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British and Honduran Land Grab of Garifuna (Black Caribs) Lands

The history of the Garífuna people has long been tied to land. When the British pushed out the French settlers from St. Vincent and sought possession of the island, they encountered fierce resistance from the Garifuna (Black Caribs). The conflict erupted into a 30 yearlong war, from 1764 until 1795, the Garifuna/Callinago nation fought the British Colonizers. The land grab issue was central to the popular native resistance to British colonization of the island of St Vincent. More recently, the Inter- American Court of Human Rights entered a judgement against the government of Honduras, in the Land Grab cases of the Garifuna Community of Punta Piedra and the Garifuna Community of Triunfo de la Cruz.

Merriam Dictionary defines Land Grab a usually swift acquisition of property (such as land or patent rights) often by fraud or force.[1] Imagine waking up one day to be told you’re about to be evicted from your home being told that you no longer have the right to remain on land that you’ve lived on for years. And then, if you refuse to leave, being forcibly removed.[2] For the Garifunas, this is a familiar story, the British forcibly deprived the Garifuna (Black Caribs) and the Callinago (Yellow Caribs) people of their land in St Vincent and the Grenadines and profited directly from such forcible and illegal, appropriation of land.

The term “land grabs” was defined in the Tirana Declaration (2011) by the International Land Coalition, consisting of 116 organizations from community groups to the World Bank.

The British acquired St. Vincent and the Grenadines as a territory in 1763 after the end of “the Seven Years’ War” with France, at the Treaty of Paris. One of the first acts of the British colonizers in 1764 was to declare that all land in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (the country was called St. Vincent prior to independence in 1979) belonged to the British Crown. In one stroke they deprived the Garifuna (Black Caribs) and the Callinago people of all their land, which was held in communal land titles.

As soon as the Treaty had been signed, a commission, under the chairmanship of Sir William Young, was sent out to survey, subdivide and sell the land. English settlers began pouring in from North America, Antigua and Barbados. The attitude of these settlers was quite different from that of the French. They had no interest in St. Vincent as such. It was simply a place where they sought to amass wealth in the short possible time and then return to England to enjoy it. The way to do this was to obtain a large tract of land and grow sugar cane on it using an army of slaves. [5]

The change was not only one in the system of tenure. It was also a psychological one. The English had deluded themselves into believing they had a legal right to the place. Sir William Young tried to convince his readers that the mere fact that the The Garifuna (Black Caribs) did not cultivate all the land was sufficient to give the English a good title to it. Apparently, The Garifuna (Black Caribs) system of tenure was a communal one. Each family or more accurately clan of Caribs had its own territory. The boundaries of a particular territory were delineated by the islands numerous rivers.

Apart from the conviction that the land was theirs, the get quick attitude generated so much greed among the English that there was little question of live and let live. The rapacity of the English and the determination of the Garifuna (Black Caribs) to hold on to their section of the island were incompatible, as one or two of the more perceptive English settlers realized. It was not possible for the Garifuna (Black Caribs) and the English to live in St Vincent at one and the same time. One or the other would have to be removed.

The incompatibility of the desires of the Garifuna (Black Caribs), on the one hand, and those of the English settlers, on the other, were not immediately obvious to all. It was not until some 30 years after the Commissioners had begun to subdivide the island that the issue was finally resolved.

The Garifuna (Black Caribs), though the Treaty of Paris had made no mention of them, the English Government had specifically instructed the Commissioners “not to bother them in their possessions nor to attempt any survey of their country without previous and express orders from home». Both the Commissioners and the settlers sought to get around this injunction.

The Commissioners first tried to get the Garifuna (Black Caribs) to become subjects of the English King and to confine their activities to the lands they had cleared. The rest of the land was to be handed over to the Commissioners for sale. Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer is reported to have asked Commission Chairman Young what king he was talking about. When this maneuver failed, they tried to persuade the Garifuna (Black Caribs) to evacuate St. Vincent and go to Bequia.

The Commissioners then tried to deal with the Garifuna (Black Caribs) through Abbe Valladores, who was one of the missionaries the Garifuna (Black Caribs) had appointed as one of their agents to negotiate with the English. They soon discovered that he had been thoroughly brainwashed by the settlers and that their confidence in him had been misplaced. He was slated for assassination but fortuitously escaped. The Garifuna (Black Caribs) considered the subversion of their own agent, Valladores, to be the last straw. They started to take reprisals for trespass on their territory by destroying houses and plantations which had been built on their land. This was, of course, contrary to the instructions of the Commissioners appointed by His Majesty’s Government.

The British viewed the Garifuna (Black Caribs) as “African Colonists” or Maroons and not as Indigenous. The Garifuna (Black Caribs) viewed themselves as indigenous to the island and part of the overall Carib nation. The shipwreck story, which placed their history outside the prison of the plantation, was an important bolster to that identity. Eventually, the British forcibly deprived the Garifuna (Black Caribs) and the Callinago (Yellow Caribs) people of their land and profited directly from such forcible and illegal, appropriation of land.

From 1764 until 1795, the Garifuna/Callinago nation fought the British Colonizers. The land issue was central to the popular native resistance to British colonization. Bit-by-bit, chunk-by-chunk, the British took the lands of the Garifuna (Black Caribs) on one pretext after another. The British finally defeated the Garifuna (Black Caribs) /Calllinago people in 1795 and in subsequent skirmishes. On March 14, 1795, a British ambush and massacre of the Garifuna (Black Caribs) patriots resulted in the death of the Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer, leader of the Garifuna (Black Caribs) people.

By 1800, the Garifuna (Black Caribs)/Callinago people were practically quarantined on an allocated parcel of 238 acres of land in an inaccessible area of the north east of St. Vincent. Thus, between 1763 and 1800, a mere 37 years, the Garifuna (Black Caribs)/Callinago people lost the remainder of their 85,120 acres of land on St. Vincent and the 10,880 acres in the Grenadines.

More recently, on October 8, 2015, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a judgement against the Republic of Honduras in the cases of the Garifuna Community of Punta Piedra and its members and the Garifuna Community of Triunfo de la Cruz and its members, declaring the international responsibility of the State in both cases, for the violation of the right to collective property protected in Article 21 of the American Convention on Rights, in relation to Articles 1.1 and 2 thereof: i) in the case of the Garifuna Community of Punta Piedra for not guaranteeing the use and enjoyment of its territory; ii) in the case of Triunfo de la Cruz for not having titled, delimited and demarcated the territories that were recognized as their ancestral lands, and iii) in both cases, for not having guaranteed the right to prior consultation for the respective communities. It also declared for both cases the violation of the rights to judicial guarantees and judicial protection, protected in Articles 8 (1) and 25 of the Convention.

In order to achieve full reparation for the accredited violations, the Court ordered the restitution measures set forth in operative paragraphs six and seven. The restitution measures constitute the main reparation of the violations found in the Judgment: that the State demarcate the lands on which collective property title has been granted to the Garifuna Community of Triunfo de la Cruz and grant a duly delimited and demarcated collective property title over the area called «Lot A1».

The history of the Garifuna people has long been tied to land. The British land grab, led to the forcible and illegal, appropriation of the Garifuna (Black Caribs) and the Callinago (Yellow Caribs) people’s land in St Vincent and the Grenadines, to the genocide against our ancestors and the forcible deportation of the Garifuna (Black Caribs) from St Vincent and the Grenadines, a Crime Against Humanity! In the case of Honduras, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a judgement against the Republic of Honduras, for the violation of the Garifunas right to collective property, Never Forget the British Genocide Against the Garifuna (Black Caribs)!

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