Author: Lesley Hernández
This article was first published in the Fall 2021 issue of The Advocate.
On October 13, 2021, the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards ceremony, hosted by the Institute for Policy Studies, was held virtually to recognize two standout organizations that tirelessly advocate for human rights. A domestic award was given to the Torture, Abolition, Survivor Support Coalition (TASSC) organization, which aims to end the use of torture and provide a safe space for survivors who have experienced human rights abuses. TASSC, founded by the late Sister Dianna Ortiz, supports more than 300 survivors of torture from over 14 different countries. As stated by Executive Director Leonce Byimana, the participation of survivors is important given that “survivors are the only ones who understand what being tortured is about and what rehabilitation programs should look like.”
The Letelier-Moffitt International Human Rights award recipient was the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH). OFRANEH is a grassroots organization that has worked with Garífuna people of African and Indigenous ancestry for more than 40 years in Honduras. Their mission is to defend the Garífuna people from attacks against their economic, social, cultural rights as well as to cultivate women’s leadership and cultural resurgence. Historically, the Garífuna people have been victims of displacement and dispossession. In 1797, they were expelled from their original territory, the island of St. Vincent. After they were forced out of their land, they resettled in small fishing and farming communities in Honduras. For them, their territory represents more than just physical space. Land is inextricably linked to their livelihood, culture, as well as physical and spiritual welfare. Due to their communal coexistence, their farming practices include cultivating coconut trees and other types of fruit trees for their community kitchens. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, their land served as a channel to obtain natural medicine in order to strengthen their immune systems, especially those of their elders.
When OFRANEH was founded in 1978, it fought to defend the Garífuna against land grabs and racism by transnational banana companies. Today, the Garífuna people are facing new threats to their livelihoods. These threats derive from a series of development projects such as African palm plantations, energy and mining projects, transnational tourism, model cities, as well as organized crime. Nahun Lalin, director of OFRANEH, expressed his disappointment with the government’s decision to sell land to outsiders, stating, “Since the time when the foreign banana companies operated here, the state has contracted territory to foreigners, who outfitted their own ports and docks.” As a result of the threats on their land, community coexistence, sustainable fishing practices, and other important customs and practices are at risk of being lost for future generations.
Many Garífuna have been murdered, displaced, and are being legally persecuted for the supposed appropriation of their own land. OFRANEH is working to demand an investigation into the disappearance of four Garífuna leaders. Albert Sneider Centeno Thomas, Milton Joel Martínez Ávila, Suami Mejía García, and Gerardo Misael Trochez Cálix were taken away from their homes in Triunfo de la Cruz by armed men in police uniforms on July 18, 2020 and have never been heard from again. OFRANEH launched a committee called SUNLA with national and international human rights experts to investigate their disappearance. Despite calls for justice from OFRANEH and international human rights organizations such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, there has been little action by Honduran authorities to search for them and investigate as well as prosecute their disappearance. LAWG stands with Garífuna activists who fight tirelessly to reclaim their territories from corrupt Honduran officials and the country’s wealthy elite.