Garifuna leaders in Honduras still missing after 16 days

Armed men wearing bullet-proof vests with the insignia of the police and military kidnapped four members of the Honduran organization OFRANEH, as well another member of the Garifuna community member on July 18

August 04, 2020 by Peoples Dispatch
Image from a protest demanding the safe return of the five disappeared Garifuna community members. "Alive they were taken, alive they return". Photo: OFRANEH

Social movements in Honduras continue to demand the immediate return of five Garifuna community members who were kidnapped by heavily armed men on July 18 in Triunfo de la Cruz, a small town on Honduras’ Caribbean coast. The Fraternal Black Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH), the organization which four of the five of the kidnapped are part of, believes that the Honduran state is involved in the crime and has demanded that it provides immediate answers.

16 days after their kidnapping, the whereabouts of Alberth Snider Centeno Tomás, Suami Aparicio Mejía García, Gerardo Mizael Rochez Cálix, Milton Joel Martínez Álvarez, and Junior Rafael Juárez Mejía are unknown.

The involvement of the state has been alleged as the heavily armed men were wearing bullet-proof vests with the insignia of the Police Investigations Bureau and uniforms of the Military Police. The armed individuals broke into the homes of the 5 Garifuna community members in the early hours of July 18, forcibly abducted them, and threatened their family members and other community members who witnessed the crime.

OFRANEH has also highlighted the fact that their forced disappearance took place while there was a lockdown and curfew in place across the country. Hence, anyone driving around would have had explicit permission. “It is impossible for us to believe that the mobilization of three vehicles that the heavily armed individuals drove could have happened completely unperceived,” they denounced.

On July 31, 13 days after the disappearance, Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández broke the government’s silence on the case and through a tweet insisted that his government was working to “identify those responsible for the crime and bring them to justice.” Yet to date, no progress has been made. OFRANEH noted that the Police Investigations Bureau, the same agency that may have been involved in their disappearances, is also in charge of the investigation. This is a clear conflict of interest.

OFRANEH has also said that the Honduran state does not seem to be truly invested in the well-being of the Garifuna people as it has yet to comply with the decision of the Inter-American Human Rights Court (IAHRC) regarding the respect of Garifuna territories and human rights. Centeno, one of the five disappeared, was one of the key leaders in bringing this case to the IAHRC back in 2015. Furthermore, OFRANEH explained that the Garifuna community has faced increased attacks to their ancestral land rights from the State and transnational corporations and with it, an increase in assassinations and political persecution.

Meanwhile international organizations such as Amnesty International have joined the calls to demand that the government locate the five disappeared individuals. Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International commented, “We demand that the Juan Orlando Hernández administration take urgent measures to find the five missing people, including four Garifuna activists from the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras, alive. The authorities must also carry out a swift, exhaustive, independent and impartial investigation to identify and punish all those responsible for planning and carrying out this crime. We cannot allow impunity to encourage endless cycles of violence and grave human rights violations.”

OFRANEH and other organizations within Honduras and internationally have taken to the streets and social media to demand the safe return of the five that were disappeared. They have been using the hashtag #LasVidasGarifunasImportan (Garifuna lives matter), in reference to the #BlackLivesMatter movement in the United States.

The organization has also denounced a defamation campaign waged on social media by the Honduran right to claim that the five were involved in drug trafficking and that is why they were disappeared.

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