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We Are in Danger Daily: Honduran Afro-Indigenous Garífuna Demand Return of Kidnapped Land Defenders

StoryAugust 17, 2020
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At least 212 land and environmental defenders were murdered last year — the highest number since the group Global Witness began gathering data eight years ago. Some 40% of those killed were Indigenous peoples. We get an update from Honduras, where the Afro-Indigenous Garífuna community continues to demand the safe return of five Garífuna land defenders who were kidnapped by heavily armed men who were reportedly wearing police uniforms and forced them into three unmarked vehicles at gunpoint. This was the latest attack against the Garífuna community as they defend their territory from destructive projects fueled by foreign investors and the Honduran government. “We are in danger daily — all the leaders of the Garífuna community, all the defendants of the land in Honduras,” says Carla Garcia, international relations coordinator at the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras.

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StoryJan 17, 20204 Years Seeking Justice: Daughter of Slain Indigenous Environmental Leader Berta Cáceres Speaks Out
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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. We are breaking with convention, and thi is The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

We turn now to Honduras, where preliminary hearings are set to begin today for one of the men accused of murdering the indigenous environmental activist Berta Cáceres, who was shot dead in her home in Honduras by hired hitmen in 2016. A judge will decide whether the case against one of the alleged killers, David Castillo, gets sent to trial.

At least 212 land and environmental defenders were murdered last year. That’s the highest number since the group Global Witness began gathering data eight years ago, looking at the world. Around 40% of those killed were Indigenous people. Colombia was the deadliest country, with 64 land and environmental defenders killed. Honduras was also high on the list.

The Berta Cáceres hearing comes as Afro-Indigenous Garífuna community in Honduras demands the safe return of five Garífuna land defenders who were kidnapped last month in the Caribbean coastal town of Triunfo de la Cruz. Witnesses say the abductors wore police uniforms and forced them into three unmarked vehicles at gunpoint. Among those abducted was 27-year-old Alberth Snider Centeno, president of the Triunfo de la Cruz community board, a member of the group Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras. This is Centeno in a recent video testimony prior to his forced disappearance.

ALBERTH SNIDER CENTENO: [translated] We have witnessed how the Garífuna people are being killed, how we’re being criminalized for being the rightful owners of this rich territory.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is Garífuna leader Miriam Miranda, the executive director of the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras, speaking to Democracy Now! from her home in Honduras in July.

MIRIAM MIRANDA: [translated] What happened is a reflection of systemic persecution, systemic repression, but also a well-crafted plan by the Honduran state to exterminate the Garífuna community. … It’s important to understand that this pressure, this repression and everything we are facing is because we are a community in constant fight for ancestral rights.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Garífuna leader Miriam Miranda. This is just the latest attack against the Garífuna community in Honduras as they defend their territory from destructive projects fueled by foreign investors and the government. Honduras became one of the most dangerous countries in the world for Black and Indigenous land and water defenders after the 2009 U.S.-backed coup there.

For more, we’re joined by Carla Garcia, international relations coordinator with the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Carla. It’s great to have you with us. Explain the horror of what has taken place. Explain who these five Black Indigenous environmental leaders are.

CARLA GARCIA: Good morning, and thank you. Thank you very much for lift the voice of OFRANEH, be on Democracy Now! Right now as the Garífuna community, we are experimenting the worst days in the life of the community since 20 years to now. We are in danger daily, all the leaders of the Garífuna community, all the defenders of the land in Honduras. It doesn’t matter if they are Garífunas, if they are Indigenous. Everybody is in danger to die, to be killed, to be kidnapped. And we are — for us, the real responsible of this is the government of Honduras.

And to give a little context of what is happening in Triunfo de la Cruz, Alberth Snider Centeno is one of the — is the most young leader being a chief in one of our communities. And nobody believed that this young man was able to do what he do: punish the government, and claim for the comply of the sentence of the international court, international human rights court, who — sorry. The international court is — Honduras needs to obey the international court rules and give back the land to the Triunfo de la Cruz. And they are trying to don’t do that. And that’s why they kidnapped Alberth Snider Centeno, to make the community walk back or make us step back. We are not doing that, because it’s enough. It’s too much people dying, too much people in danger. And our next generation needs the land to continue living.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, I wanted to turn to another clip of Garífuna leader Miriam Miranda speaking to Democracy Now! from her home in Honduras last month.

MIRIAM MIRANDA: [translated] What we feel as an organization is that something similar to the Berta Cáceres case is going to repeat itself, where the government is going to parade a group of people or say, “This person was the one who committed the crime,” or “This person was the one who did it,” but the intellectual authors will remain with impunity. And this is one of the reasons why I feel like it is important to tell you — I have not told anyone, and I am going to speak with you honestly — today, more than ever, my life is in danger.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Carla Garcia, can you tell us what you know of the people who abducted these five Indigenous leaders?

CARLA GARCIA: So, what is the situation? They arrived on June 18 dressed in official police clothes. And they went inside of every house, and they asked for those guys, those kids, and they removed them from the place, from their houses, from their community, and they disappeared. So, if this is happening with five Indigenous or Garífuna men inside of the community, what cannot happen with the people who is in the frontline, as happened with our hermana Berta Cáceres? They are going inside to the houses, and they are killing everybody with impunity. So, that’s why Miriam is saying, “Today, more than ever, my life is in danger,” because a month before this kidnapping, one of our Garífuna members who came to the international court also for the case of Punta Piedra, he disappeared. He was kidnapped. And six days later, we found him in a river, died, killed.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the years of violence that this Black Indigenous community, the Garífuna, have faced in Honduras? And talk about the president, Juan Orlando Hernández. He is trying to smear the group that were disappeared, saying they’re involved in drug trafficking. Who we know is involved in drug trafficking is JOH — that’s J-O-H — Juan Orlando Hernández’s brother. And he has been implicated, the president himself, as well, who is supported — was supported by the Democrats, as well as by President Trump.

*CARLA GARCIA: So, it is very important to understand that right now Garífuna community is facing the worst part of the violence that we are suffering, but this is escalating year by year. In just 2019, we cried for the death of 19 of our leaders in the different Garífuna communities. And all the response from the government is, oh, if it’s a woman, it’s a passion of crime; if it’s a man, he is involved in narcotraffic, or maybe he’s part of the gangs, or maras. So, this is a recurrent situation, and we are telling to the world.

Let me tell you something: I became U.S. citizen, and my heart is in two parts, because I have my heart in Honduras, and I have my heart in the United States. I love both countries. But since 2019, Honduras is living in the hell. And U.S., the government of U.S., is saying nothing about that. Everybody knows about the brother of the president, the actual president. He’s here in jail. The name of the president of Honduras is involved in bad activities, in narcotraffic activities. Why nobody is doing nothing? We are fighting against the beast right now. And I know that U.S. has the best people in the world, as Honduras, too. So, I claim for help. I claim to open their eyes. Open your eyes. All the people who is dying there have the same blood that you have here.

AMY GOODMAN: Minnesota Congressmember Ilhan Omar, who just won her primary, and several other congressmembers are denouncing plans by the Trump administration to invest $1 billion over the next three years in a hydropower project in Honduras plagued by accusations of corruption and human rights violations. And this goes to President Trump’s support for the president right now, who is attacking the five Garífuna leaders who have been abducted, Carla Garcia. Can you talk about the connections you see?

CARLA GARCIA: The land that we preserve is rich. It’s rich. And it’s the same thing that the land that the Indigenous communities in Honduras — or across America, because if you see what has happened to the Garífuna community, it’s happened across America to all Indigenous and Black communities. Why? Because we live in common union with the Mother Nature. We take care of the Mother Nature. We don’t take away from the Mother Nature what we don’t need. So, now they — everybody needs our rivers. Everybody needs our land, our sea. Everything that we have to live is supposed to go to other people.

I want to pay — I want you to pay close attention to the letter that the congressmen sent, because the U.S. is facing the immigration situation. Why do you think the people is immigrating from Honduras in this scale? Why the Garífuna community is coming in caravans to United States? Because the government of Honduras has taken away everything that they have and all opportunities for the next generation. If the money goes from the United States to Honduras to invest and continue taking away what the community needs to continue living, people will continue coming to United States. So this is a problem that we need to cut from the root. If not, our people will come to this country to suffer, to wait, to be treated as a criminal, as they are being treated in their own country.

AMY GOODMAN: Carla Garcia, we want to thank you so much for being with us. Of course, we will continue to follow this very grave issue in Honduras. Carla Garcia is international relations coordinator at the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras.

All week, Democracy Now! will be breaking with convention as we cover the Democratic National Convention, which virtually begins this evening. We’ll bring highlights of the speeches of everyone from Bernie Sanders tonight and Michelle Obama and others.

That does it for today show. Democracy Now! is produced with Mike Burke, Renée Feltz, Deena Guzder, Libby Rainey, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Carla Wills, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud, Adriano Contreras. I’m Amy Goodman. Stay safe. Wear a mask. Thanks.

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4 Years Seeking Justice: Daughter of Slain Indigenous Environmental Leader Berta Cáceres Speaks Out

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