State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2015 - Case study: The Garifuna's battle to protect their land from urban development in Honduras' 'Banana Coast'

by Kara Chiuchiarelli

Land rights are an ongoing struggle for Honduras' Garifuna community, who for decades have faced forced eviction and the sale of titled communal lands as their territory has been appropriated for mining, oil extraction and palm oil cultivation. But communities are now being displaced to secure access to another resource – their pristine coastline. 'There is now a process of expulsion of our people from Honduras,' according to one local Garifuna community member. 'From tourism to extraction megaprojects, the initiatives have been imposed without making the necessary consultations. "Model cities" are the latest forms of dispossession that affect us.'

In the early 2000s, the national Honduran government declared a plan to develop a resort in Trujillo, along the lines of Cancún in Mexico, despite the fact that those beaches had been granted as title lands to the Garifuna a century before. This plan has led Canadian developers to buy up land – including land titled to the Garifuna people – in Trujillo for vacation homes and a cruise ship port called 'Banana Coast', themed around what the developer has described as the 'glory days' of the region's banana trade in the first half of the twentieth century. This was a period when foreign industries appropriated vast tracts of Honduras land and established considerable control over the area, with little regard for the wishes, traditions and cultures of the local people.

Now the community is having to defend its land against development plans by the Honduran government.

Today, tourism development seems likely to have similar effects. Efforts to urbanize Trujillo and its surrounding coastal communities threaten the Garifuna's traditional lifestyle, cultural heritage and identity as a people. Though the unique value of Garifuna culture is widely recognized – in 2001, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared Garifuna culture one of nineteen Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity – the community is already struggling to preserve its rich heritage in the face of entrenched poverty and discrimination.

The community now faces a range of other challenges, including climate change, environmental vulnerability and HIV/AIDS. While Garifuna community members need greater access to employment and other opportunities, these are unlikely to be realized if development is simply imposed on their territory without their consultation or consent. In this context, empowering local Garifuna is an essential step in their fight to protect their ancestral territory from a form of urbanization that largely excludes them.

This 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.