Garifuna Culture in Honduras: Dancing in a Changing World

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Honduras’ Garífuna people, with their rich culture and homeland spread across the Caribbean Coast of Central America recently asked an international court in Costa Rica to help them recover ancestral land, which they say has been lost to development. We present the dark and the light of this vibrant way, threatened by neoliberal development schemes, palm oil plantations, mega-tourism, and drug trafficking.

Garifuna people, Honduras

“The Garífuna people, for their way of being, were declared part of the Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2004. We don’t know what that means exactly, but we suppose it implies that the state must take action to protect and preserve the Garífuna people’s identity.” -Miriam Miranda. “Indio Barbaro” game in Barrio Cristales. Photo By Jack Eidt.

The town of Triunfo de la Cruz on the Caribbean coast brought its suit to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in San José. The lawsuit says that of 2,800 hectares (7,000 acres) of ancestral lands, only 240 hectares remain. In the next town of Tela, hotels and a golf course have been built, resulting in more loss of land, Castro Martínez said. His neighbor, Eugenia Flores, 31, spoke in Garífuna through an interpreter, saying tearfully “our culture has been crushed, our way of life. If it keeps up like this, we will lose everything.”

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A Story About the Garífuna Documentary – A Ben Petersen Film

CEAL, the Coup d’État and Charter Cities

Published by OFRANEH – Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (Translated by Adrienne Pine)

The leaders of the Council of Latin American Businessmen (CEAL) accompanied by recognized figures of the extreme right wing, met in March 2014 in the town of Miami in the Tela Bay to promote Zones for Employment and Economic Development (ZEDE) better known as Charter Cities.

Honduran businessmen who belong to CEAL, promoters of the 2009 coup d’état, are recognized in Honduras as part of the power elite that has been looting the country throughout recent decades, turning it into the most violent place on the planet and one of the poorest places in the [hemisphere].

We live on the Atlantic coast of Honduras. We are a mix of African descendants and indigenous peoples who came about more than 200 years ago in the island of San Vicente. Without our land, we cease to be a people.  — Miriam Miranda, OFRANEH

“Development with fairness: the basis for social peace” was the contradictory theme of the conclave of neoliberal business leaders, the same who are using public-private alliances to put an end to the nation-state, who are distributing the public’s wealth among a small number of families; the same who since the 20th century have been running Honduras like it was their own private ranch.

The conclave took place on Indura Beach and Golf Resort, previously known as the Laguna de Micos & Beach Resort, land which up to a decade ago belonged to the Garífuna people, and despite being recognized as a protected wetland area under the Ramsar convention (site number 722), it was partially drained for the construction of a tourist complex and golf course.

STORY: Honduras: Mega-Tourism and Garífuna Communities Collide


OFRANEH – Junchelu, a Garífuna call and response, in the Community of Sambo Creek, June 2013

CEAL, Camilo Atala and the 2009 Coup d’État

Camilo Atala, president of the FICOHSA bank and of CEAL, in the year 2009 deployed a PR campaign to justify the defenestration of democracy in Honduras; contracting lobbying firms in Washington, among them the companies Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP and the Cormac Group, with the aim of whitewashing the coup before the U.S. Congress and media. Among those retained was Lanny Davis, a figure who was intimately linked to the Clinton clan and who played a critical role in legitimating the despot Roberto Michelletti.

The members of CEAL also include the President of the Honduran Association of Maquiladores, Jesús Canahuati; the president of the OPSA Group, Jorge Canahuati Larach; and the palm farmer of death Miguel Facussé. All of whom were involved in the planning, execution, and whitewashing of the coup.

The intervention of the upper echelon of Honduran businessmen in the events of June 28, 2009 served to consolidate the induced failed state, to increase levels of violence and kick start the auctioning off of the country to foreign investors through a legislative branch whose hands were tied to the interests of the country’s power elite.

The avalanche of ultra-neoliberal laws approved following the coup and during the Lobo administration, especially in his final month in power, have made possible the deliberate destruction of national sovereignty, unacknowledged by members of CEAL.


OFRANEH – El Grupo de Danza Chichambara de Punta Piedra, se encuentra con las anfitrionas, Grupo Novales, en el marco de la Feria de Sambo Creek

Charter Cities and the Outsourcing of Justice

One of the most publicized themes of the CEAL meeting was that of the Zones for Employment and Economic Development (ZEDE), the name of the new law that supplants the lay of Special Development Regions—which was declared unconstitutional in October, 2012, provoking a coup carried out by the Legislative Branch against the Judicial Branch on December 12th of the same year.

A new modern-day prophet of Charter Cities has appeared following the retreat of Paul Romer: Mark Klugmann, controversial adviser to the Honduran National Party. Klugmann promotes the outsourcing of justice as the only way possible to achieve the qualitative “leap” in justice administration, a plan that requires auctioning off the judicial apparatus of the regions to foreign countries.

The handing over of the judicial system of Charter Cities to foreign courts was a requirement stipulated by Romer and extreme right-wing U.S. libertarians, supposedly in order to attract foreign investment. Klugmann, from the Universidad Francisco Marroquín, extols the replacing of local judicial systems with foreign courts, a strategy referred to as LEAP [A Legal, Economic, Administrative and Political Framework]. In the case of the Charter City planned during the Lobo administration, the judicial system would have been outsourced to courts in Mauritius and London

Lobo promoted the handing over of land between the Tela Bay and the Sico River, a strip that includes 24 Garífuna communities considered to be a cultural sanctuary of our people. For more than three years, the communities have been suffering very strong territorial pressure unleashed by rumors related to the placement of a Charter City that were confirmed in 2012, when the National Congress finally indicated three regions in the country that would be sold of for foreign capital.

STORY: Great Canal of Nicaragua: Environmental Ruin and Fiscal Folly

Cayos Cochinos, Honduras

The blessing of the Caribbean setting can also be a curse when it comes to the pressure from multinational tourism development. Photo By Jessica Aldridge on Cayos Cochinos.

The auctioning off of lands and the decline of national sovereignty

The National Party, from its founding, has been characterized by a paradoxically anti-nationalist [patriotic] attitude, given that the periods during which it has held the reins of power have been characterized by the giving away of national territory and subordination to banana companies.

It just so happens that a century after the invasion of Honduras by the banana magnate Sam Zemurray and Manuel Bonilla, founder of the National Party; the National Congress approved Charter Cities, thus ratifying the banana republic state in which the country is submerged.

The group of coupmongering businessmen of CEAL and the “Nationalists” who participated in the meeting that took place in Miami (Tela) applauded the upstart prophet Klugmann, as well as the interventions of Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli and Spanish [ex-president] José María Aznar, who joined the chorus calling for the dissolution of national territory in the search for supposed solutions to the fiasco of social policy of the past few decades. The word “employment” has been turned into a decoy to lure the imagination of a pauperized nation, drowned by intention in disinformation and ignorance.


“Indio Barbaro” or Barbaric Indian.

The Appropriation of Slogans, and Racism

The theme promoted by the conference organizers of “Development with fairness: The basis for social peace,” is nothing more than a smokescreen meant to appropriate the social narrative of progressive South American governments. The Gini coefficient in Honduras indicates enormous inequity and wealth gap, which has only grown wider since the coup d’état promoted by CEAL.

Coincidentally last Friday was the international day against racism, while the small group of businessmen—primarily of Syrian and Lebanese descent—reconfigured Honduras through the auctioning off of its territories. The photos of the event reveal that the majority of the participants were not mestizos, indigenous or black people. The racism that pervades the Honduran power elite has consigned the vast majority of the country’s inhabitants to invisibility, and in the rare case that a black person is allowed into the halls of power it is either to dance or to support the surrender of their patrimony.

The Committee for the Eradication of Racism and Discrimination (CERD), in its report on Honduras published on March 13 states in relation to the Fundamental Law of Zones for Employment and Economic Development:

17. The Committee notes with concern the information it has received, according to which the Fundamental Law of Zones for Employment and Economic Development (ZEDE) permits the handing over of strips of national territory to investors. These zones [would] enjoy functional and administrative autonomy, and can have their own autonomous independent courts with exclusive competency, as well as their own security forces, which could have dramatic repercussions for indigenous and Afrohonduran communities that are established int he same region (art. 2, par. 1 and 6)

The Committee requests that the government provide more information about the Fundamental Law of Zones for Employment and Economic Development (ZEDE). The Committee recommends that the government examine the compatibility of said law with international treaties and agreements that have been adopted by the government, in particular those agreements related with the rights of indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples, taking into account the constitutional status of the agreements that have been signed by the government.

The Charter Cities, the mortgage law [Ley Hipoteca] and the REDD projects are a threat to the Garífuna people and to other indigenous peoples. Our territory, in addition to [the threat of] ZEDEs, is being eyed by the oil and megatourism industries. We hope that CEAL and co. will respect international treaties signed and ratified by the State of Honduras. Any failure to comply with those legal agreements will be tried in the Inter-American Court and not in some tax haven in the Indian Ocean.
Sambo Creek, La Ceiba, March 24, 2014

Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña, OFRANEH

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WilderUtopia.com regularly posts articles, photo essays, features, and documentaries from around the web that illuminate the challenges to coexistence between city and wild, developed and developing, human and other. To reach out, write to jack (dot) eidt (at) wilderutopia (dot) com. Follow us on Twitter @WilderUtopia