The Cayos Cochinos, a gleaming archipelago of cays off the Honduran coast, are a microcosm of Central American economic violence. They’re an Eden for tourists, a goldmine for big business, and a hellscape for Garifuna islanders struggling to survive in the face of an absent state that only appears in their lives to deal in blunt force.
El Faro has released a three-part multimedia special on the Garifuna struggle against land theft, criminalization, and enforced disappearances in the fishing village of Nueva Armenia and the sister island Cayo Chachahuate, 10 miles off the Honduran coast.
The Garifuna nation spans 65 peoples of mixed African and Carib-Arawak descent on the Caribbean coasts of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, as well as displaced communities in places like New York. They arrived in Central America at the end of the 18th century after their expulsion from the Caribbean island St. Vincent.
At the behest of a tourism conglomerate and a European TV spinoff of Survivor, authorities in the Cayos Cochinos have barred the Garifuna from fishing in their ancestral waters.
“In February 2019, a battle broke out,” writes Carlos Martínez. “Residents of Nueva Armenia set sail for war in a fleet of dugout canoes and small wooden fishing boats with outboard motors. They brought with them an arsenal of drums and sacred sahumerio incense, and set out to fight for land they claimed was rightfully theirs.
“They stormed Cayo Palomo before the Coast Guard could stop them, drumming the ancient rhythms of their warrior ancestors. Then the Italians came out to dance.”
The Italians may have been jovial, but Honduran authorities are not. Far from it.
As Jesús Flores, 63, was fishing near the Cayos Cochinos in 2001, a soldier shot him in the arm. “I still remember the sound of the bullet striking the wood of my canoe. Then I felt heat and saw blood spilling out,” he told El Faro. His fingers in one hand never worked again, and those responsible were never arrested.
Grab a coffee and read the long-form feature here.
See Flores’ and others’ visual testimonies in a photo gallery by Carlos Barrera.
This violence isn’t the only uncomfortable truth withheld from tourist brochures.
Unbeknownst to most visitors, the only cay entirely inhabited by Garifuna islanders, Cayo Chachahuate, is a shanty town where residents live in dire need, while treated as a stumbling block for development.
“For generations, residents have stayed on their island at all costs,” says Marlén Viñayo in a documentary short film. On top of it all, rising tides are slowly swallowing the homes on the cay, Viñayo concludes. “Now climate change has forced them to face even the sea.”