Features — 18 November 2017 — by Joseph Guerrero
The state of Garifuna  in Belize

The state of Garifuna in Belize is very dire. The current leadership of Garinagu in Belize is lost and do not know where to go or how to get there. Many including the leadership will read that previous statement and respond the way Garinagu do when they are criticized, that is, they say you don’t like them thus the criticism. If one looks closer one may see love and not dislike in pointing out our weaknesses.

The National Garifuna Council is the NGO of choice for GOB regarding Garifuna matters. Thus, the GOB should seek their advice on all matters concerning Garifuna. They even solidified this relationship in a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU)with one of the stipulations stating the GOB will do just that, seek their advice on matters Garifuna in so many words. The MOU also says the Government recognizes the National Garifuna Council as the LEGAL REPRESENTATIVE of the Garifuna people. In short, they have done nothing worthy of that power granted them by the Government of Belize.

The Garinagu in Belize basically through leadership then have decide to completely ignore the same rights the Maya have to their land collectively. Yet that is the only way the Garifuna culture will perpetuate. That is, if Garinagu have the right to control their land through land rights granted in the ILO Convention 169. The peculiar thing about this convention is it gives power to us collectively due to our indigenous status. Our indigenous status is determined by our land use and our cultural practices in Belize BEFORE there was colonialism. We were in Belize long before Belize became a Crown Colony in the 1860’s. We had been in Belize at least by 1799 though it is suspected it was 1797.

During the late 18th century and forward in early Belize, Garinagu forged relationships with almost all sides, the Spanish in Honduras and other places such as Guatemala and Nicaragua, The British in Belize and territories in the said nations and the French Haitians who had found their way to Central America. Also, the Zambo Miskito and Garinagu were allies in that they both knew the seas well. Garifuna soon became the producers of fresh produce to the young northern territory of the British today known as Orange Walk, Corozal and Belize City. There were no handouts, we were self-sufficient and helped the fledgling colony. We were vibrant traders the moment we set foot in Central America. It is the lifestyle we brought from Yurumein that we sustained throughout all this time that the UNESCO Proclamation highlighted for conservation our very culture.

When colonization came to what is today Southern Belize, the British system was imposed upon what was once an independent territory occupied by Garinagu and by Zambo Miskito, whose last three kings it seems were crowned in Belize. Garinagu territory once owned by them was now being administered by the governing bodies and our own traditional ways from that point began and continue their long slow decline. At first due to imposition of the British systems and currently facilitated mostly by leaders who still do not understand the systems, but they refuse to learn or to step aside in favor of those who can lead more effectively. The continued loss of Garifuna traditional systems, direction and purpose will continue to be our downfall. With our leaders clueless about what to do and even worse they refuse to look to their own people and refuse to include their own people in finding resolutions, we truly are in a dire state. The state of Garifuna in Belize is dire.

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