On November 6th, 2021, I had the opportunity to accompany and welcome over 300 Garífuna community members who had traveled from New York City to Washington, D.C. to honor and celebrate the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH) as this year’s recipient of the Letelier-Moffitt International Human Rights Award.

OFRANEH and the Institute for Policy Studies collaborated together to hold this gathering. During the first week of November, OFRANEH sent a delegation to Washington, D.C., to gain further support for their struggle and advocate for systemic change against the genocidal violence the Garífuna community faces in Honduras.

Throughout the day, the Garífuna community honored our fallen colleagues, Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt, as well as their own resiliency in the long fight for the recognition of their ancestral territories, self-determination, and a more just, democratic government in Honduras. The celebration was covered locally by The Wash.

As IPS New Mexico fellow working on the Trade, Mining, and Investment Project, I was invited to share a few words at the gathering in Sheridan Circle, for which I reflected on the history of the award, its importance, and what was taken into account when selecting OFRANEH as the international award recipient this year.

The Fight for Honduran Democracy 

On September 21st, 1976, Orlando Letelier, a former Chilean diplomat under Salvador Allende and later the Director of the IPS Transnational Institute, and Ronni Moffitt, an IPS Development Associate, were murdered in a car bomb explosion ordered by dictator General Augusto Pinochet.

Ever since, IPS has participated in efforts to seek justice for this double murder and held an annual memorial ceremony for our deceased colleagues by awarding the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards. This year, in our 45th anniversary year, OFRANEH won the international award alongside our domestic awadee, the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC).

Honduran organizations have received this award twice before, each following the U.S.-supported military coup in 2009, which has resulted in successive electoral fraud, heightening danger against those who defend land, justice, and democracy, and leading to severe, ongoing human rights violations. The first was the Honduran Human Rights Platform in 2010. The second was the Comité Municipal en Defensa de Bienes Comunes y Naturales del Municipio de Tocoa in 2019.

Under the rule of a narco-dictatorship, Honduras is currently one of the most violent countries in which to fight for human rights, land, and the environment. As the third Honduran organization to receive the award, OFRANEH faces institutionalized racism and violence as an Afro-Indigenous, women-led organization. All three organizations demonstrate the strength of the people of Honduras and their commitment to human rights.

OFRANEH’s inspiring, holistic struggle led us to select them as this year’s international human rights award recipient. OFRANEH’s comprehensive work promotes women’s leadership, cultural resurgence, and land reclamation while tackling multiple threats to their ancestral territories along the northern Honduran coast.

The recovery of Garífuna lands in Vallecito — known as the Promised Land to OFRANEH — illustrates their courage and determination to protect their ancestral lands. OFRANEH had to confront the Honduran government, which is known to have deep ties to drug cartels, to act against organized crime that had set up an airstrip in Vallecito. Once they reclaimed their land, OFRANEH built a sanctuary in Vallecito to which human rights defenders and many others come from across Honduras.

In addition, this award recognizes OFRANEH’s uphill fight against various threats, such as the Economic Development and Employment Zones (ZEDES), which are enclaves bought by corporate investors and not restrained by Honduran national law. They’re being set up to operate as if they were their own sovereign country.

Holding Washington Accountable

As a result of fighting against political, corporate, and criminal interests, OFRANEH faces intensifying threats of violence, all the while demonstrating solidarity with others.

This organization is confronting those threats head-on with their SUNLA, or “Enough!” initiative — short for the Garífuna Commission for the Investigation and Search of the Disappeared from Triunfo de la Cruz. Established following the forced disappearance at the hands of police officers in July of 2020 of 5 Garífuna men who were community leaders from Triunfo de La Cruz  defending their ancestral land, OFRANEH created SUNLA to search for truth, justice and the men’s safe return to their families. For doing so much and under such tremendous threats, OFRANEH deserves this award.

Finally, it is critical to mention the visibility this award has given to OFRANEH and their struggle here in the U.S., while holding this country accountable for our government’s participation in providing political support to the narco-dictatorship and financial assistance that contributes to the violence in Honduras.

The neoliberal policies conceived by institutions in which the U.S. holds great sway, such as the World Bank, and the 2009 military coup that the U.S. supported have worsened and further intensified the threats that OFRANEH is facing. We hope that this recognition provides further exposure for OFRANEH’s struggle and creates a more extensive network of solidarity.

It has been an honor to accompany OFRANEH during their time in D.C. This powerful organization has a clear commitment to continue their fight to sustain and support their ancestral lands and communities, despite the risks, as long as it is needed.

Ennedith Lopez is the New Mexico Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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