Human rights activists are concerned at the increasing brutality and killing of the Garifuna people on the Honduran island of Roatan as criminals and uncaring government policies devastate their rich lands.
Human rights campaigners accuse the Honduran government of refusing to control the criminal gangs attacking the indigenous territories; meantime the Garifuna indigenous people have suffered again after gunmen murdered Martin Pandy, the leader of the Corozal community in early April. Pandy was rushed to a hospital where he died soon after. The armed attack also caused the death of two other people.
The Garifuna are a mixed African and indigenous people who descend from the Black Caribs, who lived on the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent, and speak Garifuna, an Arawakan language. Their unique culture is a mixture of African, Arawak Indian, and Spanish.
Garífuna have a long and proud history. They waged a 40-year war of resistance against invading colonial powers until improved cannon technology forced them to accept permanent exile as prisoners of war. In 1797, over 5,000 Garífuna were transported on British ships and left on the then deserted Honduran Bay Island of Roatan.
The first Garifuna came from Yurime, which is a small region of Saint Vincent Island and settled in Punta Gorda.
Today, Honduras' population of roughly 100,000 Garifunas can be found living mostly in towns and villages along the country's northern coast, from Masca, Cortes to Plaplaya, Gracias a Dios. There are around 90,000 more in Belize, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, and many who have emigrated to the United States.
Garifuna rights activist Luther Castillo said that Pandy’s integration efforts with young people, entrepreneurs, and Garifuna leaders abroad to address his community's needs were widely respected. Police believe the attackers murdered him to make it easier to operate in Garifuna communities.
Castillo said: "My Corozal village is once again a victim of organized crime, which has installed itself in the permissive sight of the security entities in the area. They cynically facilitate the criminality that murders our people, extorts our entrepreneurs, and plunders our resources."
Last July, three vans arrived in Triunfo de la Cruz where they kidnapped five community leaders who were never seen again. They were all taken from their homes by heavily armed uniformed men in what local leaders said was the latest attack against the community by the Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, as Afro-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples continue to fight against mining and other extractive industries on sacred land.
Triunfo de la Cruz communities are embroiled in a longstanding struggle to save their ancestral land from drug traffickers, palm oil magnates and tourism developers aided by corrupt officials and institutions.