GARIFUNA ORGANIZATIONS IN BELIZE AND WORLDWIDE ARE NETWORKING TO DEVISE A PLAN TO DEAL WITH DISCRIMINATION AGAINST THEIR PEOPLE
By: Wellington C. Ramos
Ever since it was reported that there was discrimination taking place against Ms. Uwahnie Martinez an employee of First Caribbean 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 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belize there has always been a history of racism and human rights violations against their people up to this very day.
In Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Garifuna people’s country was invaded and taken over by the French and British in the 16 and 1700’s who declared an unjustifiable war against them and occupied their country as if it was theirs. The French even had the nerves to hand over their country to the British in the Treaty of Paris. When the British defeated the Garifuna people on March 11th, 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 no more through decrees that were passed by the British Crown. This has led to the complete lost of culture by most of the Garifuna people living in Saint Vincent today.
The ones who survived were placed on five ships and forcefully removed to a British occupied island by the name of Rotan where they landed on April the 12th, 1797 which is now a part of Honduras. On the journey to Rotan, Honduras many of the Garifuna people who became sick were thrown into the sea for the sharks to eat. These acts committed by the French and British against the Garifuna people is called; “Genocide”. The Garifuna people 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 1800’s by the Honduran Nationalist against Spain, some Garifuna men will be asked to fight for both sides. The Nationalist ended up victorious and the captured Garifuna Spanish loyalist 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 makes sense for fear that the Garifuna people would join forces with the Creoles to rebel against the British for their freedom.
The abolishment 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 defense of Belize in the southern part of the country if the Spanish had decided to attack them. Belize at the time was a disputed colony by the British and Spanish. Under the Spanish administration, the Governor from Yucatan, Mexico administrated 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 signed a treaty with the British later on, they ceded all that territory to the British. Guatemala will 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 namely Nancy Gonzalez, she said that she discovered important evidence in the British Archives in London. The evidence is that the British had uniforms for the Garifuna men to fight for them in the Battle of Saint George’s Cay in September of 1798 one year after they landed in Rotan, Honduras. There is reason to believe that the British wanted to use the Garifuna people despite the fact that they were committing genocide against them from Saint Vincent. All the acts committed by the British against the Garifuna people, 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 is 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 move 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 and an agency to enforce them if there was any. In none 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 now.
The only way to lessen the racism and discrimination, is for these countries to acknowledge that racism and discrimination do exist. Then, pass Anti-Discrimination Laws to deal with all forms of discrimination and establish an enforcement agency. A Civil Rights Commission (C.R.C) under the office of the Attorney General, comprising with Representatives from all the ethnic groups in these countries, will be on the board to ensure full compliance and enforcement of the laws.
In all these countries constitutions, they guarantee equal protections under the laws. Let us have them live up to their constitutional obligations. The constitutional rights of citizens, is 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 re-claiming 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 be struck in all the Garifuna communities worldwide. Together we will overcome all the injustices that are being committed against us.
- Commentary: The Garifuna people’s patience has run out on racism (caribbeannewsnow.com)
- No Garifuna at First Caribbean Bank (fiwebelize.com)
- Commentary: Why the Garifuna nation can seek reparations on behalf of its people (caribbeannewsnow.com)
- Commentary: Garifuna ethnicity vs. nationalism (caribbeannewsnow.com)
- Garífuna culture in Belize (edition.cnn.com)