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Assessment for Black Karibs in Honduras

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2000
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Black Karibs in Honduras, 31 December 2000, available at: [accessed 31 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Honduras Facts
Area:    112,090 sq. km.
Capital:    Tegucigalpa
Total Population:    5,862,000 (source: various, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The Garifuna of Honduras are a moderately organized ethnic group (COHESX9 = 5) who face widespread social exclusion (POLDIS01-03 = 3). Very little is reported on this group, other than the small-scale protests in which they participate in coordination with other ethnic groups (POLSTAT = 2). In the late nineties, the end of Constitutional Article 107 (which had protected their traditional lands from large-scale international developers) spurred several protests, some with as many as 5,000 participants, with sporadic violence reported. Such protests may well continue in the future, depending on how the Honduran government handles this contentious issue. Since 2001, most protests have revolved around land rights. However, movements toward autonomy or toward violent conflict seem unlikely events for the future of this group.

Analytic Summary

The Garifuna, or Black Karibs, of Honduras originated in St. Vincent Island, where they (as slaves) mixed with native Karib Indians and adopted their culture and the Garifuna language (RACE = 2) (ETHDIFXX = 6). Toward the end of the 18th century, the Garifuna began emigrating to the coast of what is now Honduras and began to settle along the coastline in rural villages. Currently, the Garifuna settlements are located around the city of Trujillo and extend from Belize to Nicaragua (GROUPCON = 3).

The Garifuna maintain a religious system that is a mixture of African, Amerindian, and Catholic traditions. This differs from the majority of the population, which practices Catholicism (CULDIFX403 = 2). The Garifuna are concentrated along the Caribbean coast of Honduras (CULDIFX603 = 2) and speak a different language from the rest of Honduran society (CULDIFX203 = 2). Many Garifuna are educated formally in Spanish and learn the Garifuna language in their towns and homes. There are some restrictions on speaking the Garifuna language; for example, in 2001, the warden of the Tela prison forbade Garifuna prisoners from speaking their native language. Their historical origin and ethnicity also differs from the main of Honduras society (respectively CULDIFX303 = 2 and CULDIFX103 = 2); the Black Karibs were not a recognized ethnic group of Honduras until 1975. The Garifuna are distinct from other Hondurans in their social customs (CULDIFX503 = 2); mostly these differences are manifested in their family and social structures and how they continue to share some of their dialect, dances, and religious practices with the indigenous people of the Amazon. They are primarily migratory laborers who supplement their wage labor with agriculture, fishing, and hunting.

Due to lack of conveniently located schools and a limited educational program (often schools only go up to third grade), about 70% of Garifunas are illiterate or semi-illiterate. Only 10% of the Garifunas who finish elementary school continue with school. The rest either emigrates to urban areas or the United States (DMEMEC01–03 = 1), or integrates into community life and eventually forgets how to read due to lack of practice. In addition to poverty and lack of education, the Garifuna are subject to poor sanitary conditions throughout most of the area (DMSICK01-03 = 2). There is a lack of clinical establishments, basic infrastructure projects, illness prevention programs, and nutrition programs. In recent years, malnutrition has affected a reported 78% of the children under age twelve (DMFOOD01 = 3). In 2003, there was serious environmental decline because of a quickly spreading disease affecting coconut trees (DMENV03 = 3). This economically crippled the Garifuna community because many make their living on coconut products.

The primary problem facing the Garifuna is the increasing pressure by land developers (DMCOMP03 = 2), especially those in the tourist industry. The Garifuna feel the development of their land for the purpose of tourism would threaten their language and lifestyle. At the same time, they recognize that their way of life is being eroded even without the tourism developers, due to many Garifunas migrating to the cities or other countries in search of work (DEMSTR99 = 4). Nevertheless, the Garifuna do not want the Honduran coastal lands sold to hotel and resort developers (ECOGR501-03 = 1). Furthermore, they do not want to be attacked by organized crime groups that are trying to stop their resistance (CULGR503 = 2); A human rights activist was murdered in 2002 for his investigation into Garifuna complaints of harassment for their opposition to the developers (REP0802 = 1). They also seek: environmental land protection (many want the Meso-American Reef to be protected by sustainable fishing laws to protect the environment and their community for future generations); constitutional guarantees for cultural rights; research on Garifuna communities so that government policy can better address existing social inequalities; and equal status.

In recent years, the Honduran security forces have resorted to restrained force against Garifuna. In August 2001, in Colon, police dislodged a thousand Garifuna residents with tear gas during a land dispute with a landowner (REP1801 = 1). There have been incidences of law enforcement officials dislodging Garifuna people who claim land ownership based on land reform laws or ancestral titles to property (REP1201-02 = 2). Some security forces that tend to support the local landowners have threatened Garifuna farm cooperatives with dislocation.

There are several groups that represent Garifuna interests. The National Confederation for Autochthonous Peoples of Honduras (CONPAH) has represented over 18,000 Tawnkas, Pech, Tolapan, Lencas, Miskito, and Garifuna peoples, focusing on land rights disputes, education, and health care. The Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH—Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña) is organized for the protection of Garifuna culture and language. The Honduran Advisory Council for the Development of Autochthonous Ethnic Groups (CAHDEA) represents Garifuna groups in the protection of civil rights and equal employment opportunities and has recently ratified the ILO (International Labor Organization) treaty which provides ethnic minorities with labor rights protection (GOJPA03 = 2). The Ethnic Community Development Organization (ODECO—Organización de Desarrollo Étnico Comunitario) also represents the Garifuna interests.


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