Harassment of the Garífuna community in Honduras

Leaders and members of the Afro-descendant Garífuna community in the village of San Juan Tela, Atlantida department, northern Honduras have been subjected to a campaign of harassment. This is an apparent attempt to force them to hand over land that they have owned for generations to a real estate company, which has proposed building a tourist resort in the area. The lives and physical and mental integrity of the members of the community are in danger. 

On 5 June 2008, one community member, Santos Feliciano Aguilar Álvares was abducted, beaten and threatened with death, by a group of around 10 men. His attackers were allegedly private security guards working for the real estate company which wants to buy the community’s land. They surrounded him as he walked down the street in the village, took him to premises owned by the real estate company and beat him. The men intimidated Santos Aguilar by saying to each other “let’s kill him and bury him right here” (matémoslo y enterrémoslo aquí mismo). Santos Aguilar was later released, but needed hospital treatment. A few hours before the attack, Santos Aguilar had taken part in a community meeting attended by representatives of the same real estate company. During the meeting, he accused the company of pressurizing Garífuna people to sell their land. No-one has been brought to justice for this attack.

Jessica García, one of the leaders of the Garífuna community, has been targeted on a number of occasions in an apparent attempt to force her to hand over the ownership of the community’s land to the real estate company. In March 2006, security guards working for the real estate company, wearing balaclavas, intimidated her by repeatedly walking around her home, leading Jessica García to send her children to live elsewhere because she was concerned for their safety. On 22 June 2006, an unidentified man approached Jessica García and offered her money if she signed a document stating that community land belonged to the owner of the real estate company. When she refused he produced a gun and threatened to kill her and her children, thus forcing her to sign. No-one has been brought to justice for these incidents.

Wilfredo Guerrero, another community leader, has also suffered intimidation and harassment. In 2002 Wilfredo Guerrero was arrested by the police and accused of illegally seizing land and threatening employees of the real state company. Restriction orders were put in place at this time, meaning that Wilfredo had to report on a weekly basis to the local magistrate in San Juan Tela. These restriction orders remain in place some six years later. In November 2005 an arson attack destroyed Wilfredo’s house. All his possessions were burned along with community documents relating to the claim for land titles. Nobody has been brought to justice for this attack.

On 7 July 2006, due to the threats and attacks suffered by members of the Garífuna Community, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) called for the Honduran government to implement protection measures on behalf of the leaders of the Garífuna Community of San Juan Tela, in particular Jessica García and Wilfredo Guerrero. This protection was to be carried out in accordance with their wishes. To date, the authorities have failed to implement such measures in any meaningful way.

On 4 October 2007 Wilfredo Guerrero was arrested. The police bypassed normal procedure and used the same arrest warrant they had used for the 2002 arrest. As a result of the lack of legitimate permit for arrest, amongst other irregularities found in the procedure followed by the arresting officers, the prosecutor ordered the police to release Wilfredo. Due to the illegal arrest in October 2007, and a fear for his own physical safety, Wilfredo Guerrero stopped reporting to the authorities and went into hiding, contravening the restriction orders. The failure to continue complying with the restriction orders has lead to a new arrest warrant being issued on 22 January 2008. This warrant remains pending.

On 24 October 2008, and following a request by the IACHR, the authorities and the community met in order to move forward on this issue. As a result, a new round of negotiations between the government and the community has been launched.

Background Information

Indigenous groups in Honduras, including the Afro-descendant Garífuna community, have struggled for years to assert their right to the land they have inhabited for generations. The land inhabited by the Garífuna community in north-eastern departments of Honduras is increasingly coveted by companies seeking to build tourism complexes which some communities allege would damage or destroy the Garífuna’s traditions, culture and way of life, as well as their environment. The proposed construction of a resort in the area of San Juan Tela, including an 18-hole golf course, is seen by many Garífuna people as a danger to the environment and a threat to their livelihoods.

On 25 February 2006 two young men from the Garífuna community in San Juan Tela, Epson Andrés Castillo and Gino Eligio López, were reportedly detained by members of the security forces in a nearby town. Their bodies were found the next day. Three members of the security forces were found guilty of their murder in December 2007.

Around 7,000 people live in the village of San Juan Tela. The vast majority of them are Afro-descendants.

Recommendations

  • Write to the authorities expressing concern for the safety of leaders and members of the Garífuna community following attacks, death threats and intimidation against many of them.
  • Urge the President and the Minister of Security to take immediate steps to implement the protection measures ordered by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on 7 July 2006, in order to ensure the safety of the leaders of the Garífuna Community of San Juan Tela, in strict accordance with the wishes of the community.
  • Call on the Attorney General and the Special Prosecutor for Ethnic Affairs to carry out a thorough, swift and impartial investigation into the threats and harassment against leaders and members of the San Juan Tela community, to make the results public and to bring those responsible to justice.

Addresses

President of the Honduras Republic
Manuel Zelaya
Presidente de la República de Honduras
Casa Presidencial
Boulevard Juan Pablo Segundo
Palacio José Cecilio del Valle
Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Salutation: Dear President/Estimado Señor Presidente

Minister of Security
Jorge Rodas
Ministerio de Seguridad Pública
Cuartel Casa Mata
Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Salutation: Dear Minister/Estimado Señor Ministro

Attorney General
Licdo. Leonidas Rosa Bautista
Fiscal General del Estado
Ministerio Público, Edificio Lomas Plaza II,
subida a Las Lomas del Guijarro, Avenida República Dominicana,
Tegucigalpa, Honduras  
Salutation: Dear Attorney General/Estimado Sr. Fiscal General

Special Prosecutor for Ethnic Affairs in the Attorney Generals Office
Licda Jany del Cid
Fiscal Especial de las Etnias
Ministerio Público, Edificio Lomas Plaza II,
subida a Las Lomas del Guijarro, Avenida República Dominicana,
Tegucigalpa, Honduras  
Salutation: Dear Special Prosecutor/Estimada Fiscal Especial

Copies to:
Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña, OFRANEH
Apdo. Postal 341
La Ceiba, Atlántida
Honduras
Email: ofraneh@yahoo.com

——————————————

Download sample letters targeting the officials listed above:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s