Thelma Gómez Durán | Mongabay
* As of the 2009 coup, Honduras became a perfect political laboratory to destroy the institutions, says Miriam Miranda, coordinator of the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (also known as Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña, OFRANEH). This organization works to vindicate the cultural, political, and territorial rights of the Garifuna people.
* For its work defending the rights of the Garífuna people, OFRANEH received the Letelier-Moffitt Prize for Human Rights from the Institute for Political Studies (IPS).
* The territory of the Garífuna people in Honduras has been facing the expansion of palm plantations, tourist developments, mining, drug trafficking, and the government project known as the Economic Development Zones (Zonas de Desarrollo Económico ZEDE).
Miriam Miranda grew up in a Garifuna family that migrated from their community in Santa Fe, Colón, to live and work in a banana field. In those plantations, she saw how people were treated like slaves: the end of the month came and the workers were paid almost nothing because a large part of their salary was owed to the stores that belonged to the same company that hired them.
It was in these plantations that Miriam Miranda became who she is today. Since she was a teenager, Miranda participated in student and social movements; a passionate reader that was a member of the Visitación Padilla Women's Movement, and she was involved in the struggle of indigenous and black peoples. This is how she became one of the founders of the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (the Confederación de Pueblos Autóctonos de Honduras, CONPAH) and the current coordinator of the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH).
Miriam Miranda - recipient of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation Human Rights Award in 2019 - has been one of the voices that have warned about what is happening in Honduras: the dispossession of the ancestral territories of indigenous peoples and what she considers to be the genocide of the Garifuna people.
In the last five years alone, more than 50 Garífuna men and women have been killed; 30 have been jailed and 32 have a court order, prosecuted for the alleged usurpation of their own ancestral territories.
In addition, several Garífuna communities are experiencing forced displacement. One of them is Triunfo de la Cruz, where 400 families left the community in 2019, and in July 2020, during an operative by the Police Investigation Directorate (Dirección Policial de Investigaciones, DPI), four young people, including the president of the community board of trustees, were kidnapped and are still missing.
OFRANEH has denounced the situation that the Garífuna people of Honduras are experiencing before various international bodies. In 2015, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) declared Honduras responsible for the violation of the right to collective property to the prejudice of the Garífuna communities of Punta Piedra and Triunfo de la Cruz. So far, the Honduran State has not complied with the ruling.
For its work in defense of the Garífuna people, OFRANEH received the Letelier-Moffitt Award for Human Rights from the Institute for Political Studies (IPS), an organization based in Washington D.C. in the United States, which for almost six decades has been conducting research and supporting progressive social movements and leaders.
In an interview with Mongabay Latam, Miriam Miranda highlights that the award to OFRANEH comes at a time when pressure from the Honduran government is increasing to deprive indigenous and black peoples of their territories; a moment in which there is a humanitarian crisis that is creating the notion that “everyone wants to leave this country”.
OFRANEH was born in the late seventies. At that time, OFRANEH concentrated its fight against the racism suffered by the black population working in the banana plantations in Honduras. How has the organization evolved?
OFRANEH emerged in 1979 and since then it has been mutating. In the last 15 years, at least, we have fought to vindicate the cultural, political, spiritual, and territorial rights of our Garífuna people. We are a people that arises from a mixture, from an indigenous composition — from the Arawaks of the Caribbean — with Africans. We are a people that have a culture, an identity and that is why, even, our language, music, and dance were declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
What moment is Honduras living today?
As of the 2009 coup, Honduras became a perfect political laboratory to destroy institutions. In reality, there have been three coups d'état in Honduras: in 2009, 2012, and the electoral coup of 2017. Those three coups made it possible to create a country that today is submerged in one of the deepest crises that can exist in the modern era.
Honduras has several crises. First of all, we have migrant caravans. Honduras is also the most violent and insecure country for human rights defenders; it became a narco-government, where the president´s brother has been tried and sentenced in the United States for drug trafficking. Honduras is a country where there are no constitutional or institutional guarantees for those of us who defend life. That is the product of the comprehensive strategy to destroy the institutionality.
It is a country where, even today, this Machiavellian project called Special Economic Development Zones (ZEDE) can be installed, small states within a state (a government project to create areas subject to a special regime, where investors would be in charge of tax policy, security and conflict resolution). They are actually monarchies because we are talking about the territories being given to people who have money.
How does the ZEDE project affect the Garífuna people?
In recent years we have been facing such strong pressure. The “Ciudades Modelo”, (Charter Cities as the ZEDE have also been called) have become the death blow to make us disappear as a people. As such, we promoted several cases before the Inter-American Human Rights System. We have to protect ourselves because if they displace the communities of the Garífuna people, they will disappear. And that is the goal of this government.
One of the big impacts on the Garífuna people is forced displacement, but also the violation of human rights because we have compañeras in the Bay of Trujillo that have been criminalized. In the last five years, 30 Garífunas men and women have been imprisoned or criminalized; 32 have a court order. They are being persecuted for allegedly usurping their own ancestral territories.
In Honduras, an important boost has been given to the cultivation of African palm and tourist developments; at the same time, it is a country that is already suffering the consequences of the climate crisis ...
Today, more than ever, we have to understand that this model of consumption, that this model of "development" is destroying natural resources and the entire web of life. It is a model that is causing great pressure in the territories where there are still natural resources. All these conflicts in our territories have to do with the control of the few remaining resources.
We witness how national investors want to be partners with foreign investors and exert pressure on the territories of our people. These investors also have the absolute support of the justice system of our countries. Proof of this is the case of our Guapinol brothers (eight defenders of the Guapinol river, in northern Honduras, who have been in jail since August 2019, after they were arrested in a protest against mining activities of a Honduran company). It is not possible that people who defend water have been deprived of liberty for more than two years when we have legislators who are not being punished for embezzlement.
What we are facing is a machinery against the peoples, because we are involved in the fight and in defense of resources, of life. We have a system that responds to the logic of death, with a form of "development" that is making our planet sick and killing it.
We are there fighting, while the system has created the conditions for its entire structure to be against human rights defenders. And not only in Honduras, but we are talking about regions all over the world. That is why it becomes a crime for us to fight for water, for us to fight for the forest, for us to fight for nature; it becomes a crime because there is a political and economic class that is struggling to own the few resources left.
And do you have hope that this panorama will change?
Yes, I have a hope in the sense that the earth will not withstand it. The planet is not resisting and that attracts attention of people. It seems serious to me that, even with this scenario, they still think about solving the issue of the (climate) crisis with money or false solutions. They say: "we are going to invest here, we are going to invest here", but they do not want to invest in behavioral changes, in changing the consumption patterns, in letting the earth rest. We, as an indigenous people, have the fallow system; we do not use pesticides to produce yucca, we let the earth rest.
Today the climate crisis is reflected not only in Latin America, we are also seeing it in the north, in Germany, in the United States. I harbor the hope that it will helps things change.
It is necessary to connect the extractivist industries with all that is happening (with the climate); it must be connected to a model that is not working, that is putting humanity at risk because the earth regenerates, but we humans are all going to disappear. And nobody wants to understand it.
How did the murder of Berta Cáceres, in March 2016, impact the work of women defenders of the environment and the territories in Honduras?
Berta's murder showed us that in this country you are not safe even in your own home. The fact that they came to kill her at home was a very clear message for the defenders, it was to tell them: "you are not safe in your own home."
But that did not stop us from demanding justice. We, together with the Defenders Network and other organizations, set up the Feminist Camp "Viva Berta" for three and a half months (in the trial against David Castillo, who was identified as a co-author of the murder of Berta Cáceres), in front of the Supreme Court of Justice. It has been shown and continues to be shown, that women have a lot of inventiveness and capacity to join in our struggles.
It was also shown that international pressure, the permanent accompaniment, the insistence is important for a trial like the one that took place; it would not have reached as far as it did if international pressure had not existed. The problem is that those who gave the order (for Berta's murder) have not yet been brought to trial.
Berta's murder did not stop women defenders in Honduras ...
Berta's legacy is great. Children from the fields, people from anywhere say: "Berta, Berta." That chorus of Berta multiplied makes her present, many people know her. She is a woman who was murdered, but could not be silenced.
That is why, in 2019, a decade after the coup d'état, the Assembly of Women Fighters of Honduras Asamblea de Mujeres Luchadoras de Honduras) was held in Garífuna territory, where more than 1,500 women and more than 300 girls and boys gathered. That was an event where we said: women have to speak and take the floor, but we also have to give ourselves the opportunity to change this country, to build alternatives. Representatives from 16 of the 18 departments in Honduras attended. That gives us a lot of hope that women unite their word and their action. We have been able to keep Berta's memory alive in each corner of the country. Her word keeps walking.
I spent 25 years of my life with Berta; strategizing together about what we could do for this country, for the future of our daughters and sons. Because to fight is to think about your daughters and your sons, your own and those of others.
Women not only give birth to daughters and sons, but we also give birth to ideas, thoughts, constructions and we have to be able and intelligent so as not to build and perpetuate the same thing that, for centuries, men have been doing. We must be able to transcend that, we have to be able to build something else. And we need to build it from our passion, from our heart, from our identity. We have to be convinced that that grain of sand that we are contributing is building a whole mountain of sand that is going to be strong.
In the Garífuna people, women have a leading role ...
The Garífuna people are matrilineal people. The power of women is great, it is part of our culture and identity. In Garífuna communities, women can be left alone and the community will always continue to function.
In practice, the Garífuna people do exercise and work under a motto that we have now coined: "You for me, I for you." This is the theme of communality.
And is OFRANEH´s fight being materialized in Vallecito? How was this project born and what does it consist of?
Vallecito is a life project: a proposal for autonomy, food sovereignty, building local power, and a real power. In the sense that we can, as a community, make our own decisions, protect our territory, and also build a life for the future. Because one cannot be alone shouting: "I don't want this, I don't want the other." We also have to build emancipatory processes little by little, knowing that they are long-term processes.
Vallecito was created thinking about that, about that life project, about building something different.
The recovery of this territory began in 1991 but was later taken over by drug traffickers for ten years. And in 2011 is when we began to make the new reoccupation. Today it has about 1,200 hectares and some 30 to 50 Garífuna families live there. It is a communal territory. A territory that could receive the environmentally displaced.
Vallecito is an area where we have fought against narco trafficking; we are surrounded by organized crime. We are there, however, promoting a project of life and food sovereignty. We are looking to have a coconut production to rebuild the diet of the Garífuna people. Next year we want to set up a factory to extract coconut products.
In addition, we hope that the first indigenous university with holistic perspective can be installed there, where we will work on the themes of health, nutrition, and everything that has to do with generating well-being.
With the pandemic, we realized that we have to work, more than ever, on the health issue and envision it in a comprehensive way. The pandemic has revealed to us how sick and ill we are from what we eat, from what we breathe, from what we drink.
For this reason, in 2020, OFRANEH promoted the ancestral health houses initiative to be able to work on strengthening the immune system of people. We knew that with such a poor health system, like the one we have in Honduras, we had to look for a way to save lives. And the only way was to work with the communities.
What does this award that OFRANEH received from the Institute for Political Studies represent?
This award comes when the Honduran state does not want to comply with the rulings of the Inter-American Human Rights System and has intensified the criminalization, repression, and prosecution of the Garífuna people. Human rights defenders have been assassinated and four young people have disappeared.
Given the lack of application of justice in the country, we created the Garífuna Committee for the Forced Investigation of Youth (Comité Garífuna de Investigación Forzada de los Jóvenes). At OFRANEH, we are promoting this committee as a space that allows us to find the truth, demand justice over the disappearance of our young people. This committee is very important, although the State does not want to recognize it.
It is very clear that at this moment the Honduran State is going to do everything possible to deprive the Garífuna community of its territory to hand it over to investors. That is why we reaffirm that there is a genocidal plan against the Garífuna people.
And that is why we are calling to monitor what is happening in Honduras. People have left the country en masse and continue to leave. The Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris´ reaction was to say “don't come.” However, the United States continues to support corrupt governments like ours, governments that violate human rights.
We all have the right to migrate, but we also have the right to stay in the country and live well. Because this is a country where we could live and ensure our well-being, except that Honduras has been captured by a mafia that does not let us live.
Translated by Giada Ferrucci