The Garifunda Community – Honduras

Linked with our presentations of Jessica García – Honduras, and with Garífuna Community Leader in Honduras Threatened with Death.

The Garifuna are descendents of Africans and native Carib and Arawak Indians, and they represent a sizeable percentage of Central America’s coastal inhabitants. For over 200 years, the Garifuna have managed to maintain a strong collective identity, including a distinct language, traditions and a communal way of life. The Garifuna have preserved their rich cultural heritage despite facing discrimination, including lack of adequate education or health services and entrenched poverty.

For generations, the Afro-Honduran Garifuna community has resided along the northern coast of Honduras and in La Mosquitia in the east. Many of the core Garifuna religious and cultural practices are inextricably linked to the land, including their collective claim to certain territories. But because the Garifuna live on a prime section of coastal territory, the growth of the tourism industry threatens to undermine their way of life and encroaches on what they regard as their ancestral lands.

Powerful business interests, which expect to benefit from major tourist projects and demand for beachfront property, have employed tactics from land invasion to intimidation and violence to secure possession of lands that they can then sell for a considerable profit. The growth of tourism has been accompanied by a dramatic rise in the number and intensity of threats to Garifuna leaders who seek to ensure that the rights of their community are protected.

In particular, the real estate company Promociones y Turismo (PROMOTUR), a wealthy and politically well-connected corporation that has long been engaged in a land dispute with the local Garifuna community of San Juan, is believed by Garifuna activists and their supporters to be behind much of the intimidation and threats aimed at community leaders.

International financial organizations are also playing a role in this conflict. The Inter-American Development Bank partly funds a planned massive hotel complex, the Los Micos Beach & Golf Resort in the Tela Bay region in northern Honduras, a controversial project that the Garifuna community believes will have a devastating impact on its land and resources. The Inspection Panel of the World Bank is currently investigating claims by the Garifuna community in Honduras that a land administration project it funds will have a negative impact on them.

On May 30, 2005, Gregoria Flores, the General Coordinator of the Fraternal Black Honduran Organization (OFRANEH), an organization that represents the rights of the local Garifuna community, was shot and wounded as she was collecting testimony to present a few days later to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Only a few months before, several agents of the Criminal Investigative Division – some of them wearing hoods – illegally entered and searched the home of another OFRANEH leader, Miriam Miranda, claiming they were searching for weapons and stolen goods. Afterward, the judge who had issued the warrant described this apparent act of intimidation as nothing but an “intelligence error.” There have been no effective investigations into these incidents.

Following the attack on Ms. Flores, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a resolution acknowledging the precarious security situation of the Garifuna activists and asking the Honduran government to adopt protective measures for Ms. Flores, her family, and other members of OFRANEH. To date, the state has not effectively implemented these measures and Garifuna activists remain vulnerable to intimidation and violent attacks.

The home of another Garifuna leader in San Juan, Wilfredo Guerrero, was burned down on November 7, 2005. Although Mr. Guerrero was not home, crucial documents related to his community’s territorial disputes were destroyed in the fire. Wilfredo had denounced attempts by politicians and businessmen to expropriate the communal territories of San Juan and, as a result, has received numerous threats.

Then on January 15 of this year, armed security guards believed to be employed by PROMOTUR attacked members of the Garifuna community of San Juan, following a disagreement with the company about the building of a wall on disputed territory. In retaliation for their protests to the local authorities, the guards apparently shot at unarmed members of the community, including at Mr. Guerrero.

In late February, the bodies of two San Juan community members were found near Tela Bay. The youths had reportedly been detained the night before by public security forces assigned to protect the Los Micos tourism project zone. No one has been brought to justice for these murders and no explanation has been provided for their deaths.

On June 22, the President of the San Juan Tela Patronato, Jessica Garcia was approached at her home by an unidentified man, who offered her money if she agreed to sign a document surrendering ownership of communal Garifuna lands in San Juan to the company PROMOTUR. When she refused, the man put a gun to her head and forced her to sign. He threatened her life and the lives of her children if she publicized the document.

The document (a copy of which has been reviewed by Human Rights First) stipulates that the disputed territories would immediately be turned over to PROMOTUR, that the Garifuna community would desist from any further legal actions or complaints against PROMOTUR, and that the company would have the right to evict and relocate Garifuna currently residing on the land they claim for their tourism project. Next to Ms. Garcia’s signature is that of Jaime Rosenthal, the owner of PROMOTUR.

The Honduran government has initiated no investigations into the grave threats to the lives of Jessica Garcia or her family, despite the systematic intimidation and violence to which the Garifuna community has been subject. In fact, no one has been brought to account for any of the attacks against Garifuna activists and, despite calls from the Inter-American Court of Human Right and numerous human rights organizations, no effective measures to protect the safety and rights of Afro-descendent community leaders have been implemented.

(Read all this on this page of action.humanrightsfirst.org).

But already last year this mess was a threat to this community. See the following older article of August 24, 2005.

HONDURAS: Garifuna people resisting on-slaught of global tourism business – Tourist ‘Development,’ Repression, and Garifuna Resistance:

Concerned about the recent incidents of persecution against leaders of the Honduran Fraternal Black Organization (OFRANEH), at a time when the organization has been actively denouncing a number of internationally financed ‘development’ projects affecting Garifuna communities in Honduras, Rights Action organized a fact-finding delegation to the region earlier this month. On August 12-13, community development, environment and human rights activists from Italy, Canada and the United States traveled to Triunfo de la Cruz and La Ceiba to meet with community and organization leaders … Rights Action has supported OFRANEH’s important community development and enviro-protection work and asks for your tax-deductible donations (information below) to continue to be able to do so.

For more information or to support the work of OFRANEH and other grassroots organizations in Honduras, contact Rights Action: e-mail;

Tel. 416-654-2074;

web: this link, and also the homepage of http://www.rightsaction.org/.

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