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Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 84,400
Marty Offline OP
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By Wellington C. Ramos

If some people were to know the history of the Garifuna people they would just leave them alone. Who are these people? These people are descendants of the native Kalinagu and Galinagu Indians who migrated from the Orinoco region in South America centuries before the Europeans explored the Americas to occupy the Caribbean islands.

They have a history of fighting and winning wars against all the nations they went up against. These nations included Spain, France and Great Britain. The Garifuna people have always been against slavery and subjugation of any people. This was the reason why they were prepared to fight and die rather than to surrender to any other nation.

On March 11, 1795, this all came to an end, when they were defeated by the mighty British Empire after years of intensive fighting. Their Chief Joseph Chotoyer was later killed and his people were removed from their native homeland "Yurumein", now known as St Vincent and the Grenadines, and taken to Baliceaux, a neighbouring island to suffer and die.

The remaining survivors, numbering approximately 5,000, were placed on five ships and then taken to Roatan in the Bay Islands, which was occupied by the British and was claimed by Spain. It is said that only about 2,000 of these people survived that dreadful journey. On April 12, 1797, the Garifuna people arrived in Roatan, now a part of Honduras, and their names were changed from mostly native and French names to Spanish names.

Today the Garifuna people live in the countries of Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize, the United States and St Vincent and the Grenadines and they number about 400,000 people.

In Honduras, the Garifuna people fought with the Nationalistas for the independence of Honduras. Some of them also fought with the Spanish and were seen as traitors. The soldiers that fought against the Nationalistas were caught and executed, which led to a mass migration of Garifuna people from Honduras to Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belize. Their presence in all these countries has always been unwelcome due to their history of warfare and resiliency.

Human rights violations have and are still being committed against the Garifuna people in all the countries where they reside. Most of it is discrimination due to their ethnicity. The Garifuna people are one of only a few black ethnic groups in Latin America and the Caribbean that still practice their culture and speak their language. Several United Nations Proclamations have been issued by the United Nations declaring the Garifuna culture a masterpiece of mankind.

The Garifuna people are proud of their history of warfare and resiliency and will not trade it for anything else. Since the 1800s, the Garifuna people have become a quiet and peaceful people in all the countries where they reside today.

They even have some people thinking that their warring skills no longer exist and that they can be pushed around by any other group of people. For the people who are thinking that this is the case, they better not keep thinking that way.

Recently, the Garifuna people have been given a rude awakening with the series of human rights violations that is currently taking place against their families in Honduras. It is not only in Honduras but in all the other countries where they reside, like Nicaragua, Belize and St Vincent and the Grenadines in a different form. Land, housing, inadequate education and health treatment facilities, employment, poverty and many other social ills are rampant among the Garifuna people in most of their communities.

Then now come the issue in Dangriga Town, Belize, where a Garifuna bank clerk was told not to speak her Garifuna language to another Garifuna person like herself, while performing her duties on behalf of FirstCaribbean Bank. When the word started spreading that this lady was suspended by her employer, phones started ringing and emails started to flood the internet.

A massive demonstration was held last week Friday in Dangriga Town to display the outrage against the bank. The United Garifuna Association Inc., the Garifuna Nation, the National Garifuna Council and many other Garifuna national and international organizations have all united behind this worthy cause. They are organizing themselves to devise a comprehensive approach to deal with this issue and all the other human rights violations that are being committed against their people today.

The Garifuna people have now awakened and it will be very difficult for them to go back to sleep now, especially with the support of their ancestral spirits.

Caribbean News Now

Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 84,400
Marty Offline OP
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Garifuna organizations must devise a plan to deal with discrimination

By 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

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