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Garífunas sign accord with new Honduras president

Honduras' new president, José Manuel "Mel" Zelaya Rosales, won the November 27, 2005 presidential elections because of his promise to look for resolutions to the country's problems.

While his main opponent in the race, the National Party of Honduras' (PNH's) Porfirio Pepe Lobo, was a strict hardliner, Zelaya, a member of the Liberal Party of Honduras (Partido Liberal de Honduras, PLH), campaigned with a more moderate approach to issues.

Now, the nation's Black population is planning to hold Zelaya to his promises.

The president-elect took office on January 27, 2006. And, in preparation for his transition to power, Zelaya sat down in Tegucigalpa, the nation's capital, with Celeo Alvarez Casildo, president of the Organización Negra Centroamericana/Central American Black Organization (ONECA – the largest umbrella organization for Black communities in Central America and the Caribbean) and other representatives of Honduras' Black communities to talk about the campaign promises made to Afro Hondurans and how the new president plans on fulfilling them.

Back on May 26, 2005, when he was initiating his political campaign, Zelaya signed an accord with Afro Hondurans. He promised that, if he won the presidency with their support, he would make every effort to see that their concerns are addressed.

During his 2006 through 2010 term of office, Zelaya has agreed to finalize terms for the government's granting of land titles to Honduras' Garífuna. If Zelayo lives up to his promise, he could help end a battle Afro Honduran communities have been waging for decades.

The majority of Afro Hondurans are known as Garífuna, descendants of Africans and Carib-Indians who resisted slavery and were able to retain their own language – a patois of Creole, Bambu, and Patua – and to live independently for years.

Because of many have immigrated, Garífuna communities have spread out across Central America, the Caribbean, and the United States in the last few decades. Yet, historically, the Garífuna were established in the countries of Belize, Guatemala, Panama, and Honduras and along the coastlines of Nicaragua, Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.

Garífuna have long faced discrimination...

Latin America's Garífuna have long faced discrimination and have had to struggle to be politically incorporated within their nations of origin, so Zelaya's campaign promises did not come out of a vacuum. Garífuna have lived in specific areas of Honduras for the past 200 years and they have petitioned for title to those lands for years now.

Various Honduran governments have granted a few small landholding titles, and yet remained reluctant to negotiate the rest. But the community gained respect after more than 5,000 people marched on Tegucigalpa in the late '90s and demanded land titles rather than watch their lands sold after being devastated by 1998s Hurricane Mitch.

Government officials had proposed a reform of the Constitution's Article 107, a law that prohibits Honduran land from being sold to non-citizens. But the Garífuna march stopped the reform: protestors noted that any reform of the law would have allowed for the sale of traditional Garífuna lands along Honduras' Atlantic Coast.

"They have not been able to reform that law," says Mirtha Colón, a United States-based ONECA member. "But they've made efforts to change it by changing other laws that affect Article 107."

Changing Honduran land ownership laws gives multinational companies the opportunity to buy land and develop tourist hotels, resorts, and casinos in Garífuna territories: areas that are extremely underdeveloped yet have the advantage of being situated along the nation's picturesque coastline. It has already drastically affected communities in places like Cayos Cochinos, which – the Garífuna were told – was by law set aside as a nature preserve; today the area boasts a tourist attraction named the Plantation Beach Resort.

Garífuna living in the areas of San Juan, Miami, Tornavé, and Triunfo de la Cruz were also initially told their territories would be part of a nature preserve. But when it was announced that a multimillion-dollar tourist resort and casino would be built in the area, the Garífuna demanded title to some parts of the land for their own communities.

Even with the granting of community land titles, Colón says Garífuna are often harassed into leaving their traditional homes: a family's livestock will be killed or their house burned down. "This is why we are afraid, because many people then have to move to the city," she said.

"Or they may have to try to enter the United States illegally. But people have to do something to survive."

Mel Zelaya has pledged that his administration will sponsor a study looking into how much funds sent to Honduras from abroad have been needed to help sustain Garífuna communities. And his new government will tackle racism in Honduras, by sponsoring public service announcements against racial discrimination and by working with Afro Hondurans to sponsor events celebrating the April 12th commemoration of the 18th century Garífuna escape from slavery and arrival of in Punta Gorda, Honduras.

The agreement with the new president also promises increased job creation, and that new health care centers, schools, and roads will be built in Garífuna regions. Garífunas can also expect to see electric, telephone, in-door plumbing and other basic services brought to their territorial areas.
Egungun, Egungun ni t'aiye ati jo! Ancestos, Ancestors come to earth and dance! "I'm sick of the war and the civilization that created it. Let's look to our dreams, and the magical; to the creations of the so-called primitive peoples for new inspirations." - Jaques Vache and Andre Breton "Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone." -John Maynard "You know that in our country there were even matriarchal societies where women were the most important element. On the Bijagos islands they had queens. They were not queens because they were the daughters of kings. They had queens succeeding queens. The religious leaders were women too..." -- Amilcar Cabral, Return to the Source, 1973
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Back on May 26, 2005, when he was initiating his political campaign, Zelaya signed an accord with Afro Hondurans. He promised that, if he won the presidency with their support, he would make every effort to see that their concerns are addressed.---Oshun Auset

This is good news for another member-group of The African Diaspora.

I continue to contend that such internal alliance, dare I say 'organization', will have a similar levering effect in the U.S.

The African American National Committee, Congress, Alliance, Consortium, etc.


Jim Chester

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