Updated: Wednesday, 21 May 2014 06:50 | By Agence France-Presse

Honduran Garifuna seek court help to recover land

Honduras' Garifuna people on Tuesday asked an international court to help them recover ancestral land, which they say has been lost to development and is threatening their culture.

Honduran Garifuna seek court help to recover land

Garifuna children at the beach in El Triunfo de la Cruz, over the Caribbean Sea, 300 km north of Tegucigalpa, on February 10, 2014 - by Orlando Sierra

The town of Triunfo de la Cruz on the Caribbean coast brought its suit to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

The Afro-Honduran community, like other Garifuna along the coasts of Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, has its own language and way of life focused on fishing and farming.

Angel Castro Martinez, a 72-year-old community leader, told the court the loss of ancestral lands meant people at times could not even visit their cemeteries and was forcing those with no land to leave. 

"We have seen all the young people leave to find work. They go to the United States or Panama, and when they come back, they have lost their culture, they don't speak our language any more. They become more individualistic," he said. 

The lawsuit says that of 2,800 hectares (7,000 acres) of ancestral lands, only 240 hectares remain.

In the next town of Tela, hotels and a golf course have been built, resulting in more loss of land, Castro Martinez said.

His neighbor, Eugenia Flores, 31, spoke in Garifuna through an interpreter, saying tearfully "our culture has been crushed, our way of life. If it keeps up like this, we will lose everything." 

An estimated 400,000 Garifuna people live in Honduras alone. They are descended from west Africans who intermarried with indigenous Arawaks and Caribs, and their language mixes elements from all of them.

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