“Health care is a human right, not something to be bought and sold. It's not just about flesh and bone, but about well-being, with all the social, psychological and cultural elements that entails,” explains Dr. Luther Castillo, founder of the first Garífuna hospital, which is located in a small Garífuna town on Honduras's north coast called Ciriboya. Since the founding of the hospital, which is the first Garífuna hospital in the world, over 400,000 patients have been seen completely free of charge. The hospital prides itself on the fact that it provides care to the poorest of the poor without charging anything for medicines or diagnostic testing. Based in a vision of a world where the human right to health care is respected, protected and fulfilled, the hospital does not accept money from any of its patients. The goal, explains Dr. Castillo, is to help develop a consciousness of health care as a human right as part of the ongoing work of the resistance to envision an alternative to the current reality of good care for the rich and poor or no care for the rest.
Dr. Castillo, is a leader within the Garífuna community, a graduate of the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) in Cuba, a spokesperson for the National Front of Popular Resistance, and is currently coordinating the over 700 ELAM alumni who are in Haiti responding to the medical needs of the Haitian population at 28 sites around Haiti. He has been able to bring Cuban doctors to help staff the hospital, leverage medicine donations from around the world, generate tremendous popular support for and consciousness of the hospital and the vision it represents and survive numerous threats from the coup-installed de facto government. After the coup, the military entered and briefly occupied the hospital under the pretense of searching for drugs. The intimidation, however, has neither stopped nor slowed the work of Dr. Castillo and the rest of the hospital team. They continue to see between 100 and 125 patients per day, in addition to frequent clinical visits to outlying communities.
One of the areas where the hospital hopes to set up a satellite clinic is a nearby land reclamation that helps grow food for the surrounding Garífuna community. The Garifuna people in Honduras live on the Atlantic coast on lands that by Honduran and international law should be protected as indigenous ancestral lands, but their communities and their land have long been in the sights of wealthy landowners and developers who want control of the extremely beautiful beach and coastal areas. On July 2 the delegation visited the Garifuna agricultural cooperatives in the Vallecito area of Colon. The cooperatives are on lands reclaimed by the Garifuna in 1995. There are 6 agricultural coops working the land growing a variety of crops including yucca, coconuts, bananas and other foods. The delegation visited one of the coops, Empresa Industrial Coco. That coop grows bananas and coconuts and has a coco processing plant on site. The members talked about their experiences and plans for their project as well as the threats to their lands.
Although the legal titles to the lands were granted to the Garífuna communities, the largest landowner in Honduras, Miguel Facusse, continues to try and force the Garifuna communities off the land with both violence and fraud. Coop members told us that since their recuperation of the lands, Facusse’s hired guns have assassinated coop members and tried to intimidate the communities into abandoning their claim to the land. He organized attempts to physically seize lands and even planted African palms on part of the land to try and claim it. African palm is a significant cash crop in Honduras because of its use as a biofuel and Facusse owns thousands of acres of African palms and a palm oil processing plant. The Garifuna are opposed to cultivation of the African palm in their lands because it displaces food crops and natural plants in the fragile coastal ecosystem.
In addition, a narco-trafficker recently invaded part of the coop lands and put up an illegal fence cutting the cooperatives off from the beach and ocean and claiming that he owns the land which he calls “Rancho Dorado.” In total 600 hectares of the titled 1,600 hectares have been seized illegally.
The Garífuna communities and organizations are fighting back. In April of this year they organized protests at the National Agrarian Institute (INA) against the illegal land invasions and the lack of action by INA. In response, the INA sent an investigation team to the region - the team was met by around 100 community members supporting the cooperatives. INA has agreed to send a team in August to re-establish the boundaries of the Garifuna lands. The communities are concerned that Facussé will attempt to block the process through political pressure as well as repression and intimidation and are asking for support.
The cooperative members and Garífuna organizations have plans to establish a health clinic and the first Garífuna University on the lands in the future.
All of the members both of the coops on the land reclamation and of the hospital are also active members of the Honduran resistance. Recognizing that achieving land rights and the human right to health care require profound structural changes, the Garífuna of Ciriboya and surrounding areas, like most of the Garífuna throughout Honduras have been active supporters of and leaders in the resistance and its push for a national constitutional assembly.