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Concerns raised over forced disappearance of Garifuna men in Honduras

Concerns raised over forced  disappearance of Garifuna men in Honduras
Members of the Garifuna ethnic group protest in front of the Supreme Court of Justice in Tegucigalpa, Honduras on July 21, 2020. (Photo by ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP via Getty Images)

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The Garifuna Heritage Foundation (TGHF) of St Vincent and the Grenadines is concerned about the recent abduction and forced disappearance of four members of the Garifuna community of Triunfo de la Cruz in Honduras: Alberth Sneider Centeno, Milton Joel Martínez Álvarez; Suami Aparicio Mejía García and Gerardo Misael Trochez.

“These men were abducted on the morning of Saturday July 18, 2020 by a group of men wearing bullet proof vests believed to be police. According to our sources, the abductors vests had the police investigative unit insignia (DPI by its Spanish acronym) printed on them, although the men arrived in unmarked cars,” The Garifuna Heritage Foundation said in a release dated August 14.

Sneider Centeno is the president of the elected community council in Triunfo de la Cruz. He and his community won a case heard in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2015 against the Honduran State for property rights violations and failure to consult the Garifuna community about tourism developments on their land.

Garífuna communities like Triunfo de la Cruz dot the Caribbean coast of Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Belize.

In the case of Honduras, the Garífuna Coast’s vast biodiversity makes the region extremely attractive to destructive foreign investors, who with the help of Honduran elite and corrupt politicians, have for years been appropriating beaches and wetlands for the construction of tourism projects.

TGHF has made contact with OFRANEH (Organizacion Fraternal Negra Hondurena- translated as Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras) the Garifuna organization based in Honduras which has been spearheading the mobilization of the Garifuna Community of Triunfo de la Cruz in recent years in the defense of Garifuna communal land rights.

OFRANEH’s work with this community resulted in the October 8th 2015 Judgement of the Inter American Court of Human Rights against the Government of Honduras. The four persons who were abducted were members of OFRANEH including Alberth Sneider Centeno, President of the Community Council of Triunfo de la Cruz.

OFRANEH says aggressions against the Garifuna community escalated even more after the 2015 Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling. The ruling demanded the Honduran state expropriate land that had been taken by outsiders for massive tourist projects and return it to its rightful owners, the Garifuna community.

The Honduran State has not respected the ruling of IACHR and continues to encroach on Garifuna ancestral lands, to which the Garifuna have title, for the purpose of developing beachfront properties for tourists, including the lands belonging to Triunfo de la Cruz. The community has continued to vocally oppose the Honduran State’s illegal allocation of their lands to development corporations without consultation with the community. We are concerned that the disappearance of these Garifuna leaders is in retaliation for this opposition.

“We are aware that there have been large protests in Garifuna communities immediately after the men’s disappearance. The familiar chants of “Vivos se los llevaron, vivos los queremos,” (You took them alive; we want them back alive), are echoing throughout the region, demanding the safe return of the men. International protests include New York City, where on July 20 a group of Garifuna and Honduran people marched from the Honduran consulate to the New York Times building and the United Nations,” the release said.

The Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, the Honorable Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves and the Prime of Belize Honorable Dean Barrow have written to the President of Honduras His Excellency Juan Orlando Hernandez concerning this matter and requesting an urgent response to the plight of the “Garifuna four”. On August 6th, 2020 the Inter American Court of Human Rights demanded that the Government of Honduras respond to them regarding the disappearance of the four abducted men.

The National Garifuna Council (NGC) of Belize, as well as several other Human Rights bodies across the world have raised their voices against this action, including members of the United States Congress.

The Garifuna Heritage Foundation is adding its voice to this growing chorus and is demanding that the Government immediately investigate this incident with a view to finding and returning these men to their communities unharmed.

We have circulated this information to the colleagues of the Caribbean Network of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples whose membership is drawn from Indigenous communities in Belize, Suriname, Guyana, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

TGHF is monitoring this situation closely and is asking all concerned persons to express solidarity with the Garifuna community by emailing TGHF at [email protected]

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