Oppression or opportunity?

Tourism project in Honduras sparks conflict

Garifuna people have lived in Tela Bay, on the north coast of Honduras, for more than 200 years. The community has high levels of poverty and unemployment and relies on fishing and land cultivation. It suffers from the lack of economic prospects, discrimination, migration and lack of government support. Basic infrastructure and sanitary conditions are poor.

UNESCO has identified Garifuna culture as an “outstanding but endangered heritage.” Tere are only 11,000 Garifuna people, descended from African and Amerindian origins, living in ten communities along the coast of Belize, Honduras and Nicaragua. Teir language is largely undocumented and not formally taught except in one village. Now Tela Bay is changing. Te Los Micos Beach and Golf Resort has begun construction in the area, supported by the Honduran Ministry of Tourism and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), which is funding the project.

“With funding and training, we expect the Garifuna people to have opportunities to develop new businesses, to become entrepreneurs and profit from the arrival of tourism,” Ricardo Martinez, the Honduras Minister of Tourism, said in an interview for this article.

Even so, the Black Fraternal Organization of honduras (OFRANEH), whose stated aim is to protect the Garifuna’s culture and territory, fears that the resort will lead to the destruction of these local communities. OFRANEH points to recent episodes of violence as examples of repression Garifuna com-munities face. For example, one evening in September, 2008, a group of armed men stopped eight local fishermen on a beach in Honduras. There was shooting, and then the fishermen were left to attend to their friend, Guillermo Norales Herrera, as he lay dying, hit by a bullet from an M16, the firearm used by the Honduran Armed Forces.

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