Threats to Territory on the Garífuna Coast

Ruling in favor of Barra Vieja and attempted eviction in Santa Fe

September 10, 2016
Translated by Steven Johnson

Sambo Creek, Aug 10, 2016.

Yesterday the Court of Tela issued a not guilty ruling in favor of the Garífuna community of Barra Vieja, which is being harassed by the Indura Hilton, by means of the National Port Company and the Honduran Institute of Tourism.

The trial against the leadership of Barra Vieja took place after 64 members of the community were put on trial in June of last year, who were declared innocent of the crime of seizure of property. The ruling in the case indicated, among other things: “it is unknown at this time how many hectares or manzanas are registered in favor of the National Port Company, or the Honduran Institute of Tourism, the National Agrarian Institute and the Tela Bay Project.” There certainly exists an overlap between the various government entities and the investors. However it remains clear that the land in question is part of Garífuna ancestral territory.

Over four decades, the Garífuna communities in Tela Bay have suffered strong threats to their territory, accompanied by assassination of leaders, promoted by business people and politicians who have sought to create a tourism enclave, refusing to consider the environmental and social costs.

While in Tela the ancestral territory rights were recognized for the Barra Vieja community, last Thursday on the 8th (of September), in the afternoon, a contingent of police accompanied by a group of rough characters, attempted to evict a group of neighbors from the community, who had recovered a piece of land that had been “sold” in an irregular manner to foreigners.

The police presented an order of eviction, issued on April 7, 2016, by the judge, Mr. Víctor Manuel Melendez Castro. The eviction order was sought by Mr. John J. Scott and Sandra L. Scott, who affirm that they are the owners of a piece of land in San Blas, located in the Municipality of Santa Fe, Colón.

The use of hired thugs by part of the police to burn down the dwellings and their contents is by itself a violation of property rights, as well as ignorance of the right of the Garífuna people to their ancestral territory. The members of the community of Giriga (Santa Fe) emphatically rejected the eviction attempt.

In 2007 Trujillo Bay became a piñata of territory, promoted by Randy Jorgensen, known as the King of Porno, who received unlimited help from the Municipality of Santa Fe and Trujillo. Apparently the Scotts are connected to Jorgensen, as is indicated in a blog about tourism, published by Sandra Scott.

During the administration of [former Honduran President “Pepe”] Lobo, Jorgensen counted on his unconditional help to obtain environmental permits and “legalize” his projects of real estate speculation and the construction of the Banana Coast cruise ship docks. The Public Prosecutor’s office issued an order against the businessman in December of 2011, accusing him of seizure of property.

It took until 2015 for him to appear before the Court in Trujillo, which granted him an acquittal. Later, the Appeals Court of Ceiba nullified the acquittal, and required Jorgensen to appear again before the courts. The “King of Porno” has thus far avoided facing justice.

Both Trujillo Bay and Tela Bay have become focal points of dispossession in the name of tourism, and the businesspeople and investors supported by the state come and push out the Garífuna communities, which endure the asymmetry of the existing pressures.

With the advent of petroleum production in the Moskitia region, there arises a new threat to Trujillo Bay and its inhabitants: the construction of a petroleum refinery, which endangers the fragile and rich biodiversity of the region.

Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras, OFRANEH