Territorio Indígena y Gobernanza is a web portal created as a space where indigenous organizations and the institutions that collaborate with them, find information on indigenous territories in Latin America including materials related to territorial governance, legal and technical documents on the subject, audiovisual material and specific information on the countries that the Initiative has prioritized for now: Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Nicaragua, Panama, and Honduras.
The purpose of the Territorio Indígena y Gobernanza Initiative is to contribute to strengthening the capacities of indigenous, traditional and peasant organizations in the administration and control of their territories. Territorio Indígena y Gobernanza is an initiative of Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation with the support of the Initiative for Rights and Resources (RRI).
Below is an abridged version of initiative’s report on the Indigenous History, Associations and Governance in Honduras.
The complete report can be found here.
Honduras has an area of 112,492 km2. The country’s population is 9,436,278 inhabitants, per INE, Honduras. According to the 2013 Census, a total of 717,618 people, comprising nearly 9 per cent of the total population, self-identify as a member of either an indigenous or minority community. However, according to a 2007 census conducted by indigenous organizations, people who self-identified as indigenous or of African descent accounted for 20 per cent of the Honduran population. Main minorities and indigenous peoples: Lenca (453,672), Miskito (80,007), Garífuna (43,111), Maya Ch’ortí (33,256), Tolupán (19,033), Bay Creoles (12,337), Nahua (6,339), Pech (6,024), and Tawahka (2,690), reports Minorityrights.org.
The Lenca, Pech, Tawahka, Xicaque , Maya Ch’ortí , Misquito, and Garífuna are classified as indigenous. The Garífuna are of mixed Afro-Caribbean origin and moved to the area during the colonial period. There is also an Afro-Honduran Creole English-speaking minority community of around 12,337 who live mainly in the Honduran Bay Islands.
The indigenous people are distributed in 2,128 communities throughout 15 of the 18 departments of Honduras. There are seven indigenous peoples: Chorti, Lenca, Miskito, Nahua, Pech, Tawahka and Tolupán. There are two people of African descent: the Black Peoples of the Caribbean and the Garífunas. The largest in population are the Lenca and the Garífunas.
In Honduras, as well as other Latin American countries, there has been a historical tendency to represent the presence and concerns of indigenous peoples as a purely pre-Columbian and pre-colonial phenomenon that gradually disappeared through absorption before the formation of the republic. However, the rising consciousness of indigenous peoples’ rights in the 1980s spearheaded by Garífuna organizations brought forth an upsurge of indigenous cultural struggles, particularly with a focus on the reclamation of traditional lands, explains Minorityrights.org.
Currently only 10% of the indigenous people of Honduras have property titles to their lands (IGWIA, 2010). However, the territory demanded by them is approximately 2,000,000 hectares (17.8% of the national surface). Indigenous Peoples of Honduras consider that the lack of titles is the main problem faced by indigenous peoples. Meanwhile, they are pressured to sell their lands, especially in areas of tourist interest, and the State grants titles to third parties. Indigenous territories suffer invasions constant on the part of peasants, logging companies and traffickers who grow illicit crops.
The indigenous territories overlap with the vast majority of the country’s protected areas, including the Mesoamerican Biocultural Corridor (made up of the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve, the Patuca National Park and the Tawahka Asangni Reserve), which represents the second zone of the most important biodiversity reserve on the continent, after the Amazon. Thus, the protected areas overlapping with indigenous territories cover more than half of the total territory of the Department of Gracias a Dios. According to Honduras’ Property Law, the management of protected areas that are within indigenous lands must be carried out jointly between the Indigenous Community and the State (Art. 101).
Beginning in 1521, Honduras was colonized by the Spanish and English, and since then entire towns such as the Chorotegas, Pipiles, and Chatos have disappeared, reports Territorio Indigena y Governanza. The Lenca people offered a tenacious resistance that ended in 1537 with the death of the chief Lempira, the greatest exponent of the defense of his people and his land.
The English dominated Taguzgalpa (as the Mosquitía was called, at that time), and established a system of vassalage. In 1786, they agreed with Spain on Spanish sovereignty over that region, but in 1821, the “English protectorate” was reestablished, and England came to rule almost the entire Caribbean coast of Central America. By 1847, the English ruled all territory between the Cape of Honduras and the San Juan River (Nicaragua), through the “King Mosco.” The Europeans brought slaves from Africa to their colonies in America, giving rise to a process of miscegenation of indigenous people, Europeans and Afro-descendants.
In the period of construction of the Republic (1821–1921), the Morazán army stood out, made up of indigenous Lencas who fought for Central American unity. During this period, the priest Manuel de Jesús Subirana managed the legalization of lands for the Tolupan and Pech peoples. Only in 1859, the Republic of Honduras achieved national sovereignty over the Mosquitia and the Bay Islands, signing the Wike-Cruz Treaty with England. Since then, and until 1900, the State developed policies to “nationalize” the indigenous people through the Gospel and the Spanish language.
In 1868, the State created the department of La Mosquitia, but without granting it representation in the National Congress. The governor of the department had the function of “reducing the nomadic tribes that roam the coast to settlements” and “ordering that they be evangelized and educated in Spanish to force them to renounce their jungle customs,” explains Territorio Indigena y Governanza. Indigenous “curators” and “guards” whose job it was to protect and educate them were appointed as state officials.
This law was repealed in 1876, with the proclamation of the Liberal Reform, when the guards were replaced by “guardian governors.” From then on, the State undertook the exploitation of the Mosquitía’s natural resources through concessions to individuals and the sale of land to foreigners who established banana, livestock and logging companies, which until the early 1970s exploited the mahogany forests and pine, banana, and rubber.
Between 1972 and 1975, a period of alliance between the military and the companies began, and the new Government marked a milestone in policies related to indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants by enacting the Agrarian Reform Law and the Forest Nationalization Law (which expropriated forests from indigenous communities), and create the Honduran Forestry Development Corporation (COHDEFOR), linked to the ownership of land and forests, and the commercialization of their natural resources.
The 1982 Honduran Constitution declared the indigenous “cultural and historical heritage of the Honduran nation,” and indicated the duty of the State to protect their rights, especially those related to their lands and forests. But that recognition did not translate into laws or programs. On the contrary, the communal status of ancestral lands was invalidated through an Agrarian Law that allowed the entry of third parties. Until 1997, COHDEFOR had full title to more than 800,000 hectares of the Mosquitía territory.
In response, during the 1980s a strong Indigenous Movement was created. The Black Honduran Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH in 1981), the Federación De Tribus Xicaques De Yoro (FETRIXY in 1986), the Unidad de la Mosquitia (MASTA in 1987), the Tawahka Indigenous Federation of Honduras (FITH in 1988), the Federation of PECH Indigenous Tribes of Honduras (FETRIPH in 1988), and the Lenca National Indigenous Organization of Honduras (ONILH in 1989). In 1994, the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (CONPAH) was created, which integrates indigenous and Afro-descendant organizations.
The Chorti, Lenca and Tolupán advanced in the recognition and legalization of their lands in the central and western area of the country. The National Agrarian Institute (INA) granted titles in the highlands, but not in the Moskitia where the Miskitu, Pech, Tawahka and Garífuna live, and where conflicts are multiplying due to the expansion of the agricultural and livestock frontier.
Between 1994 and 1998, indigenous organizations mobilized to the capital, Tegucigalpa. In 2011, members of the Chorti people took over the Copán Archaeological Park, the most important of its cultural centers, demanding that they be given their land titles. And it is that today, the Government continues declaring national reserves in the indigenous territories; the landowners (mainly the military and agrarian entrepreneurs) continue to seize the Garifuna lands; and indigenous organizations continue to demand the titling of their territories.
Indigenous Organizations in Honduras
Confederación de Pueblos Autóctonos de Honduras (CONPAH)
The organization created in 1992, integrates all the Indigenous and Black Peoples of Honduras (Fith, Onilh, Fetriph (Pech), Fetrixy (Xicaque), Nabipla (Criollos), Masta (Miskitos), Finah (Nahuas), Ofraneh (Garinagu), Conimchh (Chortis), Copin (Lenca). They coordinate and manage demands for their rights before the State, and seek to open spaces for participation by Indigenous Peoples. CONPAH is part of the Indigenous Council of Central America (CICA).
Organización Nacional Indígena Lenca de Honduras (ONILH)
The Organization of the Lenca People was created in July 1989 to implement the constitutional provision contained in Article 346 of the constitution on the protection of the rights and interests of indigenous communities, especially their lands and forests.
Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña (OFRANEH)
The Garífuna Organization that began as a Honduran Garífuna Society (SOGAÑAH) in the 1960s and later in 1981 became OFRANEH is organized through a General Assembly, General Coordination, Executive Committee and specific work teams in project management, legal and cultural affairs, women and children, health, education, spirituality, international relations, political affairs, land and territory, youth, and the elderly. It is the oldest federation of the Garífuna People, and of the Indigenous and Black Peoples of Honduras.
Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH)
The Agrupación del Pueblo Lenca was created in 1992 to represent the struggle of all the Indigenous and Black Peoples of Honduras. It works with indigenous councils and council of elders at the local level (municipal or departmental), and maintains contact with national bodies. They have a radio program called “Ecos de Opalaca,” broadcast by Radio Esperanza from the Department of Intibucá. COPINH has 200,000 indigenous Lenca members from the departments of Comayagua, Intibucá, Lempira and La Paz. The main office is located in Barrio Las Delicias, Intibucá city.
Federación De Tribus Xicaques De Yoro (FETRIXY)
The Organization of the Tolupan People was created in 1985 with the support of Catholic Priests of the Jesuit Order, and originally known as the Federation of Indigenous Tribes of Yoro (FENATRILY). Its activity has an emphasis on the recovery of territories. It currently has 18,000 members from 30 tribes in the departments of Yoro and Francisco Morazán. The main office is located in the Cabañas neighborhood, Avenida 25 de Julio, in the city of Yoro.
Federación Indígena Tawahka De Honduras (FITH).
The Organization of the Tawahka People was created in 1987, and based in Tegucigalpa. They work on the delimitation and defense of the Tawahka Asangni Biosphere and the titling of community lands; protection and sustainable use of natural resources; promotion of bilingual education; development of agriculture and infrastructure. In 1988 the Asang-Launa Association (AASLA) was created in support of the FITH as a technical body. The FITH and AASLA office is located in Barrio La Concepción, 12th street, between 5th and 6th avenues.
Consejo Nacional Indígena Maya Chorti (CONIMCH)
The Organization of the Maya Chortí People was created in 1998. It represents 10,600 indigenous people in 52 communities in the departments of Copan and Ocotepeque. It has its main office in Colonia Las Vegas, in the city of Copán Ruinas, department of Copán.
Indigenous Federation Nauhas from Honduras (FINAH)
Since 1995, FINAH has been dedicated to the Promotion of the rights of the land and community development. The organization represents 19,800 members distributed in 18 communities in the municipalities of Catacamas, Guata and Jano in the department of Olancho. The main office is in Barrio Nueva Esperanza, Bulevar “Las Acacias” in Catacamas, Olancho.
Mosquitia Asla Takanka (MASTA) – Unidad de la Mosquitia
It was created in 1987 as an association of students from the Gracias a Dios department, but although it groups mestizos, indigenous people and blacks, it focuses its work on the demands of the indigenous and black movement in the country. It is made up of congresses of Miskito teachers and has its main office in Barrio El Centro, in the city of Puerto Lempira.
Federación de Tribus Indígenas PECH de Honduras (FETRIPH)
Created in 1988, and made up of representatives of tribal councils and with the support of the National Pedagogical University (UPNFM) and the Council for Indigenous Promotion of Honduras (COPIH), the federation represents 3,800 Pech in 10 tribes in the departments of Olancho, Colón and Gracias a Dios.
Honduras has various NGOs that defend the rights of the Indigenous Peoples in the country.
Among them, Redhonduras.com lists the following:
1.- Mosquitia Pawisa Apiska
An NGO that since 1985 is dedicated to Environmental Conservation; ecotourism; Health; sustainable agriculture and agroforestry; bilingual education; credit and microenterprise; advocacy for land rights and conservation. Its mission is to facilitate the participation of La Mosquitia in its own “integral development” economically, socially, spiritually and ecologically. It is defined as a non-profit, non-political, non-sectarian civil association dedicated to the mission of integral human development and nature conservation with a Christian commitment.
Its target population is represented by the Miskitos, Tawahkas, Pech, Garífunas and Ladinos of the region. The main headquarters are in Puerto Lempira and operation centers are located in Krausirpi, Wampusirpi, Ahuas, Las Marías, Cocobila and Limonal. Their focus is the Honduran Mosquitia.
2.- Comité Pro-desarrollo integral de la Mosquitia Hundureña (COPRODEIMH)
An NGO that since 1988 responds to the demands of the Miskito people by generating agricultural and maritime projects. It has a target population of approximately 35,000 inhabitants of the aforementioned region, including the Garífunas, Misquitos, Pech and Tawahka.
3.- MOBANAT – Unidad de Nativos de la Región Misquita
Originally organized to help victims of Hurricane Mitch; focused on prevention and education on drug use; regional development; and advocates for the rights of the Miskito. They carry out an agriculture and environment projects.
4.- Consejo Asesor Hondureño para el Desarrollo de las Etnias Autóctonas (CADHEA)
An NGO created in 1986 as the Honduran Indigenous Promotion Committee, which since 1987 bears its current name. It is made up of a General Assembly in which representatives of indigenous peoples and two non-indigenous technicians participate.
5.- Organización de Desarrollo Etnico Comunitario (ODECO)
A Garífuna Organization that since 1992 leads development projects; land rights; political advocacy; congresses and cultural activities.
It is based in the port city of La Ceiba, Department of Atlántida, and made up of technicians of Garífuna origin. Its general objective is to promote the integral development of Afro-Caribbean communities, through health and basic sanitation programs.
Barrio la Isla, 2da. Calle. La Ceiba, Honduras.
Apartado postal 538
Phone: (504) 2443-3651 Fax (504) 2443-4642
6.- Fundación Hondureña por la Defensa de la Cultura Garífuna (FUHDECGAR)
Private, non-profit development organization with institutional capacity, founded in 1998, by a group of professional men and women (musicians, artists, scientists, lawyers and experts in cultural development and promotion); to achieve the full recognition of the Garífuna culture as an integral part of Honduras’national identity; the promotion and dissemination of their cultural values as well as achieving the social, cultural, economic and political development of the Garífuna communities and peoples.
7.- Centro para el Desarrollo Comunal (CEDECO)
A Garífuna NGO whose mission is to contribute to the economic, social and cultural development of indigenous peoples, blacks and people with limited resources, through the identification, formulation, and execution of projects of production, research, infrastructure, education, training, environment, health, culture, protection, control of natural resources; as well as to contribute to the institutional strengthening of trade unions and private non-profit organizations.
8.- Enlace de Mujeres Negras de Honduras (ENMUNEH)
An NGO created in 1994 whose mission is to organize, train and empower Garìfuna women, with a gender focus, so that they can contribute to their personal development that results in the further development of families, communities and therefore the country.
9.- Mujeres Garífunas en Marcha (MUGAMA)
A Foundation started in New York, in 1989, by three Garífuna women for the recognition of the women of this indigenous people, their problems in the United States as migrants, and in their territories of origin in Honduras.
Indigenous people around the world face a myriad of threats. In Honduras, members of these communities have joined together to ensure resources reach all indigenous communities. Many households are headed by women or grandmothers, and some neighborhoods lack electricity, internet access and running water. Food insecurity is common, and access to health services is difficult.
All of these vulnerabilities have been exacerbated due to the pandemic. Major sources of income – including remittances, tourism and small businesses – have stalled. The communities are also proving to be resilient and continue organizing to protect their land rights.
“This land is everything to us. We live from it, we draw our spiritual beliefs from it. We have no choice but to keep doing what we can to protect it. A community without its land cannot survive,” Faluma Bimetu community radio station for the Garifuna, director, Cesar Benedict.
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Soledad Quartucci | Latina Republic
Dr. Soledad Quartucci is the founder and CEO of Latina Republic, a 501(C)3 California-based nonprofit organization. Latina Republic is a reporting, research, advocacy and charitable organization advancing human rights in the Americas. We fill the void in coverage of urgent social, political, human rights, economic and gender inequalities affecting the Americas. Through our allies in Latin America, we highlight contributions, heritage, history, leadership and innovation. Latina Republic reports on stories that integrate local strategies to the betterment of the region. We make space for and empower unheard voices and celebrate the rich histories of Latin America.