Honduras: Five “Disappeared” in Triunfo and the Expulsion of the Garifuna People

With the disappearance of five young people from the community of Triunfo de la Cruz, taken from their homes in the early hours of Saturday, July 19, by alleged agents of the Police Department of Investigation (DPI), the aggressions against leaders and members of the Garifuna communities have been repeated once again, and have intensified since 2018.

To this day, the whereabouts of Alberth Sneider Centeno, President of the Patronato de Triunfo de la Cruz and member of OFRANEH, Milton Joel Martínez Álvarez, is unknown; Suami Aparicio Mejía García, Gerardo Misael Trochez Calix, those who were taken from their homes, a situation that has created enormous alarm within the Garifuna communities, since in spite of the existing restrictions on mobilization, in the face of the prevailing pandemic, and with a current curfew, vehicles with heavily armed people entered the community.

Since the 2009 coup d’état in Honduras, the offensive against the Garifuna people has intensified. The State has obtained two rulings from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) in favour of the Garifuna communities of Punta Piedra and Triunfo de la Cruz, by which the State was condemned in 2015 for the violation of the right to community property, and the right to free and informed prior consultation.

To date, the State of Honduras has not complied with the sentences, giving rise to questions about the recognition of collective rights set out in international agreements and treaties, signed in “good faith” by the State.

Everything seems to indicate that the president of Triunfo de la Cruz and his team have become a hindrance to the local power elite, who are affected by the sentence of the Court of Human Rights, and have proceeded to sow terror in the area.

Model cities, palm trees and coca plantations: driving forces of expulsion

Since 2001, the “nationalist” administration assumed as one of the pillars of its economic policy the opening of the model cities, a neocolonial project promoted by the American economist Paul Romer, which consists of a special economic zone with the addition of an outsourcing of the application of justice and security.

In October 2012, the Constitutional Court ruled on the illegality of the model cities, declaring them unconstitutional. By December of the same year, the legislative branch led by current President Juan Orlando Hernández proceeded to defenestrate the Constitutional Court, resulting in a “technical coup” that ended the independence of powers.

In the first phase of the model cities – before being declared unconstitutional – 27 of the 48 communities were included within the model cities. Following the coup and with the reintroduction of the Model Cities under the name of Special Zones for Economic Development, 17 Garifuna communities are at risk of being absorbed.

At the same time that the dictatorship imposed the model cities, it began a campaign of mass production of African palm, increasing pressure on coastal wetlands, including protected areas. The African palm became one of the principal products for the laundering of assets. Honduras doubled its palm plantation production in a decade, while social conflicts intensified, leading to a low-intensity war that continues to this day in Bajo Aguan.

The use of Honduras as a transit country for narcotics coming from South America goes back decades, and there has always been a close relationship between organized crime and the Honduran power elite; a situation that intensified with the coup d’état, giving rise to a symbiosis that has resulted in an apparent narco-state.

In the last year a series of coca plantations have been discovered in Honduras, specifically in the Serranía de Payas, which is part of the functional habitat of the Garifuna communities of Iriona. The “authorities” have found both coca crops and alleged processing laboratories.

The unexpected change of a country from transit to coca producing country will have fatal consequences for the Garifuna communities, who will find themselves surrounded by plantations and clandestine trails, a situation that will increase violence and territorial pressures.

A new expulsion for the Garifuna people?

By May 2014, the international media began to sound the alarm about the exodus of minors arriving alone and in droves at the US border, a situation that had been going on silently since October 2013. Apparently, more than 70,000 minors, invoking the Flores Amendment, had to be accepted by the U.S. Immigration Service (ICE)

Some Garifuna communities saw their schools empty, in the face of the dizzying and unstoppable “children’s crusade”. By 2018, history repeated itself, although the participation of the Garifuna in the “caravans” was minimal, the exodus became more acute, returning to 2014 levels. Despite the restrictions imposed by the Trump administration and the repeal of the Flores Amendment, the flood was unstoppable until the emergence of the pandemic.

The territorial pressures that have been exerted by the palmeros and entrepreneurs in the tourism industry are increasing, although these industries do not seem to have a promising future in the post-pandemic world. The dizzying quality of the price of palm oil and the containment in terms of air travel and sea cruises, which are fundamental for tourism, cast doubt on its recovery in the short term.

Meanwhile, climate change and coastal erosion are increasing, becoming one of the greatest threats to the Garifuna, and in the past two years we have seen the systematic elimination of leaders at the hands of the State violence that has been institutionalized in Honduras, as a weapon of social control.

The five disappeared from Triunfo de la Cruz

The mysterious disappearance of the five young men in Triunfo de la Cruz, at the hands of alleged IPR agents, has given rise to a great deal of conjecture, some of which is fed by the power elite, who feel affected by the sentence of the shortened HDR, which is emphatic in the return of the so-called A1 Lot, where the Honduran oligarchy, the mansions and boutique hotels fraudulently established on community lands, have been a huge obstacle to achieving compliance with the sentence.

To date, the State continues to disregard the right to prior consultation, going so far as to distort the creation of a law on prior consultation, promoting the ideological hijacking of the draft, in order to convert socializations into consultations.

It is necessary and urgent that the State responds to the demands of the Garifuna people, that they return their children to them safe and sound. We also demand that the sentence of the Inter-American Court in favour of the communities of Triunfo de la Cruz and Punta Piedra be complied with as soon as possible.

La Ceiba July 27, 2020

Honduran Black Fraternal Organization, OFRANEH