By LAZARO MONTEVERDE
On July 18 five Garifuna leaders from the north coast of Honduras were kidnapped. The five kidnapping victims, Alberth Centeno, Milton Martinez, Suami Mejía, Gerardo Rochez, and Junior Mejía, were taken from their homes in a predawn raid carried out by heavily armed men wearing police uniforms, bulletproof vests, and balaclavas and using unmarked cars without license plates. At the time of the kidnapping, Honduras was under a lockdown due to COVID 19 and only police, the military, and health care workers were allowed out of their homes. As of this writing, the whereabouts of the five are still unknown and the government has refused to respond to demands from Amnesty International and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for information on their whereabouts. The five were leaders of the Triunfo de la Cruz Garifuna community. The community has been demanding that the government and corporations fulfill a 2015 court ruling from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that they be compensated for the theft of their communal land that has been used for tourist resorts.
The Garifuna are an Afro-Indigenous peoples who were crushed by the British in their native Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in the Second Carib War in 1795-1796. The British exiled many of the Garifuna to the nearby island of Baliceaux where the British starved to death at least 2,800 Garifuna. Thousands of others were forcibly removed to the Caribbean coast of Central America where the British had political control. Arriving in 1797, these Garifuna were forcibly resettled in what is now Belize, the Caribbean coast of Guatemala, the Honduran Bay Islands and North Coast, and Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast.
The Garifuna, along with campesino groups and other indigenous peoples in Honduras have fought fierce battles in recent decades against environmental destruction and genocide carried out by the Honduran political elites, transnational corporations, and narco-capitalists. Standing behind these three forces, supporting and enabling them, is US imperialism.
Violence against environmental activists and the indigenous peoples of Honduras accelerated, as documented by such human rights groups as Global Witness, after the June 28, 2009 political-military coup against moderately liberal Honduran President Jose Manuel Zelaya. We use the term “political-military” to describe the coup because it was not a simple military coup. Rather the political elites, including the Honduran Supreme Court and the ruling party in congress, moved against President Zelaya in conjunction with the military that provided the repressive force for the coup. Ruling class civilian control predominated. These types of political-military coups, as opposed to a simple old-fashioned military coup, are becoming more common in Latin America. The most recent one took place in Bolivia last year which ousted the democratically elected government of Evo Morales. The role of the US in supporting the coup and backing the Honduran military and political elites is described in detail by Dana Frank in her book on the coup entitled The Long Honduran Night. [See April 2019 issue of Socialist Action for a review.]
According the Global Witness, 123 activists had been killed by military forces or the private security forces of the rich between the June 28, 2009 coup and the end of 2016. The most prominent victim was Berta Cáceras. Cáceras was the winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize and a leader of the Lenca struggle against destructive hydroelectric projects in Western Honduras. Cárceras was placed on a corporate-military hit list after the 2009 coup and was killed on March 2, 2016 in circumstances disturbingly similar to the ones surrounding the kidnapping of the five Garifuna leaders. The Lenca people are one of the largest groups of indigenous peoples in Honduras.
The kidnappings and killings of activists continues. In 2018, four activists were murdered and in 2019 another 14 were killed. Given their population of 8 million, this makes Honduras the most dangerous country in the world per capita for environmental activists and indigenous peoples. [see The Guardian, July 28, 2020.]
We need a campaign of solidarity for the five victims, including letters to the Honduras Ambassador and to members of congress demanding the return of the five, or, in the event they are dead as is likely, an investigation and trial of the perpetrators. An injury to one is an injury to all!