Garifuna organizations must devise a plan to deal with discriminationBy Wellington C. Ramos
Ever since it was reported that there was discrimination taking place against Ms Uwahnie Martinez, an employee of FirstCaribbean Bank International, for speaking her Garifuna language, the Garifuna people in Belize and in the Diaspora have been outraged.
Why? Because in the countries of “Yurumein”, now known as St Vincent and the Grenadines, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belize there has always been a history of racism and human rights violations against the Garifuna people up to this very day.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines, the Garifuna people’s country was invaded and taken over in the 1600 and 1700s by the French and British, who declared an unjustifiable war against them and occupied their country as if it was theirs. The French even had the nerve to hand over their country to the British in the Treaty of Paris. When the British defeated the Garifuna people on March 11, 1795, they removed them from the island to Baliceaux, an adjacent island, and left them there to perish and die.
The lighter skin Garifuna people who escaped the removal were ordered not to speak the language or practice the Garifuna culture through decrees that were passed by the British Crown. This has led to the complete loss of culture by most of the Garifuna people living in St Vincent today.
The ones who survived were placed on five ships and forcefully removed to a British-occupied island by the name of Roatan, where they landed on April 12, 1797, which is now a part of Honduras. On the journey to Roatan, many of the Garifuna people that became sick were thrown into the sea for the sharks to eat. These acts committed by the French and British against the Garifuna people are called “genocide”.
The Garifuna names were changed from their French and native names to Spanish names. When they started to settle in Honduras, they were allowed to live in separate areas from the other ethnic groups in the country. Eventually, with the war for independence in the 1800s by the Honduran nationalists against Spain, some Garifuna men were asked to fight for both sides. The nationalists ended up victorious and the captured Garifuna Spanish loyalists were slaughtered. This incident led to the migration of many Garifuna people from Honduras to Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belize.
When the Garifuna people landed in Belize, the British governor gave them permission to live in the southern part of the country only. Why? Because they did not want the Garifuna people to intermingle with the African Belizeans, who were slaves at the time, now called Creoles by the British. This made sense because of fear that the Garifuna people would join forces with the Creoles to rebel against the British for their freedom.
The abolition of slavery in Britain also influenced the decision to allow some Garifuna people to come to Belize because they needed people to cut logwood and mahogany at the time. Some Garifuna people were in Belize from 1801 and their names were changed to English names to hide their identities.
In analyzing the history of Belize, it is possible that the British wanted the Garifuna people to fight for them in defence of Belize in the southern part of the country if the Spanish had decided to attack them. Belize at the time was a colony disputed by the British and Spanish. Under the Spanish administration, the governor from Yucatan in Mexico administered Belize up to the Sibun River and from that point to the city of Peten the governor from Guatemala was responsible for the administration.
When Mexico later signed a treaty with the British, they ceded all that territory to the British. Guatemala would subsequently cede their portion in the treaty of 1859, when the Belize border was extended all the way to the Sarstoon River.
In a book written by a famous anthropologist, Nancy Gonzalez, she said that she discovered important evidence in the British archives in London that the British had uniforms for the Garifuna men to fight for them in the Battle of Saint George’s Cay in September 1798, one year after they landed in Roatan, Honduras. There is reason to believe that the British wanted to use the Garifuna people despite the fact that they had committed genocide against them from St Vincent.
From all the acts committed by the British against the Garifuna people, it is clear that they wanted us to be eliminated from this Planet Earth because of the resistance we put up against them in the wars we fought.
Today, in the countries where the Garifuna people are currently residing, racism, discrimination and human rights violations are still occurring against them. These crimes have been documented by credible human rights organizations and the United Nations. Plus, the Garifuna people in these countries can provide living testimonies about their experiences from time to time when they moved around in their countries of birth. Some Garifuna people are afraid to speak about their experiences, while others may believe that nothing will change and such is a way of life in these countries.
There are no civil rights laws or an agency to enforce them if there were any such laws in any of these countries where they live that I know of, except the United States of America. The Garifuna people have now had enough of the racism and discrimination that they have been enduring for centuries.
The only way to lessen the racism and discrimination is for these countries to acknowledge that racism and discrimination exist. Then pass anti-discrimination laws to deal with all forms of discrimination and establish an enforcement agency. A civil rights commission under the office of the attorney general, comprising representatives from all the ethnic groups in these countries, should ensure full compliance and enforcement of the laws.
All these countries’ constitutions guarantee equal protection under the law. Let us have them live up to their constitutional obligations. The constitutional rights of citizens are a serious exercise of all democratic governments enshrined in their constitutions. This is not something to be taken lightly. Citizens have the right to demand that their constitutional rights be granted to them. They also have the right to bring a case against their governments in the supreme or international courts to demand their legitimate fundamental rights. If not, what is the purpose for us to go around boasting that we are Vincentians, Hondurans, Nicaraguans, Guatemalans, Belizeans, Americans or any other nationality?
To all my Garifuna people let me give you the truth.
We are “Garifuna”. A people who had a nation state and then war was declared upon us by the French and British for no justifiable reason or reasons. We fought some courageous battles but in the end we lost and our nation state was robbed from us. Then displaced to a strange land and exiled to suffer in eternity. There is nothing for us to be ashamed of because we still have our culture intact. Many other people resisted and today they do not have their culture.
Let us be proud of our past accomplishments and that we are a nation within nations and the reclaiming of our original nation is left to us as a resilient people to pursue. This incident in Dangriga will be the igniting force to bring about the re-awakening of our people because, when the people in Dangriga move, the lightning of our ancestors will strike in all the Garifuna communities worldwide. Together we will overcome all the injustices that are being committed against us.Caribbean News Now