Resistance in Tela Bay, Honduras

"Los Micos Beach and Golf Resort" – a Polemic Project

By Giorgio Trucchi

Honduras keeps struggling with a severe economic, political and social crisis caused by the coup d'etat of June 2009. The new government has been promoting a strategy in order to "normalize" the situation. Resort tourism seems to be one of the most privileged sectors. The tourist complex "Los Micos Beach and Golf Resort", better known as Tela Bay, represents the master piece of a strategy that aims to transform the Caribbean coast of Honduras into the "Cancun of Central America". However, various groups of the Honduran population not only reject this project, but also a development model that they consider harmful for the country, that divides communities and only benefits business groups who are already controlling politics and the economy of Honduras.

"We don't want this kind of development"

The "Los Micos Beach and Golf Resort" is located in Tela (Department of Atlantida), in the Jeannette Kawas National Park, which is registered in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. Despite the progress of the construction and the beginning of the second phase of the work, the protest against the project has not ceased. The opening of the hotel and golf course is planned for late 2012. The enthusiasm shown by the public sector and major business groups in the country - both of them involved in the project - contrasts with the strong opposition of some sectors of the Honduran society and particularly the Afro-Caribbean population of the region.

According to Martina Meléndez, former director of the patronato* of Tornabé, the appropriation of Garifuna land started in the nineties. "Corruption began. Tornabé did not have community land title deeds at that time and some community leaders convinced people by telling them that if they sold the land, the tourist project was going to give them title deeds for the remaining land. They paid a minimum price for it and the money went to only a few hands. That is when the problem started. People changed. There is so much ambition now for the adjacent land of the project that serious conflicts and divisions arose. A Garifuna is not like this, it is not our nature. We protect each other, but now it has changed and ambition has taken over our communities," declared Meléndez.

The Fraternal Organization of Black Hondurans (OFRANEH) also blames the mega-project for what is happening: "They began creating confusion among the people. The people started to lose their self-esteem, their culture, and became ambitious. This ambition has been growing ever since," said Alfredo López, vice-president of OFRANEH. "The patronato is not satisfied with what they have got. They want more and the Honduran Tourism Institute (IHT) is instigating and trying to take advantage of this confusion." OFRANEH's vice-president also denounced the repression against those organizations that continue fighting against the development of "Los Micos Beach and Golf Resort". "We are constantly receiving threats. There are cases of false demands and accusations against us in court, but they will not stop us."

Communities for Sale - and Ready to Fight

Another emblematic case is the community of Miami. According to Alfredo López, "all this land belonged to the community and now it is lost. It was illegally sold to IHT to develop the tourist project. We even submitted a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, asking for immediate legal protection for Miami and Tornabé. We wanted to investigate the illegality of the procedures of selling land. However, the former government then made an agreement with a local organization (ODECO) to give the community of Miami a land title deed in exchange for the land. They practically sold the land where the community lives at a ridiculous price and kept the other piece of land, which was the object of dirty business."

According to OFRANEH, this land was successively donated to the same investors of the Tela Bay project, and successively sold to IHT, which in turn sold it to the Tela Bay Tourist Development Corporation (DTBT). "There is a lot of money involved in every transaction and now the people of Miami have no land and no money and can be evicted at any time," said the vice-president of OFRANEH.

The community of Barra Vieja is located a few kilometres away from Miami and represents the major headache for the developers of the project. José Armando Santos, president of the patronato of Barra Vieja, does not believe that the project will benefit the community. "They came here to deceive people. Once the second phase of the project is finished, none of us will have access to it. They came here wanting to install water pipes and electricity up to the village of Miami. We agreed, but we also demanded those services for us, since we have neither water nor electricity. They said that was not possible, so we didn't allow them. What they really want is our land. They regard us as enemies because we are a community that does not want to sell. We are a small community of 127 families, but we will defend ourselves."

Who Really Benefits?

When hearing about the benefits that the project was declared to bring for the Garifuna, the reaction of the interviewees was frequently an expression of disbelief. According to Martina Meléndez, "the community has become more vulnerable. The lower parts of the community land have been filled and now we get frequent flooding, and many animals have disappeared. There is something else that worries us. We were told that, during the first phase of the construction, 90 percent of the employment was going to be for people from the communities. But they brought people from outside, from other departments. There is also a high social risk. On Fridays, when it is pay day, we see girls offering themselves to the workers, and this is only the beginning."

Involvement of International Financial Institutions

Various sectors of the Honduran society are concerned about the so-called "National Strategy for Sustainable Tourism (ENTS)", especially in view of the implementation of at least four tourist enclaves. The construction of these resorts depends on the funding of international financial institutions (the Inter-American Development Bank - IDB, the World Bank and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration - CABEI) as well as international cooperation (from Spain and Taiwan).

According to Bertha Cáceres, national coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), the government's decision did not come unexpectedly. "It is part of the Mesoamerica Project. It is a concept of development we do not agree with because it threatens our lives, our rights and our indigenous and black communities," she stated. She also denounced that many tourism projects are said to be sponsored by international financial institutions. "The truth is that these are loans and at the end of the day it is always the people who are financing projects that make the rich richer and the poor poorer. We are witnesses of how the IDB and the World Bank promote individual land titles, when there is already one for the entire community. There have been deaths and expelled communities. The IDB and the World Bank are complicit in the violation of human rights, land rights, and cultural rights of our indigenous communities."

*A 'patronato' is an institution of the local government that represents the citizens of a certain territory (in this case, a community). It is a legal entity.

Giorgio Trucchi is an Italian journalist who lives in Nicaragua, where he collaborates with Alba Sud. He is also a correspondent of SIREL, the International Union of Food Workers' Information System for the Latin American Region.

This article is an abridged version of a longer report for Alba Sud, published in Spanish at www.albasud.org/publ/docs/37.pdf

Translated from Spanish by Cinthia Membreño.

(1.284 words, 101 lines, March 2011, TW 62)