GarÃfunas sign accord with new Honduras president
Honduras' new president, JosÃ© 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 OrganizaciÃ³n 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' GarÃfuna. 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 GarÃfuna, 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, GarÃfuna communities have spread out across Central America, the Caribbean, and the United States in the last few decades. Yet, historically, the GarÃfuna were established in the countries of Belize, Guatemala, Panama, and Honduras and along the coastlines of Nicaragua, Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.
GarÃfuna have long faced discrimination...
Latin America's GarÃfuna 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. GarÃfuna 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 GarÃfuna march stopped the reform: protestors noted that any reform of the law would have allowed for the sale of traditional GarÃfuna lands along Honduras' Atlantic Coast.
"They have not been able to reform that law," says Mirtha ColÃ³n, 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 GarÃfuna 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 GarÃfuna were told – was by law set aside as a nature preserve; today the area boasts a tourist attraction named the Plantation Beach Resort.
GarÃfuna living in the areas of San Juan, Miami, TornavÃ©, 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 GarÃfuna demanded title to some parts of the land for their own communities.
Even with the granting of community land titles, ColÃ³n says GarÃfuna 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 GarÃfuna 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 GarÃfuna 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 GarÃfuna regions. GarÃfunas can also expect to see electric, telephone, in-door plumbing and other basic services brought to their territorial areas.