Posts Tagged ‘ZEDE’

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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Who really benefits from Honduras’ Model Cities?

October 25, 2014

An article by Erika Piquero, former PROAH volunteer, published on Latin Correspondent

The Honduran government’s website for Zones for Economic Development and Employment (ZEDEs) boasts promises of bountiful investment and employment opportunities.

These ZEDEs, commonly referred to as ciudades modelos – model or charter cities – are promoted by the government as free trade zones that will generate attractive foreign and national investment opportunities, coupled with legislative and governance systems that will offer substantial freedom: ZEDEs will have their own legislative systems. In a report regarding ZEDEs, the National Lawyers Guild maintains that “ZEDEs represent a significant expansion of free trade zones in that they facilitate the creation of autonomous privatized city-states designed to exist independently from the legal, administrative and social systems of the Honduran state.”

ZEDEs have gained support from free market enthusiasts and proponents of neoliberal development policies, especially libertarians who are eager to see their ideas put into practice. The ZEDEs are promoted as an opportunity to overcome some of the problems plaguing Honduras: poverty, social crisis, underdevelopment and so on.

Yet this plan, though it may seem innocuous to some, is not seen as a positive one among many Hondurans, especially rural and indigenous communities. Communities that have already been affected by plans for ZEDEs have read between the lines and see a more sinister side of these plans.

An ocean view looking out from Zacate Grande, where developers want to build one of Honduras' model cities. Photo: Erika Piquero

Decades of Land Struggle

The community of Zacate Grande, an island in Honduras’ Pacific Gulf of Fonseca (now connected to the mainland via a highway constructed in the 1970s), has dealt directly with the effects of ZEDEs as part of a decades-long territorial struggle.

The area was uninhabited until the 1920s, when indigenous Hondurans moved there. According to Honduran law, if uncultivated lands are occupied and worked for a minimum period of years, community land titles can subsequently be earned. However, this has not happened for the people of Zacate Grande.

To this day, Zacate Grande’s residents do not have land titles. They were promised under former President Zelaya, but the promise went unfulfilled after he was overthrown in the 2009 coup d’état, and the decree was declared unconstitutional in 2011.

Meanwhile, the community has been subject to the whims of a handful of wealthy Hondurans, who are eager to develop the lands in Zacate Grande for tourism, private vacation homes and (more recently) ZEDEs.

Some of the biggest names interested in the scenic waterfront lands of Zacate Grande are Miguel Facusse (owner of the Dinant Corporation) and his son-in-law Fredy Nasser. The terratenientes (large land holders) have been accused of forging land titles to ‘prove’ ownership, destroying the local ecosystem and engaging in numerous strategies to threaten and intimidate Zacate Grande’s community members off of their lands.

A sign in Zacate Grande: "Welcome to TK land, a zone free of big landowners." Photo: Erika Piquero

Land issues like this can be found throughout Honduras, following frighteningly similar patterns, especially among the Garifuna communities in northern Honduras and inhabitants of the Bajo Aguan region. According to University of California, Santa Cruz history professor Dana Frank, “you can see the pattern all over the country of these corporations and domestic Honduran elites using state security forces and private armies of security guards to intimidate indigenous people, afro-indigenous people and campesinos out of their lands.”

The Reality of Ciudades Modelos

In 2013, the Honduran government passed legislation allowing the corporations and individuals funding the ZEDEs to dictate the entire structural organization of the zone, including laws, tax structure, healthcare system, education and security forces. This kind of flexibility is unprecedented even in similar models around the world. More recently, specific zones have been identified for the implementation of the first ciudad modelo.

However, ZEDE law does not protect basic rights like Habeas Corpus, the inviolable right to life, freedom of religion, protection for free press and freedom from non-legal detainment, among many others. There is a blatant lack of transparency within the ZEDE structure, and it can even be imposed upon unwilling inhabitants under legislation recently passed in Honduras.

In a country where most citizens already lack political power, the potential implications of this are alarming. Daniel Langmeier, a human rights observer with experience in Honduras, notes: “We already have a state of defenselessness where laws and institutions are failing to protect citizens. Now, you get rid of those laws and the situation will spiral out of control, into true lawlessness.”

The Honduran state is actively surrendering Honduran sovereignty itself, allowing corporations and individuals to circumvent Honduran laws, while marginalized groups that already experience threats and extreme violence will face even greater threats of human rights violations.

A piece of street art reads  "Without Model Cities." Photo: Erika Piquero

Potential Violations of International Law

Rather than fulfilling promises of economic opportunities, ciudades modelos actually pose serious threats to human rights and indigenous rights in Honduras – which are already concerns in the current Honduran context.

Honduras has ratified both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). In doing so, it is obligated to uphold its citizens’ right to self-determination and property rights. However, the recent legislature permitting advancement of ZEDEs is poised to violate both of these rights.

Additionally, Honduras has ratified the ILO’s Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples and has signed the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, indicating an obligation to engage in free, prior and informed consent of indigenous groups when legislative issues might affect them. The Honduran government has failed to do this in many recent cases, and the increased lawlessness that ZEDEs bring will exacerbate this situation.

Dire and Deadly

What can be done? U.S. citizens should be having a public conversation about what is happening in Honduras, and the role that the U.S. government and foreign policy (and the lack of transparency around it) is playing. Media coverage and portrayal of the Honduran situation should be challenged and responsible, investigative journalism should accurately represent the Honduran situation.

There should also be greater awareness within the U.S. of citizens involved in the ZEDEs themselves: Michael Reagan (Ronald Reagan’s son), Grover Norquist, and others join the Committee for the Adoption of Best Practices for the Honduran ZEDEs.

There is an urgent need to strengthen human rights defense efforts in Honduras and for U.S. citizens to hold their government responsible for its foreign policy in Honduras and the region. The international community must remain vigilant and support those people and communities suffering these devastating impacts.

Erika Piquero was an international human rights accompanier with PROAH in Honduras from March to May 2014. PROAH provides international accompaniment to human rights defenders who find themselves under threat or harassment due to their individual and collective human rights work in an environment of repression and political persecution. For more information about the organization, please see their website.