The indigenous Garifuna communities living on the northeastern coasts of Honduras are threatened by eviction, displacement, intimidation and criminal violence due to the high rates of expansion of oil palm plantations. Violence is scaling up in the region as numerous gangs associated to organized crime serve the economic interests of palm oil businessmen and drug smugglers. Vallecito has recently turned into a main target for palm oil and drug trade interests, directly affecting the Garifuna communities living there, that are now struggling for their land and the survival of their people.
The conflict dates back to the agrarian reform laws in 1970s, but has deepened along with the certification process started in the early 90s, along with the agrarian counter-reform promoted by the neoliberal government of Rafael Callejas, and has eventually intensified after the coup d’état in 2009.
One of the biggest players in the region is Miguel Facussé – owner of Dinant Corporation, formerly engaged in a conflict with the peasants of the Bajo Aguán valley – accused of having fraudulently taken control over about 15 km of the ancestral lands between Limón and Vallecito, belonging to the Garifuna community of Limón, within the Colón department. Today his African palm plantations completely surrounds Vallecito.
Moreover, since 2005 people associated with organized crime have intensified their presence, imposing a reign of terror in the corridor of Limón - Punta Piedras, trying to force Garifuna communities located in Vallecito to leave their land. They took control over Vallecito territory, building a clandestine airstrip for drug smuggling that had been used for years, without any governmental intervention.
The increasing level of conflict has brought, on July 2014, to the capture and kidnapping of several members of the Garífuna community – including human rights defender and OFRANEH president Miriam Miranda – by heavily-armed men in Vallecito. During a previous visit to the area, they discovered that the illegal runway used by the narcos, which had been destroyed by the army in January 2014, was being rebuilt.