Resistance to Political and Business Assaults on Indigenous Land and Resources in Honduras

Margaret Thompson Jul 20, 2011

“The historical, political and cultural significance of the Constitutional Assembly of Indigenous and Afro Honduran women recently held in Copan Ruinas includes its critical role in confronting the roots of the crisis that has besieged the country since the military coup in June, 2009,” said Miriam Miranda, a Garifuna leader and coordinator of the Fraternal Organization of Black Hondurans (OFRANEH).

As the 300 women at the event worked through dialogue and strategy sessions to strengthen alliances with each other, they also called for more active inclusion of their voices and experiences in their communities, in the national and international feminist movements and in the overall popular resistance movement of their country.

This deeper assessment on the inclusion of diversity is key to confronting the literal assault by radical neoliberals and corporations who are determined to exploit the ongoing crisis and take control of the biggest “booty” in Honduras today, which are the vast natural resources that are mostly located in indigenous communal lands.

In an interview with Escribanas, Miranda described the Constitutional Assembly by noting, “We met as indigenous and Afro women to talk about what we want as a country, as a nation, and also to talk about the problems that we confront as women. As indigenous women, as Garifuna women, as Afro women, we have our own problems that at times aren’t taken into account in large measure by the feminist movement.”

She explained that at the national and regional level, the “women’s movement” is discussed as if it is one sector, “but the result is that we as indigenous and Afro women are made invisible. We are so isolated from the national and international debate and all of the decisions made that directly affect our lives, that directly affect our territories, that directly affect our future as indigenous and Afro women.”

Miranda described how the enormous pressures to exploit the vast natural resources in Honduras by these powerful interests have been the basis for a decades-long struggle by indigenous and Afro Hondurans to protect their lands and sovereignty, and in which women have played a leading role. She regards the development of a new constitution, which was the focus of the recent women’s assembly and also of the broader popular resistance movement, as a key step in the resistance: “The current constitution puts making the decisions about the natural resources in the hands of the National Congress, a National Congress that doesn’t represent us, doesn’t represent our territories or our communities. So for this reason we are not talking of only reform, we are talking of substantial changes to ensure respect for the decisions of our communities.”

One of the current struggles of the Garifuna peoples is to stop transnational corporate interests from confiscating and privatizing land, displacing 20 communities along the Caribbean coast of Honduras, said Miranda. In January, the National Congress approved a plan to establish “separate development regions” (REDs), with “model cities” or “charter cities” that would be an independent territory with their own governor, appointed by the national government but with its own laws, pre-selected inhabitants, and under the complete control of foreign corporations (similar to the “green zones” established in Iraq following the US invasion).

“Local residents will be forced to stay outside of their own communities because people will have to show a ‘passport’ in order to enter,” noted Miranda, adding that this would deepen further the social and economic divide in Honduras, already one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere.

It could be called the “siege of the Commons,” a kind of apartheid. And for the Garifuna people, whose culture was one of 19 in to be declared a World Heritage Site in 2001, this siege is a threat to their culture, their livelihoods and their lives.

Charter cities are the brainchild of a renowned economist, Paul Romer of New York University (formerly Stanford), who has been searching the world for a place to conduct his “cities experiment” in what he and other developers view as “uninhabited” or “undeveloped” land. But the land where they plan to locate the first charter city is the location of 20 Garifuna communities.

In Honduras, only 28% of the land is devoted to agriculture (World Bank, 2008) and 38.8% is forests, many of which are communal lands of indigenous groups. These groups are not as opposed to “development,” Miranda said, but the problem is that the these mega development projects are not sustainable for local communities, because they are controlled from outside by the multinationals.

And the national political and economic powers and international agencies are using the ongoing crisis in Honduras through the implementation of a form of extreme capitalism. Romer, the ideologue behind the charter city, is quoted as declaring that “crisis is a terrible thing to waste”. From the viewpoint of these players, the current crisis in Honduras makes it an ideal place to implement what Naomi Klein calls “disaster capitalism.”

The Garifuna communities have been fighting against such attacks on their lands and sovereignty over several decades, beginning with the “banana republic” of the late 19th and early 20th century in which the lands were expropriated by large corporations such as banana United Fruit Company. Struggles and conflicts over communal land titles with the government and large developers have continued ever since.

Miranda is one of several Garifuna women leaders who have been attacked by public and private security forces of Honduras for their participation in the struggles of resistance. ” Garifuna women leaders have been forced to leave their communities, and even leave the country to go into exile after violent attacks and death threats … I was recently captured and my rights were violently violated. I was beaten by police who shouted racist insults and thrown into jail, “said Miranda, in talking about what happened to her in March 2011 in Triunfo de la Cruz on the Caribbean coast of Honduras.

“So Garifuna women have had to suffer a lot of persecution, violence and violations of our human rights because of our role in leading our communities in the fight for our ancestral lands and our rights,” said Miranda.

Reflecting back on the Constitutional Assembly of Indigenous and Afro women in Honduras, Miranda said, “It was an essential event for us because it was very important that we share our ideas and opinions, not just about what we want for our country, but about creating a new country that is anti-capitalist, anti-racist, and in which we don’t continue suffering racial discrimination. That was why this event was so crucial for us, and so important.

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