“Our ancestral territory is not just a piece of land under our feet. For us, it means spirituality, food, language, and culture,” said Alfredo Lopez, a leader with OFRANEH (the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras, a partner of Grassroots International).
The Afro-descendant Garifuna people believe without their lands, access to the ocean and natural resources they would cease to be a people. In Honduras, Vallecito represents the Garifuna resistance and reclamation of their ancestral history and is currently under threat.
We have been receiving on-the-ground updates from OFRANEH about the most recent wave of violence, oppression and forced eviction they are facing. Below is a letter that OFRANEH sent to Paulo Abrão, the Executive Secretary for the Inter-America Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States, of the human rights abuses they are experiencing. We will continue to let our donor-activists know how they can support OFRANEH and the Garifuna communities in Vallecito during this critical period.
LETTER FROM OFRANEH:
Cordial greetings from our organization.
With regard to compliance with the Precautionary Measures issued in favor of Miriam Miranda (MC 322-11), OFRANEH is obliged to point out the non-compliance with the needs expressed before the Technical Committee of the Protection Mechanism.
The unique situation in Honduras does not contribute to the safety of people dedicated to the defence of the human and territorial rights of Indigenous Peoples, considering that much of Honduras’ northern coast is under the control of organized crime, which has taken over much of the Garífuna territory, a situation that the State knows well, tends to minimize.
As is known to both the authorities and human rights organizations, in Honduras there is a selective elimination of social leaders and human rights defenders, and despite the apparent decline in homicides in the country, it is not reflected in improvement for human rights defenders.
The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, reflected, « despite great efforts to establish an effective protection mechanism, the vast majority of human rights defenders in Honduras can not work in a safe and conducive environment. They are in danger in most parts of the country and do not feel safe due to numerous attacks, threats, the criminalization of their activities and the lack of access to justice. »
In the case of Miriam Miranda, one of the places she visits most frequently is Vallecito, territory that was occupied for more than a decade by organized crime, which came to control more than 80% of the territory and build an airstrip that was dynamited on two occasions, and to date there is a permanent pressure to use the path to the beach.
On several occasions, Miriam Miranda, in meetings with the Technical Committee of the Protection Mechanism, has requested that the presence of military personnel be renewed, with the aim of avoiding the constant incursions into the territory of Vallecito by men carrying high-caliber weapons, who usually head towards the beach for unknown purposes.
Every day between 6 and 8 men on motorbikes raid the beach and to date they have already cut the fence of the Camp of Vallecito 7 times, generating anguish and seriously endangering the lives of the people who inhabit the community of Vallecito. A very serious event occurred last Friday, August 2nd in the evening hours, an undetermined number of men shot at three comrades living by the lagoon shore near the sea, they had to run into the mountains to safeguard their lives.
As OHCHR itself points out, in Honduras there is a prevailing « absence of a comprehensive public policy: institutions do not understand the concept of defending human rights defenders » in addition to the « absence of a preventive approach in the design of public policy regarding the protection for this collective », a situation that hinders negotiations with the Technical Committee of the Protection Mechanism, which only shows interest in providing the beneficiary of the MC, an armoured car (which has been rejected by our coordinator), since it does not address her other requests that above all is a request to provide security in the area where she remains most of the time — Vallecito. This situation reflects the lack of political will of the State to fulfill its responsibility to provide security to our General Coordinator, as well as to the Garifunas leaders who are defending our historical rights.
It should be noted that Miriam Miranda has suffered, on more than one occasion, confrontations with elements of the National Police, which despite identifying and demonstrating that she has Precautionary Measures; security agents have intended to arrest her; demonstrating how in Honduras there is enormous racism that aggravates the situation of the defender.