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.