Target: Porfirio Lobo Sosa, President of Honduras
Goal: End the unlawful harassment and intimidation of indigenous communities by commercial real estate developers.
The Garifuna community of San Juan Tela, Honduras has made it clear that selling village lands to real estate developers is out of the question. And yet, for the past several years residents of San Juan Tela have been subjected to harassment, violence, and intimidation in a campaign that has already claimed the lives of at least two community members.
San Juan Tela, located in northeastern Honduras, has found itself caught up in the government’s desire to bolster tourism. In 2001 Tourism Secretary Ana Abarca bemoaned the “waste” of undeveloped lands, proclaiming, “We want strong tourism. We are going after the sun and the beach.”
In 1994 the government authorized outside companies to build hotels on Garifuna lands, directly violating 1992’s legal recognition of Garifuna sovereignty. The move was not only illegal but also a threat to a culture that UNESCO has deemed a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.” The Garifuna are descended from Arawak Indians, Carib Indians, and escaped African slaves, and San Juan Tela is one of many Central American Garifuna communities threatened by the lure of tourism dollars. The construction of luxury resorts will not only rob the Garifuna of their own lands but, many community members fear, will relegate Garifuna culture to a cheap tourist attraction.
San Juan Tela’s desirable location has made it a target for ruthless real estate developers, but the native Garifuna community has refused to sell the land it has occupied for hundreds of years. Community members have been kidnapped and murdered in the struggle over San Juan Tela’s land, and one community leader, Jessica Garcia, was held at gunpoint in an attempt to force her to sign over community property. Despite these hardships, community members have continued to stand against commercial development of their ancestral lands.
There is hope for the Garifuna community of San Juan Tela, however: in October, the constitutional chamber of the Honduran Supreme Court ruled that vacation “charter cities,” a huge part of the Honduran government’s push for tourism, are unconstitutional. The decision is up for appeal before the full Honduran Supreme Court. This court case offers a key opportunity to stand up for the rights of indigenous peoples in the face of big business. Let Honduras know the world is watching–sign the petition to demand that Honduras recognize and respect the land holdings of Garifuna communities, starting with San Juan Tela.
Dear President Lobo,
Since 2006, the Garifuna community of San Juan Tela has been subjected to a barrage of violence, intimidation, and harassment over its refusal to sell its lands to a commercial real estate developer. At least two community members are dead and many others have been threatened with death, all over the refusal to allow big business to displace a culture that UNESCO has deemed a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.”
In 1992, the Garifuna won legal recognition of their right to maintain their communal land holdings, so any decisions regarding land development in San Juan Tela should—and do—rest with them. And yet, the Garifuna continue to face violence from outside interests and indifference from a government that is more concerned with tourism money than with the safety and well being of its citizens. There is no doubt that the income that tourism provides is important, but it is much less important than protecting the people of Honduras. Furthermore, other Garifuna communities who have sold their lands have not benefited from the transaction. According to the Honduras Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH), large hotel chains do not hire locals—they bring in outside workers.
Do not allow the community of San Juan Tela to be erased by commercial development interests. As the Honduran Supreme Court prepares to decide on the constitutionality of vacation “charter cities,” tourism in Honduras is in the spotlight. Please use this opportunity to ensure that the rights of native communities are protected, regardless of the outcome of the “charter cities” case. Condemn the violence against Garifuna communities like San Juan Tela, and provide government support and protection to Garifuna simply trying to protect their homes and culture.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Tony.Beeman via Flickr