Community Under Threat
Leaders and members of the Afro-descendant Garífuna community in the village of San Juan Tela, Atlántida department, in northern Honduras have been subjected to a campaign of harassment.
This is an apparent attempt to force them to hand over land that they have occupied for generations to a real estate company, which has proposed to build a tourist resort in the area. The lives and physical and mental integrity of the members of the community are in danger.
On 7 July 2006, due to the threats and attacks suffered by members of the Garífuna Community, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) called for the Honduran government to implement protection measures on behalf of the leaders of the Garífuna Community of San Juan Tela, in particular Jessica García and Wilfredo Guerrero. This protection was to be carried out in accordance with their wishes. To date, the authorities have failed to implement such measures in any meaningful way.
On 25 February 2006 two young men from the Garífuna community in San Juan Tela, Epson Andrés Castillo and Gino Eligio López, were reportedly detained by members of the security forces in a nearby town. Their bodies were found the next day. Three members of the security forces were found guilty of their murder in December 2007.
On June 5, 2008, one community member, Santos Feliciano Aguilar Álvares was abducted, beaten and threatened with death, by a group of around 10 men. His attackers were allegedly private security guards working for the real estate company which wants to buy the community's land. They surrounded him as he walked down the street in the village, took him to premises owned by the real estate company and beat him.
The men intimidated Santos Aguilar by saying to each other "let's kill him and bury him right here" ("matémoslo y enterrémoslo aquí mismo"). Santos Aguilar was later released, but needed hospital treatment. A few hours before the attack, Santos Aguilar had taken part in a community meeting attended by representatives of the same real estate company. During the meeting, he accused the company of pressurizing Garífuna people to sell their land.
Jessica García, one of the leaders of the Garífuna community, has been targeted on a number of occasions in an apparent attempt to force her to hand over the ownership of the community's land to the real estate company.
Wilfredo Guerrero, another community leader, has also suffered intimidation and harassment. In 2002 Wilfredo Guerrero was arrested by the police and accused of illegally seizing land and threatening employees of the real estate company. In November 2005 an arson attack destroyed Wilfredo's house. All his possessions were burned along with community documents relating to the claim for land titles. Nobody has been brought to justice for these attacks.
Indigenous groups in Honduras, including the Afro-descendant Garífuna community, have struggled for years to assert their right to the land they have inhabited for generations. The land inhabited by the Garífuna community in north-eastern departments of Honduras is increasingly coveted by companies seeking to build tourism complexes which some communities allege would damage or destroy the Garífuna's traditions, culture and way of life, as well as their environment.
The proposed construction of a resort in the area of San Juan Tela, including an 18-hole golf course, is seen by many Garífuna people as a danger to the environment and a threat to their livelihoods. Around 7,000 people live in the village of San Juan Tela. The vast majority of them are Afro-descendants.