Persecuted Afro-Hondurans push for state protection | Human Rights News

Tegucigalpa, Honduras – After more than a decade of post-coup rule created Honduras One of the most dangerous countries in the world for land defenders, President Xiomara Castro promised to introduce policies to support historically persecuted groups, including the Afro-Honduras Garifuna. .

Now, the protesters are pressured Castro to keep her promises, including facilitating “binding dialogues with all indigenous peoples and descendants of the Afro people” and ensuring “the defense of territories, languages ​​and cultures.” their”.

The country’s Afro-Honduras population has long fended off intrusive tourism developers, palm oil plantations and organized crime syndicates vying for a portion of their untouched land along the coast. Caribbean Sea. This made them one constant violence targetState surveillance and criminalization.

During two large protests in Tegucigalpa last month, Garifuna leaders urged the government to serious crime investigationrespect international rulings in favor of their land rights and set up a new unit to investigate disappearances.

Rony Castillo, a protester of the Organization of Black Brotherhood in Honduras (OFRANEH), told Al Jazeera: “We will not continue these words and promises. “We will ask them to demonstrate this political will through actions.”

Forced disappearance

Among those requests is a government investigation into the unresolved disappearances of four Garifuna community leaders in Triunfo de la Cruz in July 2020. The community there has been fighting for these rights. rights to its collective land, a fight prompted seven years ago by a ruling from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR). One of the missing men, Snider Centeno, was a prominent leader in this struggle.

Their abduction, believed to have been carried out by individuals in police uniforms, has alarmed other local land defenders. In a petition filed with the Supreme Court on August 24, OFRANEH accused Honduran officials whose tenure began under former President Juan Orlando Hernandez – now in U.S.A faces drug trafficking charges – for failing to carry out his mission to investigate and find the disappeared men.

Castro’s government has promised to launch a new search. Manuel Zelaya, Castro’s husband and former president until he overthrown in a coup in 2009, said in August: “The Garifunas, whether abducted or sacrificed by the previous regime, must appear. We have a right to know where they are.”

Cesar Benedict, a Garifuna leader from Triunfo de la Cruz and a close friend of Centeno, told Al Jazeera that the comments were encouraging. “I have a lot of hope that this government will work differently with the Garifuna, and we will have answers about our companions. “

However, other members of the Garifuna community were more critical. After a video went viral on social media of Zelaya taunting an Indigenous Lenca leader for “not understanding” why the highway could not be built, the Women’s Wrestling Association advocacy group The painting accused him of “addressing with a tone of mockery their spirituality and worldview, with contempt for their worldview”.

‘Same or worse’

Two years after the disappearance and seven months since Castro government Inaugurated, many Garifuna leaders are demanding more than just government speeches.

Castillo has called on the Honduran government to respect the various IACHR rulings that recognize the rights of the Garifuna communities to their land, including the 2006 decision in favor of the San Juan community, which the government made not execute.

Garifuna protesters in Honduras
Garifuna activists have called for an investigation into the forced disappearance of land defenders [Anna-Cat Brigida/Al Jazeera]

Miriam Miranda, coordinator of OFRANEH, describes the Castro administration’s position on the solution as “same or worse” than former mode.

Regarding the case of the disappeared Garifunas, a spokesman for the Honduran attorney general’s office told Al Jazeera that they are awaiting a final report from the Investigative Police Department before it can proceed. Honduran police did not respond to a request for comment.

OFRANEH is also urging the attorney general’s office to create a special unit to investigate enforced disappearances, similar to those established in other Latin American countries, such as Mexico and El Salvador. Motivated by the “symbolic event of the young Garifunas,” such a unit could also spur the state to investigate other disappearances, Castillo said.

“Every day, people disappear, not just the Garifuna,” he said.

The honeymoon period fades

Meanwhile, tensions are continuing to rise between the state and Garifuna activists.

After a demonstration on August 9, Honduran authorities accused protesters of forcibly entering the building housing the attorney general’s office – an allegation that protesters deny. OFRANEH denounced the state’s subsequent decision to open an investigation into several of its members, including Miranda.

“We cannot allow them to persecute our leaders anymore, while criminal Miranda told reporters at the Supreme Court on August 24.

The Castro government often points to stolen public funds and broken institutions left behind by the previous administration as the main obstacles to carrying out its plans. But Miranda criticized this framing. “Not everything will be solved with money,” she told Al Jazeera.

“There are things that this government should do, not just think about having money to do, but make decisions to at least give hope to this country, to the people of Honduras, who voted for Xiomara Castro in an act of disappointment but also hope. “

Despite some initial goodwill towards the leftist candidate, who has risen to protest against her husband’s removal, the protests may suggest that Castro’s honeymoon period is coming to an end.

“OFRANEH has not rested a day during the 12 years of dictatorship, and we think it is important that the rights of the people of Garifuna are respected,” Miranda said. “We will continue.”

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