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Gari-News » Garifuna Land Struggles Increasingly Violent
Jan 30, 2004

Garifuna Land Struggles Increasingly Violent
By Wendy Griffin

From Iriona to Punta Sal, the Garinagu continue to face serious land problems. In several zones, the violence has left Garinagu dead and the rest of the population stunned and terrified.

The most recent case is the murder of Santos Euquerio Bernardez Bonilla in January 2004. Eurequio was one of the last artisans who knew how to make crafts using the vine belaire such as basket sifters (hibise) and basket strainers (ruguma). He was a Garifuna composer of over 300 songs. He was a father, a husband and a grandfather but what probably led to his dead was he was vice-president of one of 6 Garifuna agricultural cooperatives located in Vallecito, Colon near the town of Limon.

Bernardez was killed by machete wounds to the head. His ear was cut off, probably a sign of a murder by "encargo"--people were paid to kill him and they brought his ear to show that he was dead. A radio valued at almost $3,000 was not touched, so robbery was not the motive of the killing. Another Garifuna leader in Vallecito Horacio Martinez had a few days earlier had his house broken into and papers and possessions were thrown everywhere. Fortunately he was not home when the intruders broke in.

The Garifuna cooperatives had won a judicial case against Honduran businessman Miguel Facusse, the uncle of former president Carlos Flores Facusse. Since they have been subject to many harrassments. For example their watermelon and pipian squash were destroyed by people with machetes. Ladinos let cattle loose on the Garifuna crops. Most Garinagu of Vallecito live in populous community of Limon and travel to Vallecito by bus. Euraquerio lived in Vallecito full time with his wife and grandaughters. Now he is dead and the Garinagu call for justice for his murder.

Another community that has faced violence recently is Guadelupe, located west of Trujillo and Santa Fe also in Colon. A Ladino man Juan Varela Morales was living on Garifuna land in Betulia. He was murdered. A woman of that community said the Garinagu of Guadelupe did it, even though further investigation showed that another Ladino man with who the dead man committed illegal acts was in fact responsible for killing him.

The dead man's family took vengenance by killing two innocent Garinagu Valentin Flores Martinez and Eloy Marintez Ramirez in Betulia while fishing for shrimp with ataraya nets. Twenty one other Garinagu were threatened. Since the Ladinos who did the killing are on Garifuna land, the Garinagu are analyzing if there is a way to get them removed. The murders of the Garinagu were not arrested.

One of the most picturesque places in Honduras is the Garifuna community of Miami. Ever since the presidency of RAfael Callejas the government has come up with plans for mega-tourist developments between Miami, located in the Punta Sal National Park, and Tournabe, another Garifuna community in the Park.

Objections to this Congress' decision to sell this land comes from several sectors. Some argue the sale violates Art. 107 of the Constitution because although the land is going to Honduran investors, they are believed to be front people for Italian and Spanish investors. The terms of the concession are incredibly favorable with the price per yard and the interst rate both very low and repayment made over 40 years.

The Garifuna organization OFRANEH objects to the project as the land was taken away from the Garifuna communities in irregular form. How will the communities live without their lands. The Garifuna organization ODECO calls for the government to extend a definative land title to the Miami and to other Garifuna organizations facing tourism development in Hog Keys (Cayos Cochinos). Intense discussions are currently on-going with the government of Ricardo Maduro.

Since the presidency of Carlos Roberto Reina, the Honduran government has been extending land titles to Garifuna communities though never for the whole historic habitat of the Garinagu as required by Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization which Honduras has signed. Over 30 communities out of 45 now have land titles.

The case of Hog Keys is one of the most bizarre. The Honduran government agreed to extend 3 land titles to Garinagu in Hog Keys. But when the government requested that the Municipal Land Office in the Bay Islands register the land, the Registry office refused, according to and ODECO report available on garinet.com.

Outside of Trujillo, the Garinagu have been trying to return to Barranco, a community beside the Guaymoreto Lagoon which was destroyed by Hurricane Mitch. One traditional Garifuna Roberto Roledo remained there even during the Hurricane. But recently he was forced to desert the area by a new scourge--drug traffickers. When the drug traffiker could not find a drug drop left in this unelectrified area, he attacked the farmer to the point of almost dying. He and his wife felt compelled to move into Trujillo for their safety. Robbery of the crops in this area is constant.

There has also been struggles with the environemtal organization in the area of Tela, PROLANSATE in Laguna de Micos. One such confrontration left a Garifuna boy who was fishing dead. Fishing rights had been the cause of one Garifuna death in Hog Keys, another protected area, several years ago. Garinagu are struggling to search for a solution to the increasing insecurity they are facing in their communities.

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