Saturday, April 2, 2011

Lobo Sosa and Honduras' Garifuna: CNN swallows propaganda

CNN headlined its story on the marking of 214 years of Honduran Garifuna history Hondurans honor African heritage.

But their story qualifies as propaganda for the Lobo Sosa government. It even includes, as if it were news or even a fact, this line:
Lobo predicted that he would be recognized as a defender of the rights of Afro-Hondurans by the end of his term.

Well, how likely is that to actually happen? What would be the basis of such a claim?

The Garifuna are an African-descendant group formally recognized as one of the multiple groups making up Honduran society under the International Labor Organization's Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries (ILO 169), which was ratified by Honuras in 1994.

So if there is any credit to be claimed by Honduran governments-- which is debatable, as it was indigenous activists who pushed for recognition-- it would be earlier Honduran governments that deserve credit for recognizing the Garifuna.

In fact, since the 2009 coup, existing independent Garifuna activities have been under constant attack.

In 2009, in a statement on the Dia de la Raza, indigenous organizations noted attacks on the independent Garifuna community health center that had been staffed by Cuban doctors, and was Garifuna run and managed. Dr. Luther Castillo, the director of that clinic, was specifically targeted. The UNHCR noted that the project was supported by funding from Honduras' ALBA initiative, and that "Garífuna students who have traditionally had difficulty gaining entry into the medical faculty of the Honduran National University" were as a result "able to obtain their medical training at the Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina (ELAM) in Cuba". The clinic was credited with treating over 140,000 cases prior to the coup. After the coup, the Micheletti government moved to take over the clinic.

Reports in 2009 also mention the reversal by the Micheletti government of Zelaya administration "authorization to teach in the Garifuna language in school and to teach the language itself". Santiago Jaime Ruíz Alvarez, in a study of Garifuna language transmission, noted that the production of text books in the language during the Zelaya administration was
the first time that the Ministry of Education of Honduras, at the very official level, has produced culturally and linguistically appropriate textbooks, teaching and support materials for school children in indigenous and Afro-descended communities.

So it is beyond ironic for Porfirio Lobo Sosa to be given credit for promising that, maybe in six months he will "sign an agreement to give indigenous people and Honduran blacks a preferential right to choose teachers and doctors from their own villages". These are things they have and have had, that the coup and its aftermath removed.

And there is plenty of evidence of continuing threats to Garifuna existence that are hardly being countered by the pro-business Lobo Sosa government.

Garifuna community radio, like that of other local groups, is threatened by new policies of the Lobo Sosa government, policies that drew statements of concern from UN officials. Garifuna station Faluma Bimetu has been repeatedly threatened. In 2010, during the transition to the Lobo Sosa administration, their station was vandalized and they were taken off the air by government forces. Now, through new licensing procedures, the Lobo Sosa government itself can clamp down on this and other independent voices.

Coverage of the Garifuna anniversary from resistance sources was, shall we say, somewhat different.

First of all, they called it a protest, not a celebration. These reports noted that Garifuna protestors who marched in Tegucigalpa were accompanied by other representatives of COPINH, the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígena de Honduras (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras), and that the demonstrators "demanded a halt to the dispossession of the lands of the Lenca and Garifuna peoples". COPINH is, of course, a core part of the Frente de Resistencia, something not evident in CNN's story.

Prominent in this account is Miriam Miranda, coordinator of the Organización Fraternal Negra de Honduras (OFRANEH) who was recently rescued from illegal detention due to international pressure on the Lobo Sosa government. OFRANEH, again, was one of the organizations that denounced the coup d'etat of 2009 and continues to engage in activism against the repressive actions of the Lobo Sosa government.

In a statement released after her detention, Miranda said

In Honduras the chaos by which the country was subsumed due to the 2009 coup d'etat perpetrated by the judicial and legislative powers and the armed forces, under the instructions of the U.S. right wing and of course the Pentagon, continues.

Despite the plastic smiles of state functionaries and their eagerness to achieve international recognition, the criminalization of social protest has sharpened with the regime of Porfirio Lobo, who with his sinister ways discredits his administration in the eyes of human rights organizations.

Repudiating the Lobo Sosa administration's official event that was all too closely covered by CNN, Miranda is quoted as saying
“we did not come to the Presidential Palace to ask to be received by a person who has not been able to resolve, through dialogue, a conflict with the teachers, we do not want to celebrate, nor do we even have reason to do so”.

She reportedly added that more than a toast in the Casa Presidencial, what the Garifuna people need is the respect for their human rights and access to the lands of their people.

CNN, it would appear, hasn't heard that Garifuna voice. It is too easily taken in by the kind of meaningless symbolic gestures that count as "recognition" of minorities in US politics.

The real political story, the one about land rights, rights of self determination, and resistance to economic exploitation that is displacing the Garifuna from their traditional communities in the name of development-- the actual legacy of the Lobo Sosa government in Garifuna territory-- CNN cannot be bothered to cover.

1 comment:

RNS said...

I like other parts of the story that CNN didn't bother to cover.

La Tribuna reports that the Garifuna went in to the center of Tegucigalpa to present a letter to Juan Orlando Hernandez, head of Congress. They found the area militarized and so decided not to pursue this. Instead they stopped and did a Garifuna ritual to ward off the bad spirits that reside there!

Miran Miranda said they didn't wish to sit down with Porfirio Lobo Sosa because he wasn't in command in Honduras.

Humberto Castillo, an organizer of the Tegucigalpa event, said "Because in this country there is a regime that has us in chaos, because of this we do not want to meet with President Porfirio Lobo."

Did CNN talk to anyone who was there or write their story from a presidential press release?

I don't see the Garifuna honoring Lobo Sosa anytime soon.