in 10 working and discussion groups, resulting in proposals and conclusions which we are now making public knowledge. These problems such as dispossession of land, exploitation of natural resources, climate change and the privatisation of public services among others, are the product of a racist and patriarchal neo-liberal model of capitalist exploitation.

We are totally convinced that the law of Special Development Regions (RED), known as model cities, passed by Congress is a neo-colonial law, which will affect the whole of Honduras and particularly the territories of 20 Garífuna communities located between the Bay of Trujillo and the estuary of the River Sico. REDs are enclaves in the service of foreign capitalism and represent an attack on sovereignty.

With respect to climate change, it was stated that the structural problems responsible for this situation had not been addressed by states and therefore false solutions were being put forward such as REDD (mechanisms for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) and carbon trading involving privatisation, forced displacement, violations of territorial rights, etc. These false solutions and aggressive acts against our people and their culture are also features of other projects called into question at this Forum, such as model cities and schemes for wind and hydro-electric power.

For the people and organisations gathered at this forum, the violence in Honduras is a human rights violation, a consequence of the failed state in place since the coup, with the United States playing a more than questionable role in this deterioration in the situation here. Operation Castaway is just one more example of the geostrategic trend towards the destruction of the State of Honduras.

The problems of our young people are exacerbated by the crisis of cultural identities in the communities,   involving the loss of language, the high risk of drug addiction and teenage pregnancy, and scant educational and recreational opportunities in the communities. That is why there is mass migration of our young people under way, due to lack of education and opportunities in Honduras.

With regard to health, there is a trend towards privatisation, jeopardising access to it as well as its quality, without any support being provided to hospitals that have emerged out of the peoples’ own experiences.

There is state-sponsored destruction of the national food production system, by following the guidelines of financial institutions which promote biofuels regardless of food security, an important aspect of national sovereignty.

With regard to the decree issued by CONATEL prohibiting the issuing of licences for community radio stations, we point out that it is a violation of ILO Convention 169 and the American Convention on Human Rights, which enshrine the right to information.

WE DEMAND:

Respect of the right to consultation enshrined in the ILO Convention 169 and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The right to the healthy food of the peoples, access to natural resources, water as an unrestricted  human right, forests, native seeds, and small-scale farming based on ancestral practices instead of  pesticides and industrial agriculture.

We demand redoubled efforts to prioritise agricultural production for domestic consumption, in particular staple grains. We also oppose the introduction and use of transgenic seeds that threaten our health, as well as, in the case of maize, the destruction of native varieties through open pollination, which is allowing the food chain to be appropriated by transnational corporations.

We demand an end to the repression and persecution of indigenous peoples and campesinos engaged in the struggle.

Garífuna women are the mainstay of the peoples’ life and culture and they therefore demand respect for territorial autonomy – they are not willing to sell the land – and they are standing up for women’s rights, the fight against violence and the establishment of new rights in a National Constituent Assembly.

We oppose and condemn the handover of sovereignty through the adoption of the neo-colonial law known as ‘RED’ (Special Development Regions) which will encroach on the ancestral lands of the indigenous and black peoples, and destroy the functional habitats from which we gain our livelihood.

The first Garífuna hospital in Honduras is a monument to the dignity of the Garifuna people, and we therefore demand its integration into the national health service system, in accordance with ILO Convention 169, and the signing of a tripartite agreement which would include the Ministry of Health’s responsibility for it.

We demand the expansion and legal recognition of our communities’ territories, with the involvement of their legitimate authorities and their organisations – that is to say, the return of land, currently occupied by third parties, to their rightful owners.

We oppose the exploitation of hydrocarbon deposits in Honduras, because of the massive pollution problems which can stem from the exploration and drilling for oil and natural gas,   there being disastrous precedents in which the world’s black and indigenous people have been those affected.

We demand recognition of CONEGAH (National Garífuna Council of Honduras) as the entity responsible for taking charge of the education of the Garífuna communities, and therefore for driving forward and promoting a comprehensive educational system which is both legitimate and relevant to our young people.

We oppose megaprojects such as hydroelectric dams, REDD plus, oil concessions, enclave  tourism, monocultures, mining projects, and everything involving the displacement of communities and their inhabitants.

We demand that the conditions are created in Honduras so that, once and for all, the basic needs of the vast majority of the population are met, given that we currently live under a regime of exploitation and exclusion, when there is the possibility of creating a land of peace and inclusion.

This forum expresses its solidarity with and support for the various campesino organisations and communities in the Bajo Aguán which are suffering militarisation and continual repression.  We demand immediate demilitarisation of the area and the dismantling of the paramilitary gangs in the service of Miguel Facusse, the palm-grower of death.

We express our solidarity with the peoples of the Horn of Africa, assailed by a famine which is a consequence of climate change and the wars caused by the neo-colonial countries which have given themselves the right to create failed states (Somalia), as well as appropriating their fertile land for the production of food for export while a large proportion of the population depends on food aid (Ethiopia), and  millions of displaced people are living in vulnerable camps (Kenya) waiting for international ‘charity’.

We, the participants in this forum, do not recognise the agreements reached at the World Summit for African Descendants and we will continue with acts of vigilance, denunciation and mobilisation in response to any threat to our territories, communities and culture.

La Alianza 2-14 and this forum fully endorses the Funda Declaration (of Guadalupe, Colón) and commits itself to continuing the actions for the struggle laid down in those agreements and those reached in this forum, as well as those arising from the Assembly of Peoples from the Land and the Sea, held in Durugubuti, and the Assembly of Indigenous and Black Women which took place in Copan Galel.

Made in the City of La Ceiba on the nineteenth day of the month of August 2011.

[1] http://cumbremundialafro.org/?p=109

[2] http://ofraneh.wordpress.com/2011/08/12/la-cumbre-afro-y-las-ciudades-modelo-de-neocolonialismo/

[3] http://ofraneh.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/honduras-las-amenazas-de-represion-de-los-organizadores-de-la-cumbre-afrodescendientes-hacia-el-pueblo-garifuna/

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