Honduras’ Banana Coast: Ripe for Development?
Garifuna communities and developers battle over mega-tourism projects
Afro-descendant Hondurans are struggling against mega-tourism projects that threaten their way of life.
The Garifuna people, who live on the north coast of Honduras, are fighting against the construction of the Los Micos Beach and Golf Resort, a development project featuring 750 acres of beach houses and a hotel.
Los Micos is financed by the Honduran government and 43 of the country's richest investors. Developments like these have accelerated since the 2009 military coup, and President Pepe Lobo has declared Honduras "open for business."
The World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and other international organizations have said that tourism is the key to lifting the Garifuna communities out of poverty.
But some Hondurans disagree.
“These interests aren't going to divide us now, and we aren't going to let what has happened to many towns happen to us,” said Alfredo Lopez, a community leader fighting against mega tourism projects, who also runs a radio station in the small town of Triunfo de la Cruz. “They have disappeared. They don't know who they are. They have lost their language. We know what's at stake here, and that's why we are in resistance.”
KAELYN FORDE, TRNN: The virgin beaches of Honduras are where Central America meets the Caribbean. Once the banana republic, it is now in the sights of developers who want to turn it into the next Cancun.
But the north coast is also home to the Garifuna people, Afro-descendant Hondurans long ignored by authorities but now facing off against developers.
I went to meet Alfredo Lopez, a community leader fighting against mega tourism projects. He runs the radio station in the small town of Triunfo de la Cruz.
ALFREDO LOPEZ, FRATERNAL BLACK ORGANIZATION OF HONDURAS (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The Honduran government has never, ever won a case in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
FORDE: Through his work at the radio station, Alfredo hopes to educate the community about the dangers facing it. And this is what he’s talking about: Los Micos Beach and Golf Resort, 750 acres of beach houses and a hotel, all built within a natural reserve, the kind of development Alfredo says threatens their way of life.
LOPEZ: The work they are offering is to earn 200 lempiras a day, when the minimum wage here is 550 lempiras a day. How are they going to say that this project is going to help our economic situation when 200 lempiras is what my son eats in one sitting at breakfast?
Los Micos is financed by the Honduran government and 43 of the country’s richest investors. Developments like these have accelerated since the 2009 military coup, and President Pepe Lobo has declared Honduras “open for business.”
FORDE, TRIUNFO DE LA CRUZ, HONDURAS: Tourism is the third largest industry in Honduras, after maquilas, low-wage factories that make clothing for export to the United States, and remittances, money that Hondurans send home to their families. The World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and other international organizations have said that tourism is the key to lifting these Garifuna communities out of poverty. But many here disagree.
Alfredo’s colleagues at the radio station showed me where thugs had tried to burn it down after the 2009 military coup. And Alfredo himself spent six years in jail on false drug charges.
LOPEZ: I was in jail, and they came and they offered me money, a blank check where I could write any amount, if I would just write a letter telling the community to accept the project.
FORDE: Andrea Valerio is a community leader in Tornabe, where Los Micos is being built. The project has provided some jobs, but she fears that once the resort is complete, there will be less opportunities for Garifuna.
ANDREA VALERIO, COMMUNITY LEADER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We have a small window in which we can go and prepare ourselves for future jobs on the project. But if we are not ready, if we are not prepared, it’s going to be difficult for our people to find work on the project.
FORDE: A few hours’ drive along the shore in the old banana port of Trujillo, Randy Jorgensen is hoping to sell a piece of paradise to North Americans.
RANDY JORGENSEN, BANANA COAST DEVELOPER: So right where you see the change in the line of the sea wall will be where our pier goes out.
FORDE: He’s calling his multimillion-dollar project the Banana Coast. It will include beach houses and a deep-sea cruise port like this one in nearby Roatan.
JORGENSEN: So we’re trying to theme it to bring back life to the banana booms. And so this whole region from Belize to Panama [incompr.] were all banana republics at one time, and the banana companies kind of controlled the governments.
FORDE: Jorgensen made his fortune in the Canadian porn business. Garifuna communities say he and other developers obtained the land illegally, buying individuals out when the title is a collective one.
JORGENSEN: The concerns that the Garifuna have is because at one time, you know, they had title to a large tract of land–and they still do–in the area. You know, whether they agree with what their leaders did in the past or what particular deal created that property to become public property or privately held property outside of the community, you know, is a debate that they need to have amongst themselves. And it shouldn’t be bringing other landowners, and particularly third- or fourth-generation landowners into that. If there was corruption 50 years ago, or 100 years ago, the past is the past and there’s really nothing we can do about it now.
FORDE: But for Alfredo, it’s about more than what’s being signed away.
LOPEZ: These interests aren’t going to divide us now, and we aren’t going to let what has happened to many towns happen to us. They have disappeared. They don’t know who they are. They have lost their language. We know what’s at stake here, and that’s why we are in resistance.
FORDE: The Banana Coast resort is scheduled to open within the next year. But along the coast, the fight to keep similar projects from other Garifuna communities is far from over.
Reporting from the north coast of Honduras for The Real News Network, I’m Kaelyn Forde.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.