Whirlwind Legislature Threatens Garifuna Lands

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The government of Honduras is currently amending its constitution, and Article 107, which forbids the sale of lands within 40 kilometers of the coast to foreigners, may be altered to allow for the sale and development of coastal lands to foreigners and tourist interests. Since 1998, the Garifuna have been campaigning internationally to stop this amendment, claiming the government's actions have been unconstitutional. The proposed reform of Article 107 on November 30, 1998 was particularly ill-timed, with the government announcing its intentions immediately after hurricane Mitch debilitated so many indigenous coastal communities. Another concern of the Garifuna is that the government failed in any of the preceding discussions leading to the reform to involve any indigenous community participants in discussion or consultation.

In January 1999, leaders of the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (CONPAH) appealed to the Honduran Supreme Court to declare the reform unconstitutional. CONPAH organized protests and arranged for community leaders to have their voices heard in Tegucigalpa. According to CONPAH, protesters were arrested, beaten and entire groups traveling to the city were stopped and refused passage. CONPAH has published presentations made to the Court by Miskito and Garifuna community leaders José Benjamín Morales Sandoval and Teófilo Lacayo Ramos in which they stated that:

1. The reform of Article 107 violates constitutional articles 5, 173, and 346 in that the sale and development of coastal territories allowed by the reform would necessarily infringe on the constitutional duties of the state to protect land interests of the indigenous communities, especially to protect the lands and forests in which they reside (Article 346). The state has also committed itself to preserving and promoting native cultures (Article 173).

2. The State of Honduras would also contravene Convention 169's Article 6 which demands proper consultation with affected indigenous groups taken in good faith and which demands consent of the concerned indigenous groups to any development proposals. This relates also to Article 5 of the constitution which outlines Honduras' principle of democratic participation, guaranteeing the right of all sectors to participate in assuring and strengthening the future of Honduras.

The Garifuna and Miskito communities are particularly concerned that their way of life, harmonious with the local coastal environments, will be altered without any protections. The amendment, should it be upheld, means that indigenous ancestral lands, which have never been protected by legal title in Honduras, will be made available to the highest bidder. The Garifuna harshly criticize the government for turning a blind eye to their needs only to rally for tourist dollars without a development agenda or long-term development plan for tourism to mitigate any ecological, social, or cultural impacts. They claim that the environmental, cultural, and economic health of the nation cannot be maintained with a short-sighted scramble for tourist revenue. Other concerns of the coastal indigenous communities include the inevitable drug trafficking that will increase with foreign control of their lands and with tourism, and the removal of indigenous populations or the influx of non-indigenous populations to indigenous coastal communities.

Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

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