Indigenous Hondurans face land invasion, killing of activists

UN rapporteur denounces "critical situation" · Natives find themselves defenseless against invaders and criminals, indigenous groups say · Local group holds government responsible for eviction of Garifuna people from ancestral territories

poble garifuna, pobles indigenes, hondures
Garifunas protest the creation of ZEDE. Author: OFRANEH.
UN Special Rapporteur on indigenous peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz yesterday warned that Miskitos, Garifunas and other groups in Honduras are facing a "critical situation" as violence against them persist, their lands are being illegally occupied, and some of their activists are being killed.

After concluding her first official visit to Honduras, Tauli-Corpuz said indigenous peoples' "rights to land and ancestral natural resources" are not being respected. "Invaders come in and occupy their land, whether these are agricultural land owners or loggers," she said. The problem is common to many other indigenous peoples in the Americas.

Those who dare to oppose such situations face death risk. According to data quoted by the UN rapporteur, 44 indigenous activists have been killed in Honduras since 2010.

Similarly, the rapporteur said the presence of drug traffickers and gangs aggravates the situation of violence and impunity in which those communities are immersed. Within that context, "trafficking and prostitution" of indigenous women and girls is one of several violations of human rights being imposed on those communities by "organized crime."

Indigenous and African-American peoples make up 8% of the population of Honduras, according to Minority Rights Group data. The groups include the Lenca, Pech, Tawahka, Xicaque, Maya, Garifuna and Miskito peoples.

The Garifuna people and the ZEDE areas

Tauli-Corpuz's complaints have for years been denounced by indigenous organizations. One of them is the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH), representing the Garifuna people. The group argues a "state policy aimed at expelling the Garifuna people from Honduras' northern coast" through the implementation of the so-called Zones for Employment and Economic Development (ZEDE) is currently in place.

The ZEDE, alternatively known as "model cities," are administrative divisions of Honduras enjoying a high degree of autonomy. They were established in 2013 under the presidency of Porfirio Lobo, who assumed office one year after the coup against Manuel Zelaya.

According to the Honduran government, the ZEDE are "areas highly attractive to national and foreign investment," where "international logistics centres", "special economic zones [...] geared towards a more free market economy," and "zones subject to a special legal system" can be created.

OFRANEH and 50 other Honduran organizations filed a constitutional challenge against the ZEDE, which was rejected by the Supreme Court in 2014. OFRANEH argues the Honduran government seeks to create up to five ZEDE within ancestral Garifuna lands, and fears that preparations for that are already being carried out without taking into account indigenous rights: "Honduras has systematically circumvented the application of Convention 169," the group holds.

Convention 169 is an International Labour Organization convention which seeks to uphold the right of indigenous people to prior consultation on measures affecting their ancestral lands. Honduras, as most Central and South American countries have done, has ratified it. Its practical implementation, however, is uneven, and many American indigenous organizations complain that governments do not take it enough into account.

"Palm, oil, ZEDE and drug trafficking," OFRANEH summarizes, "have become the primary reason for promoting the eviction of the Garifuna people from our ancestral lands."

Keywords: Garifuna people, Honduras, indigenous peoples