Garífunas Arrested for Occupying Their Own Land
On November 10, 2016 six Garífuna youth were violently arrested in the Garífuna community Guadalupe, Colón. The National Police and the members of the Naval Force accused the members of OFRANEH (the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras, a Grassroots International partner and human rights leader) of land usurpation. That is, they were accused of occupying their own territory that had been illegally sold to foreign investors to develop a tourist housing complex. Among those arrested were OFRANEH leader, 28-year-old Medelin David.
In an interview with Italian journalist Giorgio Trucchi , Medelin reports, “The presence of police patrols in the area has intensified over the previous weeks. Last Thursday, I was with five colleagues in the recuperated land, when four patrol cars full of agents of the National Police and the Naval Force arrived. Without a word, they entered the land and started chasing us, treating us as if we were delinquents and handcuffed all my companions. I resisted because I wanted to gain time while the people of the community came to support us.”
According to Medelin, the police agents put all the young people in their patrol cars, and she was kept immobile on the floor of the car. The agents reportedly hit her and twisted her arms. According to Medelin, “They began to insult me, telling me that even the hardest mules subdue to handcuffs. I complained and told them that I was not a criminal, I was only defending the right of the Garífuna people to recover our ancestral lands. When we arrived in Trujillo they locked us up.”
As a part of the interview, Medelin shared that she was the only one who was detained and had to face a judge, who forbid her to leave the country or go near the recuperated land.
“They locked me in a very damp and dirty cell, and they did not want to give me a mattress where I could rest,” she says. “But I did not care. I knew they were not going to bend me, and sooner or later I was going to leave that place. I am accused of usurping a land that is ours. This is totally inconceivable, it’s outrageous because they’re practically taking me out of my home,” Medelin explains.
Fortunately, Medelin was released after the intervention of OFRANEH’s lawyer. Her trial is scheduled for the last week of November. An arrest warrant was also issued against Celso Guillén, former president of the Guadalupe communal authorities and member of OFRANEH, and two other members of the community.
Medelin says that instead of intimidating her, the police persecution has strengthened her convictions. She strongly feels that “… the support of the community, my family and OFRANEH has been unconditional, and that helps me to stand strong. I never felt alone and now I am stronger and have much more courage.”
Medelin and other leaders of OFRANEH know that the stakes are very high. “We need to be united, because the plan of this government is very clear, they want to disappear us, take possession of our lands, our beaches and mountains, and sell them to the highest bidder,” she says. “But they will not make it. We will continue to recuperate our lands and territories.”
Nationwide Struggles for Land, Territory meet Attack
Medelin spoke with Giorgio Trucchi, who is based in Nicaragua as a correspondent with Rel-UITA, during the opening day of the 1st Summit of Peoples and Communities in the Struggle against Extractivism. OFRANEH has had an important role in the construction of the Platform of the Social and Popular Movement of Honduras, which organized the summit. The Platform which has served to unify those in the land struggle. More than 600 delegates from all over the country gathered on November 13th in Tegucigalpa to define national strategies to defend land, territory and natural resources, sending a strong message that despite the repression the movements will not stop.
The resistance of grassroots movements in Honduras is all the more remarkable given the continued and unbridled wave of attacks against community leaders, Indigenous Peoples, environmental leaders and human rights defenders. For the social movements and frontline communities in Honduras, 2016 has been a horrific of violence and repression. Some of the outrageous violent attacks included the assassination of Berta Cáceres, the Lenca indigenous leader and General Coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), as well as the COPINH’s leaders Nelson García and Lesbia Yaneth Urquia. Other atrocities include the assassination attempt against the new general coordinator of COPINH, Tomás Gómez Membreño, and the community leader Alexander García; the military and police repression against peaceful demonstrations of COPINH and the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH); and the recent assassination of Jose Angel Flores, President of the Unified Peasant Movement of the Aguan Valley (MUCA), and Silmer Dionosio George, another MUCA leader.
Canadian “Porn King” Allegedly behind Attacks in Guadalupe
The recent arrests in Guadalupe have long roots. In 2007, the Garífuna community denounced Canadian Randy Jorgensen – a major investor in various tourist projects in the Trujillo Bay area along Honduras’ northern Caribbean coast – to the Ethnic Prosecutor’s Office for the illegal acquisition of land. The authorities ignored the complains against Jorgensen, who is also known as the “King of Porn” because that’s where his money comes from, despite the community legal titles issued by the National Agrarian Institute indicate explicitly that communal lands cannot be sold or transferred to people outside the community.
Finally, in 2011, due to corruption, repression and legally questionable land titles Jorgensen was charged with illegal seizure and possession of Garífuna territories for his tourism operations and investments. In 2015, he appeared in court in Trujillo, which then granted him a provisional acquittal. The Appeals Court of Ceiba then nullified this provisional acquittal and required Jorgensen to appear again before the courts, which Jorgensen refused to comply with. The “King of Porn” has thus far avoided facing justice.
According to OFRANEH, the connections between Jorgensen and the post-coup d’etat Honduran administration have provoked a wave of land dispossession. Since the coup d’état in 2009, the “King of Porn” has reportedly illegally purchased vast amounts of land, usurping Garífuna ancestral land. Also he has been obtaining express environmental licenses for the housing complexes he has built in the buffer zone of the Capiro and Calentura National Park.
OFRANEH continues to demand that the Public Prosecutors office proceed with the case against Randy Jorgensen, including illegal land purchases. With leaders like Medelin David, OFRANEH will continue its tireless work to demand respect and the protection of Garífuna and all the Indigenous Peoples ancestral territories in Honduras.
As Bertha Cáceres Zuniga says, “My mother didn’t die, she multiplied.”