Meet Miriam from Honduras.
On the northern coast of Honduras, Afro-Honduran Garifuna communities have lived for centuries. At any gathering, you can hear men beating drums crafted from local hardwoods, while women dance and sing songs about their people's history. It’s the story of the integration of West Africans with the indigenous Caribes and Arawacos, making lives for themselves as farmers on the Caribbean coast of Central America. But now their homes, farms and even the wood for their drums are at risk from palm oil plantations, real estate barons, and hotel developers who, with the government's blessing, are forcibly taking and exploiting their land, threatening their livelihoods.
Miriam is the indomitable leader of the Fraternal Organization of Black People of Honduras. She talks passionately about her fight to protect Garifuna lands and identity, her hands emphasising every point. She tells us how 'communities are being displaced, and cultures are being lost, because of the expansion of tourism and other developments.' Barely taking a breath, she adds 'but Garifuna women have incredible strength.'
Miriam has made powerful enemies. Yet she does not flinch while telling us how she was beaten by police during a peaceful protest, how it feels to be labelled a criminal by the state, and detailing the death threats she has received. These are not idle threats: one of her associates and close friend, indigenous Lenca leader Berta Cáceres, who was active opposing several projects threatening her peoples’ land, was assassinated in March.
Miriam and her community are asking the Government of Honduras to approve a law that would ensure local communities have the right to freely accept or reject new projects that impact their land. Despite the danger, nothing will stop Miriam's fight. Because it is about more than just land – it is about the youth and their future.
Miriam is proud of her identity, and Garifuna women like her are teaching their children their history ‘so that they know who they are without shame’. But the defence of their common lands, and the biodiversity within, from the wealthy companies who seek to exploit, is vital to preserve that identity of future generations of Garifuna.
Over 100 environmental and human rights defenders have been killed in Honduras in the last six years. This must stop. It is the responsibility of the Honduras government and international financial institutions to guarantee human rights protection for indigenous and afro-descendent peoples and uphold international norms, including the principle of free, prior and informed consent for any project that has an impact on their territories. Read more.