February 26, 2019
In 1998, AJS-Honduras was founded by a group of Honduran and North American friends dedicated to doing justice in Honduras. Since the beginning, we have focused our justice work on Honduran communities that are often overlooked.
In the 1990s, one of those communities was Vallecito (also known as Ruguma). Ruguma is a historic Garifuna community, home to some 169 families of the Afro-indigenous group that has dwelt, fished, and planted on Honduras’ northern coast for over two centuries. Thanks to an international agreement regarding indigenous people’s rights, the Ruguma community owned a full title for 150 acres of land, on which they planted rice, plantains, and yams.
Their land title seemed meaningless when, in 1995, armed men from a business invaded a quarter of Ruguma’s land, burning homes and bulldozing $13,000 worth of crops. The business belonged to one of the richest men in Honduras, who also happened to be the uncle of the president at the time. The people of Ruguma immediately protested this injustice but were met with violence and criminal charges, putting the community’s future in danger.
One of our staff members reported at the time that, “it appeared justice was up for sale to the highest bidder.”
Soon afterward, Ruguma asked for AJS’s help to resolve the border dispute. We made the 12-hour drive to the community, bringing national attention to the injustice. We also provided technical equipment and support in GPS mapping Ruguma’s land. With an official map, Ruguma could prove their claim to their ancestral land.
When in 2002, Ruguma received an government-approved copy of their map, revealing they were entitled to more land than even they had thought!
Today, Ruguma continues to be a site of resistance to protect the livelihood and lands of Garifuna people. Inspired by our early casework with communities like Ruguma, AJS has continually worked to reform the Property Institute, the government institution responsible for titling land. Last year, an AJS investigation reported that the Property Institute’s performance had increased by 61% in four years. This is good news for all of Honduras, and for the future of resilient black and indigenous communities like Ruguma.