VALLECITO, COLON, HONDURAS – The original inhabitants of this Central American country have been struggling as individual communities to confront illegal evictions by heavily armed military, para-military, private security, and police. But today in an unprecedented gathering of at least six indigenous groups, they said they will continue to hold onto their land. The Garifuna, Lenca, Maya Cho’rti, Miskito, Tolupan, and Peche indigenous groups have occupied parts of Honduras for centuries. Juan Manuel Diaz of western Honduras told The Nation Report today that his group is 4th generation Maya Ch’orti who are descendents of the ancient Mayan civilization and belong to the Meridional Maya. He and his community maintain their ancestral language as well as Spanish.
In what many consider paradise, this isolated community of Vallecito is located midway between the mountains and the Carribbean coast in northeast Honduras. It’s no wonder that this land is coveted by those seeking to profit from its natural resources. Locally in Vallecito, the Garifuna community in particular are struggling with the powerful landholder, Miguel Facusse. Facusse privately holds the most land of anyone in Honduras and has made his millions off of mostly conflict palm oil derived from the African Palm trees that occupy multiple plantations throughout the country including Vallecito. Although Honduran law prohibits any individual from holding more than a legal limit in any one particular region, Facusse has been able to evade laws and therefore illegally holds tens of thousands of acres.
The Garifuna descended out of the western African coast during the slave trade of the 17th century. Alfredo Lopez who is Vice-President of the Organization of Black and Garifuna People of Honduras-OFRANEH- told The Nation Report today, “It’s difficult to trace the exact location of an individual Garifuna’s roots because groups were taken from many stopping points along the African coastal route in one trip”. He added, “Though most of us are believed to have originated in Senegal and Mali”. Because of a shipwreck near St. Vincent island during one of those trips, kidnapped Africans who escaped one such trip were never enslaved probably resulting in the group’s maintaining of their traditions, culture, and language.
Garifuna in other nearby communities are experiencing similar threats and displacement. Some Garifuna say that the attempts at ethnocide are growing more difficult to overcome. The threat of the global tourism industry which in recent years has become more than a threat, include the implementation of the Micos golf course which is being built on Garifuna land without Garifuna authorization. With investments from the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank the mega project is slated to include 5-star hotels, pools, tennis courts and time-share properties. In addition to the seized Garifuna land, artificial land is being constructed by the trucking in of loads of earth to compensate for the loss of land to climate change. Ironically this project is happening in the very location where a national park was built to honor the very person-Jeannette Kawas- who fought against such projects from being built on stolen land.
Further to the east near Rio Negro is the Canadian tourist project where construction started years ago and where construction has temporarily stalled because of resistance by those who have exposed the land conflict. The idea was to build a gated community entirely immune from the laws and regulations of Honduras including infrastructure, police, and even currency. The idea was struck down by the Honduran Supreme Court in 2012 but those Justices who voted to outlaw the “model city” concept have since been replaced by new Justices who soon after reimplemented the idea. Canadian pornography magnate, Randy Jorgensen has been a major investor in the project.
In September of 2011, Lopez told The Nation Report that, “We have been moved from place to place and now we have nowhere to go”. In that interview in 2011, he said that they would hold onto their land. And so far they have succeeded in holding onto Vallecito. And the Garifuna have come a long way since The Nation Report first reported from Vallecito in September of 2012. In a land settlement that was constantly under threat of gunshots throughout the night, they said in the gathering today that their only weapon-their drumming-overpowered the gunshots and that Facusse’s guards no longer shoot their guns throughout the night. Today they just finished a sanitation project that includes flushing toilets, running water, and a 30-bed lodge.
Some credit international presence for the reduction of threats. The Garifuna have hosted human rights groups from other Central American countries as well as from the United States, Canada, and countries in Europe. In the United States, the groups Ag Missions,Alliance for Global Justice, La Voz de los de Abajo, Rights Action, and School of the Americas Watch have all sent delegations to the Garifuna communities to monitor the human rights situation here.
Perseverance though is the main contributing factor for the successes in overcoming the challenges. In September of 2012 while The Nation Report was on location, the governmental body the National Institute for Agrarian Reform-INA- was expected to arrive to the Vallecito settlement to officially measure and assign the Garifuna land to the Garifuna people but the organization didn’t arrive until days later.
Refufia Gaintan/The Nation Report