‘Canadian tourism mafia’ file trumped-up charges against Garífuna leader Miriam Miranda in Honduras’ corrupted legal system

Honduras Solidarity Network and Rights Action alert, November 17, 2017

 

Article reproduced here by kind permission of Grahame Russell of Rights Action and Karen Spring of the Honduras Solidarity Network.

Original posting by Rights Action at:

https://us9.campaign-archive.com/?u=ea011209a243050dfb66dff59&id=b5492c424f

A member of the ‘Canadian tourism mafia’ along Honduras’ north coast, that includes Patrick Forseth and Randy “the porn king” Jorgensen, filed trumped-up charges against indigenous Garifuna leader Miriam Miranda and three other women, in Honduras’ corrupted legal system.

(Miriam Miranda, General Coordinator of OFRANEH demanding justice at a large protest outside of the Honduran Supreme Court in Tegucigalpa on the one-year anniversary of the assassination of Lenca indigenous activist, Berta Caceres of COPINH. Photo: Karen Spring)

The four must go to court, November 24, to respond to these “charges”.  They potentially face up to 2-3 years in jail, and now must spend time and resources (of the few they have) to defend themselves from these manipulative charges.

Canadian tourism investor Patrick Forseth, of the CARIVIDA Villas company, has falsely accused Miriam Miranda, the General Coordinator of the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH), and three other Garifuna women – Medeline David, Neny Heidy Avila, and Letty Bernardez – of slander and defamation.

Miriam Miranda is a leading Honduran Garífuna activist who has faced numerous threats and direct acts of repression for her courageous, articulate long-time work with OFRANEH and other Honduran groups and movements.

The reasons behind the malicious charges against these four Garífuna women are quite simple.  Forseth and CARIVIDA are involved in a major land dispute with the indigenous Garifuna community of Guadalupe in Trujillo Bay, located on the Caribbean coast of Honduras.  Forseth has used several very questionable legal maneuvers in the now (since the 2009 military coup) deeply corrupted Honduran legal system, to criminalize any indigenous Garífuna people involved in land, territory and human rights defence work, in order to further claims that CARIVIDA’s illegal land purchase in Guadalupe was valid.

One of the local woman being charged, Medeline David already faces charges of illegal possession of land as a result of her participation in a community-led land reclamation project to recuperate their own land – land in dispute with CARIVIDA.

Geovanny Bernardez, another OFRANEH leader and other Guadalupe community activists including leader, Celso Guillen, also face charges laid by the Honduran state and CARIVIDA as a result of the same land dispute.

The legal case against Miranda and the 3 women was presented on May 26, 2017 and the first court hearing is scheduled for November 24, 2017.  If found guilty, Miriam, Medeline, Neny, and Letty could face up to 2-3 years in prison.

This defamation accusation is a clear example of how wealthy North Americans use and take advantage of the impunity and corruption in Honduras’ post 2009 military coup political and legal systems to criminalize people that resist their economic interests and projects.

The land defence project in the Garífuna community of Guadalupe in Trujillo Bay. The area where many community members are camping out is the land that is claimed to be owned by Patrick Forseth. Forseth plans to build a resort and villa project on the land. (Photo Karen Spring)

As the General Coordinator of OFRANEH, Miranda is being directly targeted in an attempt to silence the resistance of Garifuna communities not only in Trujillo Bay, but in other land disputes across the coast of Honduras.

Forseth is the husband of the stepdaughter of Canadian businessman, Randy Jorgensen (“the Porn King”) who owns and operates several gated community projects in the same Trujillo Bay region.  Some of Jorgensen’s tourist projects are adjacent to the land that Forseth claims he owns and “legally purchased.”

Forseth, Jorgensen and other North Americans continue to take control of lands that are inside ancestral indigenous Garífuna titles, some of which date as far back as the 1860s. Jorgensen is facing charges of illegal possession of land for his project Campa Vista owned by his company, Life Vision Development.

Karen Spring, Honduras Solidarity Network, spring.kj@gmail.com
Grahame Russell, Rights Action, info@rightsaction.org

*******
Background

OFRANEH members denounced for defamation by Canadian tourism investors Patrick Daniel Forseth (Carivida Villas) and Randy Jorgensen (Life Vision Developments)
http://mailchi.mp/rightsaction/ofraneh-denounced-for-defamation-by-forseth-and-jorgensen

Lands To Die For: The Garifuna Struggle In Honduras
December 20, 2016, CCTV Americas
35 minute film about violent and corrupt challenges facing the Garífuna people, lead by the OFRANEH organisation, in the context of the violence and repression, impunity and corruption that characterise the Honduran military, economic and political elites and their international partners.
http://www.cctv-america.com/2016/12/20/lands-to-die-for-the-garifuna-struggle-in-honduras

Miriam Miranda, OFRANEH leader, detained and threatened by Honduran police
On January 11, 2017, Miriam Miranda and three other members of OFRANEH (Fraternal Organisation of Black and Garífuna Peoples) – Luís Gutiérrez, Oscar Gaboa, Luís Miranda – were illegally detained and threatened by police at a roadside stop in La Ceiba, along Honduras’ north coast.
http://us9.campaign-archive1.com/?u=ea011209a243050dfb66dff59&id=6d6627ffdb

The Canadian porn king and the Caribbean paradise: Is a businessman taking advantage of lawlessness to scoop up land?
November 20, 2016, by Marina Jimenez
https://www.thestar.com/news/world/2016/11/20/the-canadian-porn-king-and-the-caribbean-paradise.html

The U.S. and Canada Have Blood on Their Hands in Honduras
October 22, 2016, by Grahame Russell
http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/The-US-and-Canada-Have-Blood-on-Their-Hands-in-Honduras-20161022-0010.html

*******
Names/Addresses

Carivida Villas
www.carivida.com
info@carivida.com
(778) 242-8678
Carivida Club Café
Trujillo, Colón, Honduras

Life Vision Properties
http://lifevisionproperties.com/
90 Admiral Blvd. Mississauga, ON, Canada, L5T 2W1
1 (416) 900-6098

Ambassador Michael Gort, Embassy of Canada in Costa Rica, Honduras and Nicaragua, Tel: (504) 2232-4551; Michael.gort@international.gc.ca; tglpa@international.gc.ca

*******
More information

OFRANEH (Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña)
garifuna@ofraneh.org, www.ofraneh.org, http://www.ofraneh.wordpress.com

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2017 Rights Action, All rights reserved.

Rights Action

Box 50887

20091-0887

Washington, DC 0

 

The Garífuna Five

In the early morning of 18th July, five Garífuna men were abducted from their homes in Triunfo de la Cruz, Honduras. They have been missing ever since. They were abducted by men wearing bullet proof vests with the initials of the Honduran National Police (DPI, the Investigative Police Directorate).

The five are Alberth Sneider Centeno Thomas, a 27 year old community activist who has advocated for the Honduran government to compensate the Garífuna people for stolen land, Milton Joel Martínez Álvarez, Suami Aparicio Mejía Garcia, Junior Rafael Juárez Mejía and Gerardo Mizael Rochez Cálix. All are members of the Fraternal Organisation of Black Hondurans (OFRANEH).

Sneider Centeno is President of the Triunfo de la Cruz community and has been a forceful defender of the wetlands of Punta Izopo where the expansion of African palm plantations is threatening to destroy the wetlands of the Plátano and Gama Rivers. In 2019, Sneider and a group of youth from Triunfo de la Cruz intervened to stop the burning of hundreds of acres of mangroves which were being destroyed to plant African palm. As a result of this action they became targets of and received threats from the drug traffickers who control large areas of northern Honduras and who are associated with the palm plantations.

On 1st August, OFRANEH issued a statement demanding their immediate return alive and in good health, condemning a social media campaign which had sprung into being to denigrate the men and to accuse them of drug trafficking, and demanding the Honduran state’s compliance with an Inter-American Human Rights Court ruling to properly identify and demarcate Garífuna community owned land.

Amnesty International has issued an Urgent Action alert on behalf of the five (AMR 37/2780/2020, 23 July) as has the Alliance for Global Justice (20 July 2020).

In April 2006 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted precautionary measures to the community of Triunfo de la Cruz, asking the government of Honduras to adopt the necessary measures to protect the right of the community to ownership of ancestral lands. In October 2015, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights ruled in favour of the Garífuna community of Triunfo de la Cruz, finding the Honduran state guilty of violating the right of the community to collective property.

Since the start of the COVID-19 total curfew in Honduras in March 2020, Amnesty International has received several reports of serious attacks against human rights defenders, including members of OFRANEH. On 20th April, the police stifled a protest in Oak Ridge, Roatán Island, forcing a boat not to dock at a local port for public health reasons. On 6th May, police officers threatened a group of young Garífuna people guarding the community of Travesía in Cortés department with dropping tear gas bombs. OFRANEH also denounced the killing of Edwin Fernández, an OFRANEH member, on 20th May in the community of Río Tinto, Atlántida department.

The circumstances of the abduction and the continued disappearance of the men reflect on the current government of Honduras as a government that is riddled and ruled by organised crime and a government that practices state terrorism to instil fear into the Honduran people.

The Garífuna of Honduras and Belize

In northern Honduras, where the country’s Caribbean beaches are a major attraction for tourists, development projects clash violently with indigenous land rights issues. Since the early 1980s the Honduran government has made consistent efforts to attract both tourists and foreign investors in the industry, to the point (before the 2009 coup d’état) where the tourism industry was the country’s second largest foreign exchange earner.[1]

The Caribbean coastline of Honduras is home to many Garífuna communities which have ancestral title to their land, and the coastal town of Tela is surrounded by a number of Garífuna villages. The Garífuna have lived in the area for over 200 years, and are descended from the Arawak peoples of the Caribbean islands and escaped African slaves. They have maintained communal land ownership structures, and their land title in the Tela Bay area was established in 1992. Developments in the area, including a luxury tourism development started in 1994, which now lies empty, have brought the Garífuna into conflict with the national government and municipal councils over land rights. In 1997, the national government “conveniently lost” documents relating to Garífuna title to the land.[2]

The communally-held titles grant the Garífuna communities rights to their area in perpetuity, and land may not be sold or transferred to owners outside the community. Not all of the Garífuna land titles, however, are recognised by the Honduran government, which in 1998 reformed the Constitution to permit foreigners to acquire land less than forty km. from the coast, an entitlement previously prohibited. The constitutional change prompted Garífuna fears that big hotel investors would push the Garífuna out of their homes. In 2004 Eva Thorne reported that in some cases these fears had been well-grounded:

the tourism boom of recent years and the consequent demand for valuable beachfront property has created incentives for land invasions and intimidation, as well as bribery and outright violence against Garífuna communities. … Some community members have responded by illegally selling their land to outsiders, often fearing they will lose their land without financial compensation if they refuse to sell.[3]

The Garífuna have also questioned the environmental impacts of the Los Micos project and have rejected an Environmental Impact Assessment that predicted benefits for the area. They claim that the Los Micos site will increase pesticide use and eutrophication of lagoons due to fertilisers used on golf courses, as well as put pressure on the area’s water resources.[4] Fundación Prolansate is an environmental organisation local to the Tela area which has numerous disagreements with OFRANEH, the organisation which represents Garífuna people. But Eduardo Zavala, Fundación Prolansate’s director, also recognises the conflicts caused by the Los Micos project, especially “because it causes people to speculate on land values and prompts an invasion of the areas near to the project.”[5]

The challenges to Garífuna land rights are part of a wider pattern of land rights abuses. International institutions such as the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation seek to shift communal land rights, as practiced by many indigenous peoples in Central America, to systems of individual rights which are easier for international economic players to purchase. Communal land rights have been key to indigenous resistance to developments such as mining and tourism in Central American countries.

The World Bank funds the Programme for the Administration of Lands in Honduras (PATH). Local organisations are afraid that this programme is encouraging individual ownership of land at the expense of traditional communal land ownership practiced by groups such as the Garífuna.[6]

Photo-journalist James Rodríguez explains, “Such a strategy of dividing and buying has already worked in Miami [a Garífuna village near Tela]. The communal land lot was divided in one square block per family, and most of the residents ended up selling out to the DTBT [the Tela Bay Touristic Development Society].”[7] OFRANEH leader Alfredo López bemoans, “The community hardly exists now. It’s a tragedy – they tricked the people into signing over their deeds, and now the community is destroyed.”[8]

The Garífuna of Tela Bay have also suffered direct human rights abuses aimed at forcing them to relinquish their rights to land such as that slated for the development of the Los Micos Beach and Golf Resort. According to a report submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee in October 2006 by US NGO Human Rights First, several major incidents of human rights abuses of the Garífuna have occurred. Some specific abuses are listed in Box 8.3, including death threats, shootings, false imprisonment and house burnings. The evidence associated with some of these points clearly to the Los Micos development and forces associated with it as the origin of these abuses. Activists involved in the land rights campaign at Tela Bay have also alleged corruption by the Honduran government and local authorities. Yani Rosenthal Hidalgo, a recently-appointed minister to the Honduran government, is the son of the owner of PROMOTUR (described as both a development corporation and real estate agency) and a shareholder in the Los Micos project.[9]

[Readers are referred to the interview conducted with OFRANEH leader Alfredo López conducted on 16th August 2010. It is available in the Interviews section of this website.]


[1] This example draws upon Sarah Irving’s work, published in Mowforth, M., Charlton, C. and Munt, I. (2008) Tourism and Responsibility: Perspectives from Latin America and the Caribbean, London: Routledge.
[2] Sandra Cuffe (February 2006) ‘Nature Conservation or Territorial Control and Profits?’ www.upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/194/46
[3] Eva Thorne (September/October 2004) ‘Land Rights and Garífuna Identity’, NACLA Report, 38 (2).
[4] Op.cit. (Cuffe).
[5] Eduardo Zavala (August 2010) in interview, Tela, Honduras.
[6] Human Rights First (November 2005) ‘Garífuna Activists Under Attack in Honduras’.
[7] James Rodríguez (2008) ‘Garífuna Resistance Against Mega-Tourism in Tela Bay’, NACLA, http://nacla.org/node/4884
[8] Alfredo López, quoted in ibid.
[9] Op.cit. (Cuffe).

Undermining Garífuna land rights in Honduras

The Garífuna are descended from the Arawak peoples of the Caribbean islands and escaped Africans who were trafficked into slavery. They are indigenous to Honduras because they arrived on its northern coast before the country gained its independence from Spain in the 1800s, but various individuals, organisations and communities refuse to acknowledge them as being indigenous to Honduras.

The Garífuna have maintained communal land ownership structures in which the patronatos (political representatives of Garífuna communities) hold the communal land titles. “These titles grant the community rights to a given area in perpetuity. They may not sell the land or transfer its ownership outside the community. Improvements, such as houses and other buildings, can be bought and sold within the community, but the land remains inalienable.”[1]

The World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) have legal instruments and policies with provision for group land rights, and the Garífuna have sought to use these to further their land claims within Honduras. At the same time, however, the World Bank has provided Honduras with a loan for coastal and tourism development whose investors require land ownership for their developments. One such example is the granting of $35 million from the IDB for development of the Los Micos tourism development close to the town of Tela.[2]

In 2004, with encouragement from the World Bank, the government of Honduras passed a new Property Law which could bring about the dissolution of community titles and allow third party ownership of land within communally held areas. The law was passed without consultation with any of the indigenous groups of Honduras, thereby contravening the ILO Convention 169 which Honduras had ratified nine years earlier.

The Property Law was later used as the legal framework for the European Union’s Land Programme and the Land Administration Programme of Honduras – PATH by its Spanish initials. The PATH was financed by the World Bank and its aim was essentially that of individualising Garífuna territories so that they could be entered onto the real estate market.[3]


[1] Eva T. Thorne (September/October 2004) ‘Land Rights and Garífuna Identity’, NACLA Report, Vol.38, No.2, North American Congress on Latin America, New York, p.24.
[2] Martin Mowforth, Clive Charlton and Ian Munt (2008) Tourism and Responsibility: Perspectives from Latin America and the Caribbean, Routledge, Abingdon, UK.
[3] Thomas Viehweider (7 October 2007) ‘Bahía de Tela: Honduras y el avance del Plan Puebla Panamá’, Centro de Investigaciones Económicas y Políticas de Acción Comunitaria (CIEPAC), Honduras.

Human rights abuses against the Garífuna

Major incidents of violence perpetrated against the Garífuna have included the following.

The shooting of Gregoria Flores Martínez, the General Co-ordinator of OFRANEH, the main Garífuna community organisation fighting the Los Micos development. Ms. Flores was shot after a series of warnings regarding her campaigns for Garífuna land rights and while collecting testimonies regarding the alleged false imprisonment of another community leader.[1] The Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a resolution acknowledging the precarious situation for Garífuna activists and asked for protective measures for Ms. Flores and her family, which were not implemented.[2]

The false imprisonment of Alfredo López Alvarez, a leading member of several Garífuna rights organisations, who was arrested in 1997 on drugs charges, found guilty in 2000, exonerated in 2001 and January 2003, but not released until August 2003. In February 2006 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights condemned the Honduran authorities for their detention of López and ordered them to pay reparations, which have not been forthcoming.[3]

The burning of the house of Wilfredo Guerrero, the President of the Committee to Defend the Lands of San Juan, the site of the Los Micos complex. Although no-one was hurt in the fire, documents vital to the Garífuna case were destroyed.[4]

Threats to the life of Jessica García and her children. Ms García, a Garífuna community leader, was approached at home in June 2006 by a man who offered her money to sign a document surrendering Garífuna land rights to the development company PROMOTUR. When she refused, the man put a gun to her head to force her to sign, and threatened her life and those of her children if she publicised the document’s existence.[5] The document, a copy of which was obtained by a US human rights group, is said to hand the disputed territory over to PROMOTUR, guarantee that the Garífuna would abandon legal actions or complaints, and that PROMOTUR would have the right to evict and relocate Garífuna communities. The document is said to have been co-signed by PROMOTUR owner Jaime Rosenthal Oliva.[6]

Jesús Alvarez died following the second of two murder attempts.[7] Jesús was a colleague of Alfredo López and had accused the municipality of Tela of embezzlement in relation to earlier tourist developments.

2006: Community Radio station Faluma Bimetu completely destroyed by fire.[8]

January 2010: the Faluma Bimetu community radio station in the Garífuna village of Triunfo de la Cruz was set alight. Much of the building was destroyed and equipment lost.[9]

7 April 2011: Unidentified arsonists set fire to the home of Teresa Reyes and Radio Faluma Bimetu director Alfredo López at midnight.[10]


[1] Human Rights First (16-17 October 2006) Report to the Human Rights Committee on its consideration of the Initial Report by the Government of Honduras under the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights, 88th Session.
[2] Human Rights First (6 July 2006) ‘Garífuna Community Leader in Honduras Threatened with Death’, www.humanrightsfirst.org/defenders/hrd_women/alert070606_garifuna.asp
[3] Human Rights First (16-17 October 2006) Report to the Human Rights Committee on its consideration of the Initial Report by the Government of Honduras under the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights, 88th Session.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Human Rights First (6 July 2006) ‘Garífuna Community Leader in Honduras Threatened with Death’, www.humanrightsfirst.org/defenders/hrd_women/alert070606_garifuna.asp
[7] Rights Action (31 August 2005) ‘The Tourist Industry and Repression in Honduras’, Rights Action, sourced from www.upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/66/46/
[8] Dick and Mirian Emanelsson (23 January 2011) ‘Radio del Pueblo Garífuna cerrado por terror’, http://vimeo.com/19128569 (accessed 4 February 2011).
[9] OFRANEH (6 January 2010) ‘Urgent! Attack against Garífuna Community Radion in Triunfo de la Cruz’, http://hondurassolidarity.wordpress.com (accessed 6 August 2010).
[10] Reporters Without Borders (13 April 2011) ‘Community radio stations fighting to survive in Honduras’, www.rsf.org/honduras-community-radio-stations-still-13-04-2011,40023.html (accessed 17 April 2011).

216 years after Satuye’s death – Garífuna expulsions continue

The following excerpts are taken from a communication from OFRANEH, the Honduran Black Fraternity Organisation, La Ceiba, 15 March 2011

On 14th March, 1795, on San Vincent Island, the hero of the Garífuna village Joseph Satuye died fighting against the British. Satuye waged two wars against British imperialism to defend the last bastion of Kalinagu people in the Caribbean.

The death of Satuye did not bring the fight to an end, and our ancestors continued fighting, … Eventually, we were confined to the Island of Baliceaux, where most of the captives died due to the cruel conditions of the captivity. Later our people were deported to Roatán Island in the Gulf of Honduras. Honduras’ independence brought changes and our people spread along the Central American Caribbean coast.

The arrival of the banana companies in Honduras began a process of de-territorialisation, which has intensified since the 1990s due to the growing speculation of real estate around mega-tourism projects. Although the sale of land to foreigners within the perimeters of community land titles was prohibited, in the last few decades there have been systematic sales of land.

For the Garífuna people, territory and culture are essential elements of our view of the world. The process of acculturation mixed with a false vision of development, however, has served as a pretext to assimilate us, to take our territory and to bring us into ‘modernity’.

The Garífuna neighbourhoods of Cristales and Rio Negro in Trujillo have historically been bastions of our people. The conversion of Rio Negro into the empire of a porn king (Canadian Randy Jurgensen) is another of the actions taken to expel the Garífunas from Honduras or to convert us into docile African descendents. Last Saturday, President Pepe Lobo accompanied the Porn King to the opening of the construction of the post-panamax cruise ship jetty. Mr. Lobo was presented with an environmental license for the jetty. However, studies had not been done on the bathymetry of the Bay of Trujillo and so sediment will have to be dredged from the bottom of the bay to make the jetty functional …

… the heirs of a nationalist ideology handed over the Bay of Trujillo to the Porn King. Meanwhile, the Garífuna communities continue to lose the small territory that was granted to them by the National Agrarian Institute (INA).

In 2009, the community of Guadalupe filed a complaint before the prosecutor for Ethnic Groups, about the encroachments and illegal sales by front men on behalf of the Porn King. As usual, these complaints were buried in oblivion and of course, the exhaustion of internal legal resources is a maze at the service of sheltered satraps who masquerade under the title of entrepreneurs.

Our people today once again reflect the death of Satuye and his glorious and heroic deeds against British imperialism; while still we contemplate the territory that we had in Honduras for 214 years. It has been converted into a piñata with the complicity of the authorities, including the consent and silence of those African descendants who are rich from the crumbs of the banquet of power.