Garifuna response to the Guatemalan ICJ referendum

We the Garifuna people are one nation who live in the countries of “Yurumein” now known as St. Vincent & The Grenadines, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize, the United States and elsewhere. Around March 14, 1796 after we lost the war to the British, our King Chatoyer was captured and killed and about 5,000 of our people were assembled, tortured, imprisoned and taken to the island of Balliceaux off the coast of St. Vincent where they awaited removal to another country.

The King of Great Britain George III, gave the orders for our people to be removed from Balliceaux and be taken to a distant island of Roatan, Honduras thousands of miles away. This was after the torturing and killing continued by the British on the island that led to the deaths of about 2,500 of our people who were buried on the island. Their remains are still on this island and nothing is being done to upkeep and preserve them to this day. To make matters worse, there are still attempts to sell the island with our people’s remains. The British sent some naval vessels to remove our people from the island on March 11, 1797.

On April 12, 1797 the vessels arrived in Roatan, Honduras with about 2,500 of our people. The conditions on this island was horrible and our people were not happy with the decision to remove them from their homeland to this desolate place. In 1801 some Garifuna people asked the British permission to move to another country and it was granted. About 165 Garifuna men, women and children set sailed for British Honduras now known as Belize. They arrived in an area of Belize City known as “Yabra” on the south side of the city. When they drank the water from the lake, they were not happy with it and began moving further south until they landed in a place they called “Dangriga.”

While those Garifuna were moving to Belize, other Garifuna families were asking permission from the Spanish government to live on the mainland coast of Honduras. That permission was granted also and their settlement started. Garifuna people who remained in Roatan and Belize moved with the British from these two countries after they created an additional settlement in the Mosquito Coast of Nicaragua called “Bluefields.” The British by this time had established settlements in the Bay Islands of Honduras, Belize and Nicaragua.

As Honduras was developing as a Spanish colony, the people were becoming resistant to Spanish rule. In the 1800’s they then formed a nationalist resistant force to the Spanish crown. The Garifuna people were now caught up in this Civil War that was taken place. Some Garifuna out of appreciation to the Spanish Crown for allowing them to move to the mainland, fought with them against the resistance movement. The Nationalist forces became angry with them and slaughtered some of their men, women and children in the village of San Juan. This incident led to a mass migration of Garifuna people to Guatemala, Nicaragua and Belize.

If it was not for the deplorable living conditions in Roatan and the Civil Wars in Honduras, Garifuna people would not have migrated to Guatemala, Nicaragua and Belize. Despite the migration, Garifuna people have always communicated with their family members in all these countries. When I was a child growing up in Dangriga, every year I would go to the pier to see boats by the names of; ILda, Suyapa, Santa Maria and other boats coming from Guatemala and Honduras with our Garifuna relatives to celebrate November 19 of to spend time with our family members.

Some of our relatives remained in Dangriga to work, go to school or live. There is no separation between the Garifuna people. We see ourselves as one nation of families living in different countries. We are not going to fight among ourselves and kill each other for any of these countries as well. In all the countries where we live, we are still being discriminated against and looked upon as second class citizens even though we were all born there so why should we kill ourselves for them. They are the ones enjoying all the fruits of these countries.

Our treatment has proven that natural born citizenship does not mean equal treatment and protection under the laws of these countries. Our Garifuna people in Guatemala feel the same way most Garifuna people feel in Belize. Except that we who live in Belize, have more freedom than those who live in Honduras and Guatemala. The Garifuna people have about 50 villages in Honduras and are mostly isolated from the other ethnic groups in that country. This has caused less interaction with them. However, since the population is increasing and the demand for land and resources has intensified this is changing. Human Rights violations in Honduras has always been an ongoing dilemma for our Garifuna people. Garifuna people keep going to the Human Rights courts with no progress.

Most Garifuna people in Guatemala live in Livingston known as Labuga where my grandmother was born. They were always isolated from the other ethnic groups as well but this too will change. Belizean Garifuna live in the southern part of Belize in the Districts of Stann Creek and Toledo. They were once the majority ethnic group in the south but due to migration from Guatemala and El Salvador that has changed. I do not have any real numbers but I would say that the Mayas and Mestizos have now surpassed the Garifuna, Creoles and East Indians. We Garifuna people have relatives in all these neighboring countries and we know what is taking place in all of them. Our ancestors left these countries for freedom and opportunities to excel. We are definitely against Guatemala obtaining any part of Belize.

The map that the Guatemalan government is displaying showing them taking our Districts, is going to encourage our Garifuna Belizeans to vote in this Referendum. But if I had to guess how my people will vote I would say that they will vote NO. Why? Because even though the legal arguments look favorable for Belize, there could also be political arguments and issues that will bring about a different resolution to this dispute. The interests of certain families, countries and international multinational corporations that are wealthy, can prevail over that of the average citizens of Belize and Guatemala’s interests that has been ignored for centuries up to this day. We the people have not seen how we can benefit from all this because we are not currently benefitting in the distribution of our nations’ wealth only a few families and businesses are.

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