Land Rights and Racism: Challenges of the Garinagu

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Updated: May 23, 2017

The National Garifuna Council had its conference over the weekend in Hopkins Village, Stann Creek District where they took care of basic council business and reports.  In addition to this, the Council also allotted a portion of their time to discuss several land issues that the Garinagu are experiencing particularly in the south.  President of the National Garifuna Council, Sandra Miranda spoke to Harry Arzu on the major land problems they are looking to address.

SANDRA MIRANDA

“We have an issue with Georgetown where the villagers from there have an issue with the villagers from Maya Mopan demanding half of the cemetery down to be theirs when Georgetown shared a cemetery with them. They had land that was demarcated as reserve that the government is now issuing to farmers outside of Georgetown and so Georgetown is becoming landlocked; that is an issue that needs immediate attention because Georgetown was the farm land for residents of Seine Bight and later on it was developed into a community after a hurricane. They had encouraged the people from Seine Bight to move inland. So it’s what you would call their ancestral land; we were farmers there even before it was a village. We also have the issue here in Hopkins where Sittee River wants to claim a portion of Hopkins going down; so that is also an issue that needs to be looked at and the tourism has caused development in Hopkins that I was made to understand that one of the old cemetery was being bush hogged for tourism purposes and that needs to be addressed. Seine Bight, now they are going into Placencia that there are tourism destinations built right in Seine Bight but they are making reference to it as northern Placencia. Which community is getting recognized so Seine Bight is not being recognized so there is something that needs to be done.  So all of these issues need urgent attention but Barranco with Midway that is still not completely resolved so that is also something that we need to look at. We have representation from all the communities here, we want to select a committee that will deal specifically with the land then we will put together a well-researched document so that we can approach the government. We can’t do it alone and if we fail  there we would go further into seeking legal advice and if we need to go international then we will go.”

Miranda says there is also the issue of racism within the Public Service Union which was discussed during the conference.

SANDRA MIRANDA

“On the racial issue, we have representative from the Public Service Union here as we speak. We plan to have a private session with  them and I will have a private session with them before going public to the people at the convention because they are public officers we need to know what they can reveal because we don’t want to put them in jeopardy so we will have that private discussion and we will know what we can and cannot say. But they need to let us know how they feel about that issue, they would say what they need us to do, what support they want from us. I am prepared to give them whatever support they need. I was  former public officer myself and I could imagine what they are going through because I can’t say I had a smooth sail in the public service and I aimed to reach the highest peak that I could and it was not smooth because there were stumbling blocks along the way and it’s just because you are a Garifuna. I was told at one point talking Garifuna to a colleague not to talk that at work and this was in the 70s and to come 2017 and realize that we haven’t gone much further it really hurts.”

The National Garifuna Council is a non-governmental organization representing the indigenous Garifuna people of Belize with a mission to preserve, strengthen and develop the culture as well as promote economic development of the Garifuna people.