11 August 2008

Garifuna Resistance against Mega-Tourism in Honduras

A wonderful piece, from James RodrĂ­guez's MiMundo.org, both for the beauty of the photography and the depth of sympathy for the struggle of a local Garifuna community against the invasion of tourist capital that has redefined their beaches as "wasted":
‘We have hundreds of kilometers of beaches that aren't developed, and it's a waste,’ said the then Honduran Tourism Secretary (IHT), Ana Abarca in 2001. ‘We want strong tourism. We are going after the sun and the beach.’
With a few adaptations, the dozens of Garifuna communities that populate the coast,
continue to subsist as their ancestors did: through fishing, hunting, the cultivation of yucca, beans, banana, as well as gathering wild fruits such as coconuts and jicaco (cocoplum). “Our culture is based upon establishing a harmony with our natural environment”, explains Teresa Reyes, a community leader in Triunfo de la Cruz village.
In what appears to be a renewal of old colonial enslavement and invasion, the Garifuna and their culture are now the target of development:
The neoliberal model for development, in which the Honduran structures of power base themselves in, has identified the Caribbean Coast, and in particular Tela Bay, as the perfect place to develop a mega-tourist industry: Beautiful “wasted” beaches – as described by former IHT secretary Abarca – populated by relatively few people (already perceived as exotic, easily persuaded, and who can offer entertainment as well as cheap labor) make up the perfect wish list for those within the structures of power.
The Garifuna are not passive in the face of continuous encroachments, and the state is probably underestimating the depths from which Garifuna resistance comes, having excelled at making resistance a central part of their history and culture:
Such struggle for the control of Garifuna territories began over 15 years ago. “Starting in 1992, the Marbella tourist corporation and other foreign investors, in complicity with local authorities and military personnel, began usurping property rights within the Triunfo de la Cruz community. Facing the risk of losing communal land titles, local and national organizations came together to expose the corruption and managed so suspend the fraudulent operations.” Today, the Marbella project remains at a standstill.
For the sake of foreigners to have the luxury of sinking their pink toes into Garifuna sand, the Honduran state has also disregarded the normal routes of negotiation and dialogue, resorting to force and intimidation on many occasions:

In recent years, Garifuna activists have been living under a state of siege receiving innumerable death threats, having homes burned down, and have had three community members assassinated. “We find ourselves in a what can only be conceived as a war-like situation” declares Lopez during an interview.
The state's tourism authority is planning to create a vast complex, occupying over three kilometers of beach, building a golf course (which is a source of environmental contamination), and engaging in deforestation, while trying to divide up communally held Gairfuna lands into individual plots whose deeds can be purchased.

It's a 2008 world after all, which is hardly different from a 1492 world.
“Here we will resist until our death. Only in coffins will they manage to get us out of here!” declares Santos Antonio Garmendia, who has lived in Barra Vieja since the early 1950’s.
International financial institutions, at the heart of the spread of neo-liberal development, are not far behind the state in aggressively implanting these tourist projects:
“International financial organizations are also playing a role in this conflict. The World Bank funds a land administration program known as the Program for the Administration of Lands in Honduras (PATH). Local organizations are afraid that this program is encouraging individual ownership of land at the expense of traditional communal land ownership practiced by groups such as the Garifuna. In the Tela Bay region in northern Honduras, this systemic problem is compounded by the Los Micos Beach & Golf Resort, a massive planned hotel complex funded in part by the Inter-American Development Bank.”
As one response, some of the Garifuna have banded together to offer an attractive eco-tourist alternative:
“We want a project that belongs to us. We don’t want outsiders to come and exploit us or remove us from our ancestral lands. We want to develop an eco-tourism industry which is ours and which will sustain our Garifuna cosmovision and respect the natural environment.”

For more information and to get involved:
OFRANEH: ofraneh@yahoo.com
Rights Action: info@rightsaction.org

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