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Oct 20, 1999

While Tegucigalpa is hit by more flooding, another sort of crisis is surfacing on the Garifuna coast of Honduras. As you know, the struggle over land has been protracted, including a governmental attempt to change the Constitution to be able to sell the land to foreigners.

Tragically, it appears that this struggle has entered a stage of violence, as this past week, the house of one of the Garifuna leaders was set on fire by some type of flame-thrower weapon, and then shots of an automatic weapon were fired into it. The house, which was occupied by the family including children, is in Vallecito, where Garifuna have been living and working in an agricultural cooperative for over 9 years (Nuevo Amanecer). Their land abuts the ever-expanding lands of Facusse, one of the biggest land-owners in the country, who is also a relative to the president. The members of the cooperative have long been subject to invasions of their land and threats, but this escalation into outright violence has everyone fearful of a bloodbath. There is evidence of hired killers.

The residents sought legal help, but the judge failed to arrive at the times he had scheduled, and spoke with them about the many jobs that Facusse provides, suggesting his support for the huge landowner.

This outbreak of violence against the Garifuna comes at a point where they are reaping some successes on the legislative level. The President of the Congress and one of the 2 main political parties have vowed not to push for ratification of a reform to the Constitution which would allow sales of their land to foreigners. Ever vigilent, the Garifuna plan to participate in a peaceful march on the capital Oct. 12 to ensure that the message is heard loud and clear that they will defend their rights and their lands. (March called by COPA and OFRANEH.)

In this context of popular and legislative support for their aims, the enemies of the Garifuna have turned to violence.

I will be trying to gather more concrete information. Please let me know if you would like further information, and / or to help support the Garifuna cause.

One thing to worry about is is the set of conditions that may go with US debt forgiveness: they may entail "elimination of barriers to foreign investment" and "opening of markets" etc. In that case, the Congress may once again push for the change to the Constitution (known as Reform of Article 107).

The Comite de Emergencia Garifuna, in Trujillo, continues to organize around land rights, including the march, and to also rebuild houses, replant crops, distribute seeds, send supplies to schools & health centers, etc. Reach us through this e-mail or fax 011 504 434 4200.

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