Posts Tagged ‘indigenous people’

Community of Locomapa: Impunity, violence and harassment continue against Tolupán indigenous

June 17, 2015
Photo: MADJ

Photo: MADJ

On April 11, 2015, PROAH accompanied an activity organized by the Preventative Council of the Tolupán Tribe of San Francisco de Locomapa and MADJ (Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice), which included a walk along one of the tribal boundary lines in recognition of their lands.

The activity included a homage for Luis de Reyes Marcía, Tolupán indigenous member of the community of Locomapa, Yoro, who was assassinated on April 4, 2015. Luis is the fourth land rights defender murdered in this small community, following the murder of three of his companions in the land struggle, in 2013.

Two years after the murders of three Tolupán land rights defenders in 2013, these crimes remain in impunity:

On August 25, 2013 three indigenous Tolupán were murdered by gunfire in the community of Locomapa, Yoro, in northern Honduras. The victims were María Enriqueta Matute, Armando Fúnez Medina, and Ricardo Soto Fúnez. They, along with other members of the Tribe of San Francisco de Locomapa, were organizing to protect natural resources and to oppose the illegal mining of antimony and logging on their communal lands. The murders occurred after 12 days of protest by the community, peacefully blocking the road. Witnesses testify that the murders were committed by two men belonging to a group that works for the mine and powerful business interests in the region. (see PROAH article 2013).

In response to a petition for protection for the community issued by MADJ, in December 2013 the Inter American Human Rights Commission (IACHR) issued protective measures for 18 members of the community and their families, a total of 38 people. On February 22, 2014, in a public ceremony, which PROAH team members attended as international observers, Honduran authorities committed to fulfill their obligation to protect those under threat and to capture the suspected assassins.

However, the State of Honduras has not fulfilled its obligation to implement protective measures. The situation of impunity and extreme vulnerability of the community continues. Following the three murders, several families had to flee the zone for six months; one person exiled from Locomapa, has not yet been able to return. Two years after the crime, the alleged assassins, for whom arrest warrants have been issued, remain at large in the community; they and others in their group, continue to harass and threaten those who oppose mining, creating a state of terror in the community.

Another land defender murdered

On April 4, 2015, tragedy struck the community again: another member of the community, Luis de Reyes Marcía, was killed.

His body was found, brutally murdered with several stab wounds in the thorax and neck.

Luis Marcía was the husband of Vilma Consuelo Soto, a beneficiary of protective measures by the IACHR and an active member of MADJ. Her family had returned to their land on February 22, 2014 after being forcibly displaced for six months due to death threats. On returning, Consuelo Soto and Luis Marcía continued with the land struggle. Just before his murder, Luis and Consuelo had presented a complaint to the local police regarding new death threats and damage to their crops. The principal suspect for his murder is part of the same group that constantly intimidates the community.

Consuelo Soto.

Consuelo Soto.

On May 22, just six weeks after the murder of her husband, Consuelo Soto suffered another attack. According to Consuelo, a neighbor who was bothered by a visit of the District Attorney for Ethnic Groups, investigating the murder of her husband, came to her house where she was with her two grandchildren, and fired on them three times. Consuelo Soto threw herself to the ground with the two children to protect them. She fled to the home of another neighbor and then had to leave the community (listen to her testimony here, Radio Progreso). It is supposed that the gunman is also part of the group working for powerful business interests.

The police and authorities responsible for investigating these crimes and protecting the population receive constant complaints from members of MADJ and are well informed about activity in the zone. However, they constantly cite difficulties that impede their work: lack of personnel, vehicle etc. For MADJ, this reflects a lack of will on the part of the State of Honduras. According to Víctor Fernández, attorney for the organization, “many efforts have been made to compel the State to assume its responsibility to implement protective measures but it has not done so. The situation is getting worse.”(see Radio Progreso)

Those who struggle for land rights in the community live in an extreme state of insecurity. At least eleven community leaders have received death threats. Another actor who harasses the community is Finlander Uclés, a retired general who claims rights to community lands (see PROAH article June, 2014.) Recently, Mr. Finlander issued death threats against two members of the community, who are also members of MADJ and beneficiaries of IACHR protective measures.

Photo MADJ, Protest in front of the Public Ministry, May 12, 2015

Photo MADJ, Protest in front of the Public Ministry, May 12, 2015

Due to the situation of extreme vulnerability for the Tolupanes of Locomapa, MADJ demands: that authorities duly investigate the 2013 and 2015 murders; arrest warrants issued for the capture of those responsible for these crimes be acted on; the responsibility to implement protective measures and guarantee the safety and integrity of beneficiaries be fulfilled; and finally that the companies illegally exploiting natural resources in the zone be removed as they are causing violence and conflict.

For more information:

Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia, MADJ:

VIDEO on the land rights struggle of the community of Locomapa: https://www.facebook.com/MADJhn/videos/10207298064316136/

Comunicado April 5, 2015: “Dan muerte violentamente a indigena Tolupán en Locomapa,Yoro.”

Red nacional de Defensoras de derechos humanos en Honduras: Alert, June 4, 2015: Todas Somos Consuelo

Radio Progreso, April 10, 2015: Ante muerte de Tolupanes, Estado no atiende ni actúa

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The Garífuna community of Barra Vieja on trial for defending ancestral territory

June 3, 2015

From May 12 to 14, PROAH accompanied the Garífuna community of Barra Vieja in Tela, where 66 members of the community appeared in court for a public hearing, accused of “usurpation of lands in detriment to the State”.

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The Garífuna community of Barra Vieja, located in the municipality of Tela, like many other Garífuna communities on the northern coast Honduras, faces the threat of forced eviction from their ancestral lands by private economic interests and the State of Honduras.  Ever since residents became aware of the plan to install a luxury hotel complex in their community, the struggle for recognition of their ancestral land rights and the defense of Garífuna culture intensified. The community has suffered two eviction attempts and legal complaints against them for land usurpation resulted in the entire community being summoned to court from May 12-14th, 2015.

Indura Beach & Golf Resort, a tourist project promoted by big business and the State of Honduras

The construction of the Indura Beach Resort complex began in 2006, taking several acres of community land. The hotel was inaugurated in November 2013, but further expansion of the project is planned. Today, the gated entrance to the resort is located next to the Barra Vieja community. The hotel fence, borders the access route to Barra Vieja (see photo).

The Tela Bay Toursim Development company (Desarrollo Turístico Bahía de Tela-DTBT), owner of the Project, is a prívate-public Enterprise with 49% of its financing from the Honduran Institute of Tourism (Instituto Hondureño de Turismo IHT) and 51% from the Honduran Fund for Tourism Investment (Fondo Hondureño de Inversión Turística FHIT), comprised of some of the most powerful businessmen in Honduras (1).

Photo S Bartlett

Photo S Bartlett

The legal fight for land and criminalization of land rights defenders

In 2007 the Honduran Institute of Tourism, through the National Port Authority (ENP), filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor in Tela against the residents of Barra Vieja for usurpation of State lands and declaring itself owner of this territory. According to OFRANEH (Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras), the ENP “mysteriously became the owner of a good portion of Garífuna territory in the Bay of Tela”. Since then, the community began a legal battle for recognition of its right to live on ancestral lands, confronting powerful private and State investment interests.

The criminalization began in July 2013 when several members of the community were captured and detained by the police for several hours. Since that date, almost all of the adult members of the community have been issued alternative measures to prison, accused of usurpation, which require them to sign before a judge each week and prohibits them from leaving the country.

One year later, the community of Barra Vieja suffered two evictions: on September 6 and 30th, 2014. In both instances, the armed forces removed all of the personal belongings of 150 families from their homes. The population peacefully resisted the eviction and returned the same day to their community. The community of Barra Vieja has denounced the psychological impact of these evictions on the population, in particular on the children who are strongly impacted by the heavy police and military presence which PROAH observed during an eviction attempt on the 29th of September, 2014:

Barra Vieja 12.14

Oral and public hearing:

On April 12 – 14th 2015, 66 members of the community were summoned to appear before the court in Tela, accused of usurpation in detriment to the State. Due to lack of space in the Tela courtroom, the proceedings took place in the old installations of the Tela Railroad Company, a subsidiary of the United Fruit Company, which since the 1930s has promoted the removal of Garifuna communities for banana plantations.

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During the three days of proceedings, nearly 400 people from different Garifuna communities accompanied the people of Barra Vieja in solidarity. Of note, only 66 people from the community were summoned; the majority of the community leaders and over 40 other people from the community were not summoned although they continue to be processed and under alternative measures to prison. The prosecution was represented by the Public Ministry, the Attorney General’s Office and the National Port Authority.

After three days of proceedings, the judge accepted a request from the prosecution to postpone the hearing so that they could have time to find their witnesses who had not appeared for the hearing so that they could testify at the next hearing which was set for June 3, 2015.

INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS LAW vs TRANSNATIONAL CORPORATE INTERESTS

According to OFRANEH, “The case of Barra Vieja is a violation of ILO Convention 169 on indigenous and tribal peoples” which is ratified by the State of Honduras. For OFRANEH, the pressure on Barra Vieja is part of a Honduran government strategy to remove Garífunas from their lands in order to exploit their territories; it represents a danger to their right to land, prior consultation and places their survival and culture at risk.

The pressure of indigenous lands in Honduras intensified in 2013 with the passage of the Law for Employment and Economic Development Zones (ZEDEs – model cities) which includes over 20 Garifuna communities impacted by several of these ZEDEs which are to be concessioned to foreign investors with the objective of creating zones which are independent of state institutions and in which the justice system is outsourced.(2)

The IACHR calls on the government of Honduras to respect the rights of the Garifuna people

In the preliminary report on its in situ visit to Honduras in December 2014, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights called on the government to: 1) “recognize the cultural identity of the Garífuna” people and 2) “intensify its actions to respect and guarantee their lands, adopt the necessary measures for completing the obligation of the state to guarantee prior, free and informed consultation regarding projects developed in their lands, territories and that impact their natural resources, taking into consideration the special relationship between these peoples, the land and natural resources.”

In light of the heavy pressure and economic interests at play in the case of Barra Vieja and depending on the decision of the court in June, the community may have to appeal to the Inter American Court of Human Rights which has developed a body of jurisprudence reaffirming the right of indigenous peoples to ancestral territories.

Update – June 10, 2015:

On June 4, 2015 the Court in Tela aquitted 66 Garifuna members from the community of Barra Vieja who were charged with land usurpation. However, a trial against eight leaders of the Barra Veija community continues. They face a new hearing on June 30th. For more information, see this article by OFRANEH (in Spanish) and the Interview of Miriam Miranda, OFRANEH coordinator: http://t.co/O9Y8wLxjof

1. In February 2015, the First Encounter of the Alliance for Prosperity for the Northern Triangle was held at this resort, with the presence of the Presidents of Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and CEAL. The official purpose of the event: secure private sector backing for the Alliance for Prosperity Plan for the Northern Triangle. A group of civil society organizations from Central America and the United States expressed grave concerns regarding the Alliance in a public letter directed to the heads of State of these countries. In particular, their concern “is based on the fact that the Plan reinforces the same economic policies that have resulted in inequality, detonated generalized violations of labor rights, an increase in violence targeting labor leaders and the forced displacement of the population throughout Meso America.”