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Sat May 17, 2014, 11:12 PM

Militarization of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef Harms Indigenous Communities

Militarization of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef Harms Indigenous Communities
Saturday, 17 May 2014 09:01
By Sandra Cuffe, Truthout | News Analysis

The Cayos Cochinos off Honduras and at the southern end of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef are a protected area, but that protection - including a strong military presence - rarely extends to the Afro-Indigenous Garifuna communities or their life-ways.

Fausto Blanco gestures out past the vivid aquamarine surrounding the archipelago, towards where the Honduran Navy confiscated the dugout canoe he was navigating to harvest coconuts. Blanco was left stranded in the water and had to swim back to one of the 11 cays that, along with two small islands, make up the Cayos Cochinos. The cays are set towards the southern end of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, a coral reef system in the Caribbean Sea second only to Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

Much has changed in the 20 years since the Cayos Cochinos were declared a protected area. The Afro-indigenous Garifuna communities inhabiting the cays had to fight plans for their eviction, which would have enabled the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute to create an exclusion zone for scientific study. Today, reality-show production and tourism are facilitated by the Honduras Coral Reef Fund, which manages the area with support from the World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy. Even with the onslaught of tourism and film crews, Garifuna subsistence fishermen and divers remain subject to ever-changing fishing restrictions enforced by the Honduras Coral Reef Fund and by the Navy.

The surge in US military and police aid to Honduras since the June 2009 coup has included $10 million for three new naval bases along the Caribbean coast, and US training of an elite naval team. It has also led to four indigenous civilian deaths during DEA-run operations. Officially, US military and police aid support efforts targeting drug trafficking and organized crime, but entire Garifuna communities have been targeted with the label "narco-communities." In addition, conservation in some of the coastal and insular areas that the Garifuna have long depended on to survive is heavily militarized.

Jesús Flores Satuyé faces the consequences of militarized conservation every day. In 2001, when he and two other Garifuna were out diving for spiny lobster and shellfish, the Honduran Navy pulled up and began confiscating their equipment. When Flores Satuyé spoke up, he was shot in the forearm. Unable to fish or dive due to the loss of mobility in his left hand, he began eking a living by taking other Garifuna divers out in the cays in his cayuco - the traditional Garifuna dugout canoe. It was confiscated by the Navy in 2010. "I'm really screwed, because here, the cayuco is what gets us around," says Flores Satuyé, sitting in a hammock in his unfinished home, cradling his left hand. "Sometimes I go hungry," he said quietly.


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