On February 18th, OFRANEH (Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras) launched SUNLA (Garifuna Committee for the Search and Investigation of the Disappeared from Triunfo de La Cruz), an independent and interdisciplinary investigative body made up of international participants who will search for the truth regarding the forced disappearance of Sneider, president of the Triunfo de la Cruz community board, and community members Suami, Milton, and Gerardo. Prior to the July 18th 2020 abduction, the young Garifuna men, particularly Sneider in his role as president of the community, were socially and politically active in the ongoing struggle to keep Afro-Indigenous culture and communal lands from being lost to forced displacement by Honduran officials seeking to make way for tourism and foreign investment on the Caribbean north coast. These developmental and financial interests collide with an Inter-American court ruling for the government of Honduras to clearly demarcate Garifuna land and ensure their rights to it — a legal sentence that OFRANEH has been demanding the Honduran government abide by.
Without warrants or any due process, armed men in Honduran national police uniforms forced Sneider, Suami, Milton, and Gerardo out of their respective homes and into unmarked vehicles at gunpoint. A fifth person, Junior Rafael Juárez, was also abducted and disappeared along with the four Triunfo de la Cruz community members. That was over eight months ago and the young men are still missing. The forced disappearances of the young Garifuna men is yet another violent act of racism and political repression against Afro-Indigenous and Indigenous communities asserting their right to land and existence in Honduras. The Garifuna community in Triunfo de la Cruz has no real or reliable answers from Honduran officials on the whereabouts of the young men. Miriam Miranda, Leader of OFRANEH, anticipates further criminalization and repression against the Garifuna community as they launch SUNLA to seek answers independently within a country governed by rampant political corruption and violence:
“We understand that to live in a country of helplessness, of major impunity, a country sequestered by a criminal mafia, like we are living in this country, there is great risk – eminent, permanent risk – for all those who search for the truth.”
Despite these very real risks, Miriam Miranda, OFRANEH, and the new committee made up of international human rights defenders, lawyers, forensic specialists, archeologists, and other professionals, will move forward with SUNLA’s independent investigation into the forced disappearance of the young men from Triunfo de la Cruz. Similar to Berta Caceres who spoke on the essential value of internationalism for COPINH and the Lenca communities in western Honduras, Miriam Miranda and OFRANEH emphasize the importance of international accompaniment and solidarity work in the Garifuna struggle for truth, justice, land and life. During the launch of SUNLA, Miriam Miranda looked ahead at the committee’s greater role in Honduras;
“We want SUNLA to awaken the hope that is being lost in our country, the hope has been lost. SUNLA is a medium, it isn’t the total solution, it is a medium to find truth and justice, for us to know where our brothers are. We want them to return and we also want to establish different conditions in our country. We want lives to matter more in this country because we look at life as most valuable and we will continue to fight for that.”
Days after OFRANEH launched SUNLA, the Honduras Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate. If passed, the bill would suspend U.S. assistance and munition supply to Honduran military and police until human rights violations cease and those responsible for human rights violations are brought to justice, including those responsible for the forced disappearance of the Garifuna leaders. This means that the government of Honduras would be held to account for the rampant violence, surveillance, harassment, intimidation, disappearances, and assassinations of activists, and human rights and environmental/land defenders. The bill would also sanction and cease official U.S. support of sitting president of Honduras Juan Orlando Hernandez who has been named as a co-conspirator by U.S. federal prosecutors in drug trafficking cases, including in his own brother’s 2019 prosecution in New York, and has “demonstrated a track record of contempt for the rule of law” throughout his political career. Because 2021 is an election year in Honduras, it is critical for the U.S. – as Honduras’ most important ally – to not repeat its historical role of political intervention and cease support of the named Narcostatesmen. Otherwise, an emboldened JOH could further consolidate dictatorial rule under the guise of persistent democracy in a third term presidential bid.
The introductions of SUNLA and the Honduras Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Act converge at a time when our shared world is forced to recognize its vulnerability to pandemic disease and environmental climate change. In the case of Honduras, we see a continuous exodus of Hondurans seeking asylum and refuge at the U.S./Mexico border. Their mass migration is preceded by their mass displacement from land, from resources, and viability, and safety. This is why the official recognition of land rights and the right to life as a fundamental human right for the AfroIndigenous and Indigenous communities in Honduras matters; so that they don’t have to emigrate subsequent to being displaced but rather, so they could embed themselves into their own land and collectively grow a more peaceful Honduras. “It is important to understand that while we are searching for truth, we are also building justice–building a different world. SUNLA is the right we have as a Garifuna community, as Indigenous communities, to search for truth within a framework that corresponds to us as a fundamental right.” -Miriam Miranda
L. Matute for SOA Watch