Highs and lows in the struggle for land in Triunfo de la Cruz

At the beginning of November, members of Triunfo de la Cruz’s Pro-Improvement Community Council (Patronato Pro-Mejoramiento) were pleasantly surprised to receive a copy of a letter from the Honduran Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General) to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, or IACHR[1].  In the letter, the Deputy Attorney General  (Sub-Procurador General), who is also the Honduran state’s representative before the IACHR, expressed his total support for the precautionary measures issued by the Commission, which ask the state to avoid or suspend “the implementation of any judicial or administrative action that could affect the rights derived from the beneficiary community’s ancestral property, until such time as the bodies of the inter-American system adopt a final decision with respect to [the Case]” [2].  He observed that “the State of Honduras, through the Instituto Nacional Agrario (INA) [National Agrarian Institute], granted two title deeds of full ownership to this community, which are protected by both domestic and international legislation”, adding that these titles to communal land were “inalienable, immune from confiscation and non-transferable”.  In his letter, the Deputy Attorney-General stated that “the community councils [patronatos] of any kind authorized by that Corporation [referring to the parallel community council sponsored by the mayor’s office of the nearby city of Tela] lack legal standing, because the ancestral authority of the Community of Triunfo de la Cruz must be respected”[3].

For the members of CODETT (Comité de Defensa de Tierras Triunfeñas – Defence Committee for Triunfo Land) and the Pro-Improvement Community Council of Triunfo de la Cruz, the support represented by this document is totally unprecedented, as it clearly backs the positions they have defended for almost a decade, particularly since the IACHR granted the community precautionary measures in 2006.  For once, the people fighting to protect their land have had reason to be optimistic.  Copies of the letter were distributed within the community, and it was read out by Faluma Bimetu (or Coco Dulce), the community radio station.  It is hoped that the IACHR will very shortly recommend that the case is passed to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Despite this good news, the reality is that the threats to the communal lands continue, and are taking increasingly insidious forms.  One of the most notable examples is the PROCORREDOR project, or Project for the Sustainable Management of Natural Resources and River Basins in the Meso-American Biological Corridor on the Honduran Atlantic Coast (Proyecto de Gestión Sostenible de los Recursos Naturales y Cuencas del Corredor Biológico Mesoamericano en el Atlántico Hondureño).  Presented as a joint international development initiative between the Republic of Honduras through SERNA (Secretaría de Recursos Naturales y Ambiente – Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment) and the European Commission, the specific aim of the project is to “improve environmental management conditions at institutional and local level, through the sustainable management of protected zones and interconnection areas of the Biological Corridor of the Honduran Caribbean, contributing to its conservation and recovery” [4].  Four components have been identified to achieve this: protected areas, management of river basins, planning regulations, and strengthening of institutions[5].  In their official communications, PROCORREDOR’s administrators put a lot of emphasis on the fact that the 26 million euros available to achieve its objectives have to be managed in collaboration with the local population, going as far as to state that “this project’s defining characteristic is the full participation of the municipalities and local people who together create a range of initiatives and significant ecological, economic and social benefits”[6].  In the case of Triunfo de la Cruz, it can not be said that no effort has been made to engage the community in dialogue, but in this case they have done so with the wrong parties.


The PROLANSATE Foundation (Fundación PROLANSATE) is one of the local non-governmental organizations chosen to implement the PROCORREDOR Project, and to thus benefit from its financial support.  With its focus on managing the protected areas of Tela Bay[7], the Foundation drew up its operating plan for 2011, partly basing it on the conclusions of a day of consultation which took place in December 2010 with representatives of the institutions, organizations and communities in the region[8].  In the case of Triunfo de la Cruz, the community’s representative was Braulio Martínez, a member of a Community Council – but of the parallel community council imposed by Tela’s town hall[9].  This case is unfortunately perhaps just another example of a tendency not limited to Honduras – the undermining of prior consultation processes when implementing large-scale development projects.  Considering the long history of problems and conflicts linked to the sensitive issue of land tenure in the region, PROLANSATE, as a local organization, should have been aware of such tensions.  More than anything, it is a cause for concern that it has accepted the representative of the parallel community council, apparently without having investigated the extent to which he truly represented the community.  According to members of Triunfo de la Cruz’s Pro-Improvement Community Council, these ‘representatives’, who act for particular interests, are very compliant when it comes to approving management plans which contribute to the loss of the ancestral way of life of the community, its sovereignty over its communal lands and their gradual sale to private interests.  Teresa Reyes, chair of the Pro-Improvement Community Council, has expressed her concern at one proposal in particular in the management plan, to restrict fishing to certain periods of the year.  She argues that there is no need for it, given that the community has always practised traditional, small-scale fishing, and therefore do it in a way which is sustainable, while such a restriction would  seriously affect the community’s economy and food sovereignty.  Alfredo López, a community leader and member of the Community Council, remembers the extreme case of Guillermo Norales, a Garífuna fisherman from the community, who was killed on 24 September 2008 by members of the armed forces responsible for guarding the Cuero y Salado Wildlife Reserve (Refugio de Vida Silvestre Cuero y Salado), near the city of La Ceiba.  It is worth noting that the crime remains unpunished[10].

The Triunfo de la Cruz community’s situation is not an isolated case.  The increasing interest of a whole range of different promoters of tourism means that the pressure on this land can only intensify.  Fortunately, this community has organized itself and is responding to the threats.  It is to be hoped that international bodies which promote human rights, such as the European Commission, will make a greater effort to ensure that their intentions on paper translate into reality, to avoid ‘achieving’ perverse results, with the affected communities, instead of being the beneficiaries of such projects, becoming their victims.

[1] See the article Land sales and disputes in the ancestral territory of the Triunfo de la Cruz Community

[2] Organization of American States, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Protection System, Precautionary Measures. Available on line at: http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/indigenous/protection/precautionary.asp

See also the article Land sales and disputes in the ancestral territory of the Triunfo de la Cruz Community

[3] Letter from the Attorney General’s Office to Dr. Santiago A. Cantón, Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 24 August 2011 (in Spanish – see unofficial English translation below plus original letter).

[4] PROCORREDOR, ¿Qué es PROCORREDOR?, Descripción,  (What is PROCORREDOR?  Description) http://procorredor.org/?cat=1000&title=Descripci%F3n%20&lang=es (in Spanish only – unofficial English translation)

[5] PROCORREDOR, ¿Qué es PROCORREDOR?, Componentes, (What is PROCORREDOR? Components)  http://procorredor.org/?cat=1063&title=Componentes&lang=es (in Spanish only)

[6] PROCORREDOR, ¿Qué es PROCORREDOR?, Objetivos, (What is PROCORREDOR? Objectives) http://procorredor.org/?cat=1054&title=Objetivos&lang=es (in Spanish only – unofficial English translation)

[7]PROLANSATE  Foundation, Plan Operativo Anual 2011 (2011 Operating Plan) , p. 58, (In Spanish only, as is all PROLANSATE material referred to) http://www.prolansate.org/images/stories/manejo/pnpi/plan-operativo-anual/plan-operativo-pnpi-2011.pdf

[8] PROLANSATE Foundation, Plan Operativo Anual 2011 (2011 Operating Plan), p. 19, http://www.prolansate.org/images/stories/manejo/pnpi/plan-operativo-anual/plan-operativo-pnpi-2011.pdf

[9] PROLANSATE Foundation, Misión, (Mission) http://www.prolansate.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=10&Itemid=6

[10] Garifuna Online Television, Garifunas piden justicia por la muerte del pescador Guillermo Norales (Garífunas call for justice for the killing of Guillermo Norales) http://www.garitv.com/main.php?module=video_management&node=video_front&action=play&item_id=640&file=GariTV_News_Informe_especial_Protesta-por-muerte_de_pescador_Garifuna.flv&name=GariTv+News+-Garifunas+piden+Justicia+por+la+Muerte+del+ Pescador+Guillermo+Norales&start=561




24 August 2011

Ref. SP-A-100-2011

Distinguished Doctor  Santiago A. Cantón

Executive Secretary, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Washington, DC

Dear Executive Secretary

In my capacity as Deputy Attorney-General and Representative of the State of Honduras to the  Inter-American Court of Human Rights, I have the pleasure of writing to you regarding your letter of 25 July 2011, in which you ask the State of Honduras to submit its observations on Ref. “Triunfo de la Cruz Garífuna  Community – Case 12,548 – Honduras”.

The State of Honduras would like to state the following, in relation to the above:

The State of Honduras, through the National Agrarian Institute (INA), granted two title deeds of full ownership to this community, which are protected by both domestic and international legislation.  The area granted by the State of Honduras to the Community of Triunfo de la Cruz is six hundred and fourteen point ninety eight hectares (614.98 has).  It is important to point out that each Garífuna Community has title deeds of collective land ownership which are inalienable, immune from confiscation and non-transferable, and duly recorded in the relevant Land Registry, as stated in the […]Certificates , which also refer to “the prohibition on carrying out any action or concluding any contracts, as a precautionary measure granted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and notified to the State of Honduras and communicated and notified to the Land Registry on 4 December 2007”.  […..]

According to the report by the Ministry of the Interior and Population, the Governor of the Department of Atlántida, Ms Margie de Dip, was notified, and she in turn, in June 2006, formally instructed the Mayor of the Municipality of Tela, Mr David Joseph Zaccaro, to suspend any judicial action which would affect the Triunfo de la Cruz Community’s right to property.

 The community councils of any kind authorized by that Corporation lack legal standing, because the ancestral authority of the Community of Triunfo de la Cruz must be respected.   The State of Honduras also confirms its reply of 7 March 2011, contained in letter No. SP-A-25-2011, in relation to community councils.

As stated above, the State of Honduras reaffirms its commitment to the Honourable Commission to continue with the relevant investigations, in order to resolve the issues raised by the petitioners.

                                   Yours respectfully,

Ricardo Rodríguez

Deputy Attorney General and

Representative of the Honduran State to the IACHR




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