Activists in Honduras’ Garífuna community of Punta Gorda, Roatán were violently removed from their ancestral lands on Nov. 7.
In a video posted to her Twitter account, Miriam Miranda, a leader of the Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña (Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH)), showed the moment when members of Honduras’ military and national police showed up in tactical gear and rousted Garífuna activists from a plot of land they had taken over in September after it appeared to have been illegally sold.
Punta Gorda was the Garífuna’s first community, formed 225 years ago when they were exiled from St. Vincent and left in the Bay Islands by the English crown. The Garífuna established homes in Punta Gorda and their community remains there to this day; Garífuna diaspora communities also formed along the Atlantic coast of Honduras and there is a strong Garífuna community, today, in the New York City area.
But Punta Gorda has been a source of contention in Honduras for more than 40 years; it is the only Garífuna community in Honduras that the community lacks title ownership to. Recently, Punta Gorda has also become a tourist hot spot where foreigners are buying up property with the permission of the government. The area has even become an object of desire for cryptocurrency investors who are looking to create an independent island home base for themselves.
Carla Garcia, the international relations coordinator at OFRANEH, told the AmNews, “OFRANEH and the communities have been demanding the restitution of our right to the use of the territory for more than 40 years. We have already had people murdered, disappeared, we have had many problems in different communities, precisely because we are demanding the return of the territory that has been taken from us, we are claiming the ancestral possession of the territory.”
The activists removed from Punta Gorda on Nov. 7 had established themselves on what they deemed reclaimed land. The plot of land was an extension of Garífuna ancestral land—they had taken possession of it on Sept. 3 and named it “Wagaira Le” (“This is our village”). When police and military forces came to remove the activists, Miriam Miranda states in one video: “They destroyed our property, they burned everything, they beat more than 15 of our compañerxs, they viciously attacked us, but we continue to fight for our ancestral territorial rights.” Six Garífuna leaders—Dorotea López, Richard Martínez, Efraín Sánchez, Keider Gonzales, Augusto Dolmo and Melissa Fabiola Martínez—were arrested and detained for taking part in the protest and another 15 people were injured. Those arrested could now face trial and up to six years in prison for “misappropriation of land.”
In a statement, OFRANEH termed the military raid “illegal, violent, cowardly and racist.”
“As established by the IACHR [Inter-American Court of Human Rights],” the statement declared, “the Inter-American Court and ILO Convention 169, the Garifuna people ancestrally have the right to be legally recognized as the legitimate owners of their territory, making any forced eviction illegal and racist. We are NOT invaders, we are NOT usurpers, we are the legitimate owners of our ancestral territory…”
“Commissions from the National Congress have arrived,” Garcia told the AmNews, “Human Rights commissions have arrived, international commissions have arrived. All to see what is happening in this place. There will have to be more conversations, which is what should have happened in the first place.”