Honduras - From September 24-29, hundreds of Garifuna community members affiliated with the Honduran Fraternal Black Organization (OFRANEH) descended on Tegucigalpa, with drums, high spirits, and a broad spectrum of demands regarding the rights of the afro-indigenous Garifuna people. Sleeping and dancing in the plaza underneath the Congress building and demonstrating outside the Presidential Palace and various governmental institutions, the group met with the National Congress president and later with Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, who agreed to convoke officials from the key ministries and institutions addressed in the communities’ demands.

The marathon negotiations resulted in important victories for a few of the communities’ priorities, such as a detailed short-term agreement and funding for the respect of the land rights of Punta Piedra. The community’s case was brought before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and resulted in an agreement between the community and government; however, the government has yet to compensate and relocate the outsiders who have violently settled within Garifuna communal lands.

Another major victory was the immediate dissolution of the ‘Wadabula’ Regional Garifuna Commission, a non-representative body created under the previous government administration to carry out the World Bank-financed Honduran Lands Administration Program (PATH, for its Spanish acronym) in the Garifuna communities along the Caribbean coast. PATH and Wadabula have both been denounced for the lack of community consultations and their promotion of the individualization of communal land titles, using the highly contested 2004 Property Law as their legal basis.

Ofraneh also reiterated the demand to reform the Property Law, presenting a proposal to replace the harmful Chapter III of Title V with a new chapter based on the demarcation, recognition and respect of ancestral indigenous and Garifuna communal territory.

The organization continues to work hard to move forward with the remaining demands, many of which were left for future meetings.

Threats and hostility have continued against San Juan community leaders, demonstrating the Honduran government’s failure to carry out the protective measures ordered by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for the security of the lands and leaders of both San Juan and Triunfo de la Cruz.

While the municipal government of Tela has finally cancelled the contract signed with real estate companies Idetrisa and Maserica concerning Triunfo de la Cruz communal lands, tourism development and real estate speculation continue to threaten the Garifuna communities of the Tela Bay.

Recently, a representative of the private investors in the Los Micos Beach & Golf Resort announced that president Zelaya has offered an additional 500 hectares for the environmentally destructive mega-project, which includes a golf course, villas, luxury hotels (to be operated by Hyatt and Hilton) and more. The planned resort – financed in part by both the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) and the Central American Bank of Economic Integration (CABEI) –sits along the coast between the Garifuna communities of Tornabé and Miami and is located entirely within the buffer zone of the Jeanette Kawas National Park, an important and fragile wetlands system threatened by the golf course and constructions.

The creation in the 1990s of protected areas covering and controlling ancestral Garifuna lands and resources has violated Garifuna territorial rights in several cases. In the Cayos Cochinos (Hog Keys) just off the coast, the basic rights to subsistence of the Garifuna people in the region have been violated since the archipelago’s designation as a national park in 1993 by a series of actors: the Smithsonian Institute, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the AVINA Foundation (controlled by multi-millionaire Swiss businessman Stephan Schmidheiny).

While no serious action has been taken to halt the illegal activities of commercial fishing boats in the area, restrictions on the subsistance fishing practices of the local Garifuna are rigorously enforced by the private foundation in charge of the park’s management, along with the help of the naval base in one of the larger keys. Over the last two months, the community of Chachauate has actively denounced the militarization of their small key, demanding the immediate withdrawal of the soldiers stationed on Chachauate during the day, as well as a thorough revision of the archipelago’s management plan in consultation with the local Garifuna
communities in order to guarantee the respect of their ancestral territorial rights.

Source: www.rightsaction.org

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