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Injustices » Police Attack
Dec 27, 1999

Coming on the heels of an arson in Vallecito, a police attack on a national march, and the government's filing charges against 35 community leaders, there is more news of repression against the Afro-Honduran Garifuna.

In Triunfo de la Cruz, 3 Garifuna leaders were actually arrested and thrown in prison November 3, over a land conflict. It regards 3 actes of land which fall inside the land which belongs officially and traditionally to the community of Triunfo. The official Community Title was awarded by INA, (National Agrarian Institute) the relevant government body, in 1992, encompassing 380 acres. Six years ago, the municipality of Tela (nearby larger city) sold those 5 acres to the "Asociacion de Pueblos Franciscanos de Muchachos," APUFRAM, (Association of Franciscan Boys Towns) who planned to build a high school. In the document, it is explicit stated that they must build a school within 2 years or lose their right to the land.

This certification reads that because this land concession is a grant by the municipality of Tela, This land cannot be foreclosed, used as collateral or given to a third party, person or institution; it can only be used by the Association for the purpose originally intended having 2 years to start the project... If these guidelines are not followed, the Municipality has the right to recuperate the land without any compensatory obligation towards the Association.

A lawyer working on the case reports that there are some irregularities in the contract; i.e., a missing notary signature, not citing the antecedents of the ownership of the land, etc. After three years went by and the school was not built, the community took the land back. The "Comite de la Defensa de la Tierra" allowed about 60 families of the community, who needed a place to live, to build their houses there. A cultural house and communal gardens were also included.

It is still not clear why, three months ago, arrest orders were issued against 4 leaders of the "Comite de la Defensa de la Tierra." On November 3rd, three of them, Secundino Torres, Cruz Castillo Velazquez and Mario Centeno, were arrested and taken to prison, the fourth one, Juan Martinez, was out of the country. OFRANEH (Organizacion Fraternal Negra Hondurena) describes the arrests as kidnappings. The DIC (Direccion General de Investigacion Criminal) came to a meeting being held by the community, and requested the leader's help in looking for someone. the three leaders decided to cooperate and went with the police, only to be told when they were driven away in the car that they themselves under arrest.

The arrest took place despite an official agreement by the government, "Circular No. 8"of the Secretariat of the Supreme Court issued June 16, 1997 which states that ethnic groups, including the Garifunas and peasants, will not be detained regarding conflicts of land possession The three were charged with usurpation of land.

It is not clear whether the Franciscans even know how they are being used to imprison Garifuna leaders--No Franciscan occupy the land now, and someone taking care of the property said that the Franciscans were out of the country. and that he was in charge. If any reader has any contacts among Franciscans and can help look into this matter, that would be much appreciated.

It is important to point out that the primary conflict is over a potion of land called "Marbella." Jorge Castillo, a business person from San Pedro Sula and a supporter of the Committee for the Defense of the Land, was hung from a tree and shot in October of 1997. Jesus Alvarez, a founder of the Committee, who did not want the Municipality to sell to Marbella investors, was shot 17 times in a cafeteria in tela. Zacarias had come from the United Stated to defend his friend Jesus and ended up dead, shot in front of his children. All of these acts of repression were reported to the National Human Rights Committee to no effect.

Juan Martinez, the fourth community leader facing arrest has returned to the country and as far as I know he has not been picked up. The other three spent 2 nights in prison. They were released after the community in a show of strength and solidarity marched in from of the courthouse. The charges have not been dropped. For more information you can contact Gregoria Flores, president of OFRANEH, who has more up to date information.

Edited by Sandra Colon


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