"Our Lands Are Critical to Our Lives": Afro-Indigenous Hondurans Defend Land and Food Sovereignty

"Our Lands Are Critical to Our Lives": Afro-Indigenous Hondurans Defend Land and Food Sovereignty

Miriam Miranda, Coordinator of OFRANEH. Photo courtesy of Grassroots International.

This is part of a blog series around the 2015 U.S. Food Sovereignty Prize, which will be presented in Des Moines on October 14, 2015. The Food Sovereignty Prize is awarded by the US Food Sovereignty Alliance, which IATP is a member organization. The US Food Sovereignty Alliance works to end poverty, rebuild local food economies, and assert democratic control over the food system. We believe all people have the right to healthy, culturally appropriate food, produced in an ecologically sound manner. As a US-based alliance of food justice, anti-hunger, labor, environmental, faith-based and food producer groups, we uphold the right to food as a basic human necessity and public good and work to connect our local and national struggles to the international movement for food sovereignty.


“Our liberation starts because we can plant what we eat. This is food sovereignty,” said Miriam Miranda, Coordinator of the Fraternal Black Organization of Honduras, or OFRANEH by its Spanish acronym, in an interview.

OFRANEH is winner of the 2015 Food Sovereignty Prize, given by the US Food Sovereignty Alliance. “There is a big job to do in Honduras and everywhere, because people have to know that they need to produce to bring the autonomy and the sovereignty of our peoples. If we continue to consume [only], it doesn’t matter how much we shout and protest,” said Miranda. “It’s about recovering and reaffirming our connections to the soil, to our communities, to our land. We need to become producers.”

In order to produce, through, one must have land. OFRANEH has organized the Afro-Indigenous Garifuna people of the Atlantic Coast of Honduras into a movement to protect Garifuna territory – including ecologically rich lands, rivers, forests, and oceanfront - against theft by multinational corporations, the national government, and the oligarchy. On the lands and waters, OFRANEH members are also actively strengthening their skills of ecological farming and sustainable small-scale fishing practices.

OFRANEH also aims to defend all that is nurtured upon their territories. This includes community, autonomy, traditional culture, the Garinagu language, local radio stations, ancestral spirituality, and ceremonial life.

OFRANEH’s defense of its identity and territory is head-on, through direct-action community organizing, national and international legal action, and movement-building. In its work, OFRANEH especially prioritizes the leadership development of women and youth.

Garifuna lands are being grabbed, with approval from the Honduran government and often the US government - for tourism, a naval base, deep-water port, and gas and oil extraction. This is despite Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization; the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and Honduras’ own constitution, which guarantees free, prior, and informed consent to any projects in indigenous territories. Narco-traffickers have seized additional lands.

On September 10, 2015, Garifuna peoples were forcibly evicted from the city of Puerto Castillo – formerly claimed by United Fruit Company – by a major landowner. This robbing of ancestral lands and compressing the displaced into a restricted location has happened in the town before, for the construction of a major port.

The community of Triunfo de la Cruz has brought a case about dispossession of its land to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. This is only the fourth case ever brought to protect indigenous territories. (The other three are the Sarayacu in Ecuador, the Saramaca in Suriname, and the Awas Tingni in Nicaragua.) A decision is expected soon.

Narco-traffickers, interested in the strategic characteristics of the land for clandestine drug running – space for a runway, a hidden creek to the sea, and remote location – had invaded the legally titled Garifuna lands. In 2012, the community reoccupied its land with drumming and ceremony, despite narco and paramilitary threats and automatic rifle fire. Since then, however, a portion of the land has been re-invaded by campesinos, with the support of narcos. The community is threatened with an illegal sale by narco-connected individuals, with the complicity of politicians. OFRANEH’s strategy to win back and keep Vallecito is to apply strong enough pressure, together with allies around Honduras and the world, that the governmental Agrarian Institute of Honduras (INA) will be forced to evict the illegal usurpers.

The future of Vallecito is complicated by Honduran government plans for so-called “charter cities” (ciudades modelos in Spanish), foreign enclaves shielded from Honduran sovereignty with their own security and laws, financed by international investors. Vallecito is at the center of a large swath of Garifuna territory the government has in mind for this project. If it is consolidated, dozens of Garifuna communities could be displaced.

Regardless, OFRANEH plans to recover and keep Vallecito and transform it into a center of Garifuna renewal.  All community members dislocated from their lands, for whatever reason, will be able to resettle there. Strengthening traditional Garifuna agriculture, aqua-culture, and culture in general will be an integral part of the resettlement. Immediate plans include the construction of a Garifuna ceremonial/cultural building. Youth leadership development is another part of the plan, so that urban youth and young adults can learn the same skills and knowledge as Garifunas living in remote rural locations.

Like other indigenous and non-indigenous Hondurans standing up for their rights, the Garifunas suffer continual violence, threats, and human rights abuses. Both the land grabs and the violence surrounding them are part of a political climate resulting from a coup d’état against President Manuel Zelaya on June 28, 2009. Then, with the help of the US government, a clique of the top oligarchs of the nation swept to power. The U.S. government has played an enabling role with a series of post-coup regimes, providing political cover and military and police aid, and looking the other way as human rights violations and impunity mount. Hundreds of assassinations of opposition organizers and their family members have marked Honduras in recent years, bringing to mind the death squads of the 1980s. 

In addition to the government’s impunity and corruption, the illegally imposed congress has conceded land and minerals to foreign investors. Beyond what is happening in indigenous communities, campesino land across the country is being grabbed by agribusiness, particularly for African palm plantations planted to feed the craze for biofuel in the North.

Miriam Miranda said, “Our lands and identities are critical to our lives. For us, the struggle for our territories and our commons and our natural resources is of primary importance to preserve ourselves as a people.” 

Attend the Food Sovereignty Prize Ceremony on October 14 in Des Moines, Iowa or watch the livestream. More information available at foodsovereigntyprize.org.

Originally published by Daily Kos.