Thursday, April 1, 2010

Indigenous Nations and the process of fascism within the jurisdiction of the Republic of Honduras

"Observations on the State of Indigenous Human Rights in Light of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in HONDURAS"
Prepared for United Nations Human Rights Council: Universal Periodic Review
APRIL 2010

Cultural Survival is an international indigenous rights organization with a global indigenous leadership and consultative status with ECOSOC. Cultural Survival is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is registered as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in the United States. Cultural Survival monitors the protection of indigenous peoples' rights in countries throughout the world and publishes its findings in its magazine, the Cultural Survival Quarterly and on its website: In preparing this report, Cultural Survival collaborated with student researchers from Harvard University and consulted with a broad range of indigenous and human rights organizations, advocates, and other sources of verifiable information on Guatemala.

Executive Summary
The government of Honduras has recognized the rights of indigenous peoples by ratifying International Labor Convention No. 169 (1995) and voted to approve the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007). However, the indigenous and afro-indigenous peoples of Honduras currently face opposition in realizing their collective rights to land and natural resources. That opposition has now expanded to threats against their basic right to physical security. Without formal recognition and titling of their lands and territories, Honduras’s indigenous people risk loss of their ancestral homelands and their natural resource base. Both are being currently eroded by illegal logging, hydroelectric projects, and a growing tourism industry. Each of these developments has also been associated with violence and intimidation when indigenous people protest. The Honduran government’s recent move toward land titles, through the Honduras Land Administration Project (PATH), threatens the indigenous peoples’ communal way of life by forcing on them the privatization of lands that are held in communal tenure. In addition, the government has not yet developed, in collaboration with indigenous organizations and communities, the rights to consultation, participation, and prior informed consent mandated by international law. Finally, related violations of the right to physical security for indigenous leaders and respect for their organizations, particularly the Garifuna organization OFRAMEH (Fraternal Black Organization of Honduras), have increased since the broad political turmoil of 2009.

Indigenous people account for 8 percent of Honduras’ population, or approximately 621,000 people. These groups include the Miskito, Tawahkas, Pech, Tolupans, Lencas, Chortis, Nahual, Islanders, and Garifunas. Although Article 346 of the 1982 Constitution guarantees state protection of the rights and interests of indigenous communities, the roughly 362 indigenous communities of Honduras have virtually no political power regarding decisions made about their lands, cultures, traditions, and natural resources.i Physical Security The 2009 removal of President Manuel Zelaya met with considerable protests from indigenous groups, who denounced the oppression and brutal repression of the coup.ii Since then there have been reports of increased violence against indigenous populations, including the new government’s attempts to shut down the only Garífuna hospital in the country, which was the victim of a military raid in October 2009.iii Likewise, on January 21, 2010, the Garifuna community radio station, Faluma Bimetu, which had been outspoken in its protests over the failure of land titling and the growth of tourism, was destroyed by unidentified arsonistsiv.

About 80 to 100 rastras, or timber containers pulled by trucks, work in Honduras each day.v
Some of the most active logging occurs in the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World
Heritage Site located in the La Mosquitia region of Honduras, home to approximately 20,000
indigenous people. Though the reserve is divided into three formal zones—the “cultural zone,”
where indigenous communities live; the “buffer zone,” where limited logging is allowed; and the
“core zone,” which is prohibited to loggers—illegal mahogany logging takes place throughout the
reserve. Fraudulent use of local permits, bribery of police, and corruption within the forestry
services and judicial bodies are common. Enforcement of logging regulations is weak and does
little to stop illegal loggers or protect indigenous
The Environmental Movement of Olancho, a community-based movement, has shown that illegal
pine logging in the west Olancho region has led to the loss of 24 of 46 water sources, eroded
topsoil, created a drier climate, led to the contamination of water resources, and caused
landslides. Furthermore, the dry conditions of the forests have led to the increased probability of
forest fires throughout the region. Illegal logging also poses a major threat to wildlife.vii There is
virtually no financial benefit for indigenous peoples in this logging; rather, their livelihood assets
are depleted.viii Many communities are forced to shift to ranching or agriculture to survive.ix
Indigenous populations are no longer able to legally log as a short-term means of income because
of competition with larger-scale illegal loggers.x Indigenous peoples are often blamed for illegal
logging and used as scapegoats because of the difficulty of charging and prosecuting powerful
The government of Honduras recently disbanded the notoriously corrupt forestry monitoring
agency, AFE-COHDEFOR, which allowed much of the illicit logging, and replaced it with the
new Institute of Forest Conservation and Development. Honduras also passed a new Forestry
Law that established mechanisms for public participation through consultation committees for
monitoring compliance with the new law, and also removed many of the incentives for illegal
timber trade. Despite these positive changes, illegal logging remains a major problem for the
indigenous populations of Honduras.xii Indigenous populations continue to fight against the illegal
timber trade despite fearing for their lives after multiple death threats from timber traders.xiii
Tourism and Land Titling
The 2009 Declaracíon de Purutukwa, a joint declaration of the Pech, Lenca, Tawahka, and
Garífuna peoples, cites the expropriation of indigenous lands for tourism as its first complaint,
specifically citing the Bahía de Tela project in the department of Atlántida on Honduras’s
northern coast.xiv That project is anticipated to draw some 60,000 tourists yearly and involves the
construction of 4 hotels and 250 condominiums.xv While tourism is the second largest source of
foreign exchange in Honduras, the negative side effects on the indigenous peoples are
considerable and largely unnoticed.xvi One of the most affected groups is the Garífuna people who
inhabit areas the northern Caribbean coast.
Tourism projects being promoted in the area also include ecotourism, which is often seen as a
sustainable income source. Even here there has been loss of land, diminution of traditional food
sources, and decrease in species used for traditional medicinal reasons.xvii Furthermore, the
development of tourist areas by wealthy landowners, for example the Cayos Cochinos in the
Marine Protected Area, has forced many Garífuna to migrate off of their traditional homelands.
Military presence on the Cayos Cochinos includes 24-hour naval patrols that enforce regulations
on fishing, thus severely limiting Garífunas’ traditional subsistence patterns.xviii
The original version of Article 107 of the Honduran Constitution prevented the acquisition of
coastal lands by non-Hondurans; however, in 1998, that article was modified to permit foreign
acquisition of coastal lands if they were to be used for tourism.xix Since then, the Garífuna have
fought to gain legal recognition of their land rights, filing a case (2003) with the Inter-American
Court of Human Rights.xx In 2006, the Honduran Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Garífuna
and upheld its title to its ancestral territory.xxi
Despite the favorable ruling, the current tourism development projects have sparked invasions,
intimidation, bribery, and violence against the Garífuna people. There have been documented
cases of armed violence by paramilitaries, arson, harassment, physical abuse, and abduction
against local residents who have expressed their disapproval of the tourism projects.xxii Some
Garífuna have sold their land, rather than face the prospect of losing it without any financial
compensation. Some Garífuna leaders have illegally sold tribal lands, leading to confusion over
multiple land titles.xxiii
The Garífuna recognize that tourism could be financially beneficial if they had administrative
control over the operation. However, with no local control over or voice in the tourism projects
being imposed on their lands, they are unable to ensure the sustainability of practices being
used.xxiv The lack of proper land titling also makes the Garífuna susceptible to further threats and
encroachments on their lands by wealthy Hondurans and private companies.xxv
Hydroelectric Projects
The Declaracíon de Purutukwa cites hydroelectric megaprojects as its second major
complaint against the Honduran government.xxvi The Patuca Hydroelectric Dam, planned to
supply energy throughout the region, is predicted to flood a 72-square-mile area that is inhabited
by Miskitos and Tawacas. The indigenous residents, arguing that the government has failed to
recognize the environmental impacts through the Plataforma para la Defensa del Río Patuca,
declared their permanent opposition to the project as a threat to the physical enironment.xxvii In
2009, it was announced that the foreign company that was set to finance Patuca III had suspended
its investments in the project, halting all further construction. The suspension was not a change in
state policy, but rather simply a financial obstacle to be overcome.xxviii The eventual construction
of the dam would prevent the Patuca River from flooding and fertilizing the adjacent banks, thus
decreasing arable subsistence lands, The river’s water level would also drop, making
transportation along the river more difficult.xxix The construction of Patuca III thus endangers the
long-term sustainability of the region and the lives of the indigenous populations who inhabit
Land Privatization
Traditionally, indigenous lands in Honduras are held communally, with individual
families enjoying usufructuary rights to the communal holdings. However, this tradition is
endangered by new policies aimed at the privatization of indigenous lands.xxxi The Honduras
Land Administration Project (PATH) was created to secure land titles throughout the country,
including the land of indigenous populations. While it has been recognized that the lack of formal
land titling and demarcation has led to violent usurpation of indigenous land by nonindigenous
Hondurans, xxxii indigenous groups fear the PATH Project’s focus on individual land holdings and
privatization will undermine local traditions of communal landholdings.xxxiii Furthermore, The
Fraternal Black Order of Honduras argues the PATH Project has been established without proper
consent of the local indigenous populations. The newly created Mesa Regional, a consultation
board, was created without the support or recognition of the indigenous community, and the
World Bank has found that proper measures have not been taken to ensure indigenous community
input and participation for the PATH Project.xxxiv
Garífuna women are among the most negatively affected. Communal Garifuna land holdings are
passed down through matrilineal lines. However, with privatized land holdings, Garífuna
women, who often lack education, market system experience, and capital, are disenfranchised and
losing their traditional land holdings to both Mestizo and Garífuna men, who are buying the
recently privatized land. Additionally, indigenous women who have fought against this
privatization have been harassed and even murdered.xxxv
Honduras must take a stronger stand against the illegal logging industry that is
threatening the lives of thousands of indigenous peoples. It also must ameliorate the negative
effects of hydroelectric projects and tourism on indigenous groups, and ensure that a voice is
given to the indigenous populations affected by these projects. The Honduran government must
also re-evaluate the PATH Project and respond to indigenous concerns with the privatization of
communal lands. Finally, Honduras must strengthen the rule of law to provide a safe environment
for indigenous groups to enjoy their rights to freedom of speech and expression without fear of

iv https://hondurassolidarity/ .see also,
viii http://www.talailegalcentroamerica.
ix Illegal Logging in the Rio Platano Biosphere, A Farce in Three Acts
xi http://www.talailegalcentroamerica.
xii Illegal logging in the Rio Platano Biosphere, A Farce in Three Acts
xxxii http://wwwwds.

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