For our last installation of this year's Black History Month series, we are highlighting the life and work of Honduran Garifuna activist Miriam Miranda.
Miriam Miranda is a Honduran Garifuna human rights activist and land defender. As the head of the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH)—which defends the rights of Garifuna communities—Miranda has worked to stop land theft by the tourism industry, to reclaim ancestral Garifuna land, promote sustainability, and support community leadership development for youth and women.
The Garifuna people, or Garínagu, are an Afro-indigenous group that lives predominantly along the Atlantic Coast of Central America and St. Vincent. They are descendants of indigenous Arawak and Carib and African maroon communities, peoples who fled enslavement, who worked together to resist British and French colonial authorities. Garifuna language, food, and culture retain strong ties to their West African and indigenous roots.
According to Garifuna traditions in Honduras, ancestral lands are inherited by women and passed down to their children. Garifuna women are often deeply involved in preserving Garifuna land and culture, a belief that Miranda has reflected:
Everywhere throughout Honduras, like in all of Latin America, Africa, Asia, women are at the forefront of the struggles for our rights, against racial discrimination, for the defense of our commons and our survival. We're at the front not only with our bodies but also with our force, our ideas, our proposals.
Today, Garifuna ancestral lands and communities are under threat by tourism developments, mining projects, and drug cartels. With OFRANEH, Miranda has fought for litigation in defense of Garifuna lands, successfully bringing cases forth to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. She also helped develop a network of community radio stations to counter the predominantly state-controlled media.
However, the human rights situation in Honduras remains precarious for Garifuna communities. In 2019, Honduras was ranked the most dangerous country in the world to be a land and environmental defender. Garifuna leaders have been the targets of violent attacks such as arson, abduction, and threats at gunpoint. On July 18, 2020, the Honduran Investigative Police (DPI)—which has received U.S. training—forcibly disappeared four Garifuna land defenders; SUNLA, an initiative launched by OFRANEH, continues the search.
Miriam Miranda herself has been violently attacked by both the Honduran government as well as cartels, and was even labeled a criminal on Honduran news. In 2012, following a peaceful protest, Miriam was arrested, beaten, and detained for 12 days by Honduran police, and charged with sedition. In 2014, Miranda, along with several other community leaders, was kidnapped by drug traffickers building an illegal airstrip on Garifuna land. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has granted Miranda protective measures, but the Honduran government has done little to address these crimes.
In 2015, Miriam received the Óscar Romero Human Rights Award, alongside fellow Honduran activist Berta Cáceres, who was assassinated less than a year later. You can watch that ceremony, and her speech at the end, HERE. In 2016, Miriam received the Carlos Escaleras environmental prize for her 30 years of activism defending Garifuna communities.
Despite the dangers of her work, Miranda continues to fight to defend the land, culture, and rights of her community.
“OFRANEH and the Garifuna will continue our fight to live and prosper in Honduras,” Miranda stated. "As for the politicians who would tell us ‘do not come,' we call on them to stop backing the regimes that would displace us.”