Posts Tagged ‘OFRANEH’

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.”

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The Garifuna People Defend Their Land in the Area of Future Model Cities

October 3, 2012

From August 27 to 30, PROAH accompanied OFRANEH (Fraternal Black Organization of Honduras) during its campaign in Vallecito (in the Department of Colón) in which OFRANEH demanded formal recognition of the boundaries of their land, which had been taken over upon by large landowners.

Expelled from their own land

Between Limón and Punta Piedra to the west of Trujillo there is an acute land conflict between the Garifuna community, organized in 6 Garifuna cooperatives, and businessman Miguel Facussé on the one hand and the family of rancher Reinaldo Villalobos on the other. In a 1997 court ruling, the Garifuna cooperatives received titles to 1600 hectares of land in this area.  This was confirmed by a 1999 Supreme Court of Justice ruling against Miguel Facussé, who had planted 100 hectares of African palma on this same piece of land. In the case of Villalobos, he illegally took possession of the majority of this Garifuna land.  Reinaldo Villalobos has since passed away but his family still has security guards patrolling this land and controls access to the beach.

Since 2005, a regime of terror has been unleashed in this corridor between Trujillo and the Mosquitia by people associated with organized crime.  Many families that lived in Vallecito have been expelled and economic activities have been reduced to a minimum.

For the Fraternal Black Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH), the struggle for this ancestral territory that has historically belonged to the Garifuna people is of utmost importance.  They consider it a territorial reserve for food security and the site of a future Garifuna University (1) . An OFRANEH video shows the steps they took to reliably establish the true boundaries of their land in order to assert their ownership of it.

In June 2010, they signed an agreement with representatives of the National Agrarian Institute (INA) to demarcate the boundaries of the terrain in Vallecito.  Nevertheless, those who had occupied this land refused entry to the employees of the INA and the Public Prosecutor’s Office (Ministerio Público), effectively preventing the agreed upon demarcation process. [2]

Two years without advances followed until July of this year when OFRANEH and 200 Garifuna representatives met with INA representatives in Corozol to demand demarcation of the land belonging to 15 Garifuna communities on the North Coast.  In her speech, Miriam Miranda, President of OFRANEH, denounced the government’s silent policy of expulsion through powerful industries and tourism programs that only serve to sell the Garifuna culture.  During this audience, Cesar Ham, Director of the INA, promised to demarcate those communities according to the existing titles and to provide the necessary measures (police, military) to be able to enter onto land that had been stolen.

A Camp to ensure the demarcation of the land

For OFRANEH, the boundary demarcation has real and symbolic importance.  According to Alfredo López, Vice President of OFRANEH, they organized more than 40 communities to take part in a camp to watch the re-measurement process. On Sunday, July 26, 6 busses with about 200 people – including many young people – arrived to demand their right to the land. [3]

The Honduras Accompaniment Project (PROAH) visited the camp to be present when the government representatives arrived.  Additionally, people from the United States, a group of German journalists, and several delegations also provided international presence in the camp.

The camp seemed like it could have been a restful place if it were not for Facussé and Villalobos’ guards and their intimidation of the Garifuna community: they interrupted the night with bursts of machine-gun fire, entered the camp heavily armed, and patrolled the area.  The night dances and drumbeats of the Garifuna community intermingled with fear and vulnerability.

On Tuesday, August 28, the third day of the camp, the INA technicians arrived and surveyed the boundaries of one of the six Garifuna cooperatives, accompanied by over 50 Garifuna men and women. After finishing, they affirmed that their work was very limited by the lack of protection from the authorities, which they needed to demarcate the rest of the land.  They pointed out that they needed the presence of the police, military, and Public Prosecutor’s Office in order to break the Villalobos’ gigantic gate that blocked access to the beach.

A contingent of the national police and Public Prosecutor’s office did arrive in the area the next day, but stayed in Tocoa, which is 80 kilometers from Vallecito. Via phone, radio, and communiqués, OFRANEH called for them to come to Vallecito in order to carry out the boundary demarcation and protect the camp members, who were constantly threatened by armed men who surrounded the camp.  Daily, the authorities justified their absence with a variety of reasons, including insufficient personnel, the need to wait for orders from “above,” and even a lack of gas to transport their personnel from Tocoa to Vallecito.  In this way, the first week of the camp ended without their presence.  OFRANEH concluded:

If there has not been any response from Pepe Lobo’s government up to this point, it is because he supports and endorses the theft of land by the groups who have taken control of the territory in the Vallecito area.[4]

Vallecito – Future Model City?

It is well known that Vallecito is in one of the three zones for future model cities in Honduras.  The model cities will be located in three Special Development Regions (RED), two in the north and one in the south of the country.  These are autonomous zones with their own government and laws to promote free trade and attract investment.  In the Vallecito area, there are multiple natural resources that are of economic interest: minerals, petroleum, beautiful beaches, and fertile land.

According to OFRANEH, there is an unresolved problem with the implementation of model cities: What to do with the inhabitants who own their land and are not willing to leave?  The government claims that the model cities will be in uninhabited areas but OFRANEH assumes there will be evictions because there are almost no uninhabited zones in the country.  In the case of Vallecito, where the inhabitants have legal titles to the land, OFRANEH suggests that the expulsion strategy could be the absence of the government, which leaves the inhabitants subject to the will of the powerful interests and their armed groups.

In response to the daily intimidation, OFRANEH constantly requested police protection for the camp members.  However, the police patrols stayed in Tocoa, saying that they lacked orders from higher-up, were awaiting reinforcements, or lacked gas.  OFRANEH denounced this as a policy of a “Failed State,” because it appeared the state was incapable of incapable of reacting in the face of organized crime:

“All day we have been waiting for answers from the government and there has not been a positive response by the police or military to come to the area in order for the re-measurement of the land that powerful groups have stolen from us to proceed. As a result, the night is closing in is with our worst fears confirmed.” [5]

Belated Response from the Government

Due to strong national and international pressure, OFRANEH was able to dialogue with the Lobo Administration.  During a meeting in Tegucigalpa, the government committed to designate protection for the Vallecito community and to establish the boundaries of the land that had been taken over. [6]

Shortly afterward, on September 13, the INA complied with its commitment from two years ago – accompanied by police and military entities and with an order from the Public Prosecutor’s Office — the Villalobos’ gate was broken and they succeeded in entering the land to begin demarcating its boundaries.

The process had not yet concluded when the threats by the Villalobos’ guards began.  They declared they would murder any Garifuna who came to Icotea, a neighboring town where the widow of Reinaldo Villalobos lives.

OFRANEH hopes the authorities issue an eviction order to return the land to the Garifuna cooperatives and guarantee the security of the community in Vallecito, who continue being harassed by powerful interests in the area.  OFRANEH stated that “any attack suffered by the Garifunas will be the responsibility of Reinaldo Villallobo y de Miguel Facussé’s thugs as well as the government.[7]

[1] “Piratas en Honduras: De Gregor Macgregor y la República de Poyas, a la Ciudad modelo de Paul Romer” OFRANEH. Julio 18, 2012.

[2] “Pueblo Garífuna reocupa tierras usurpadas en Vallecito”, Comunicado de OFRANEH del 27 de agosto del 2012, documento: doc decl.Ofraneh2.

[3] Amenazan con desalojar garífunas tras recuperación, Artículo del periódico digital conexihon del 29 de agosto del 2012, http://conexihon.info/noticia/derechos-humanos/pueblos-indigenas/amenazan-con-desalojar-gar%C3%ADfunas-tras-recuperaci%C3%B3n-de.

[4] Crisis en Vallecito (Colón): Aclaración pública ante infundios del INA, Comunicado de OFRANEH del 29 de agosto del 2012, http://ofraneh.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/crisis-en-vallecito-colon-aclaracion-publica-ante-infundios-del-ina/.

[5] “Honduras, sospechoso silencio del Gobierno de Pepe Lobo ante caso de Vallecito”, Comunicado de OFRANEH del 30 de agosto 2012, documento:sospechoso silencio.

[6] “Se reanuda el Proceso de Remedición de Tierras en Vallecito, Colón, Comunicado de OFRANEH del 5 de septiembre 2012, http://ofraneh.wordpress.com/2012/09/05/se-reanuda-el-proceso-de-remedicion-de-las-tierras-de-vallecito-colon/.

[7] “Se logró romper el Portón de la Verguenza en Vallecito!”, Comunicado de OFRANEH del 13 de septiembre 2012, documento:Portón de Verguenza.