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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Black Honduras Hurt by Zelaya's Ouster

Surrounded by hundreds of protesters shouting for the return of ousted President Manuel "Mel" Zelaya were a dozen black Hondurans swaying to the rhythm of their own drums and singing in their local Garifuna language.

They weren't there to support the populist president — ousted more than three weeks ago — but to defend one of his most controversial ideas: revising the constitution.

"We have no political visibility in this country and that makes us extremely vulnerable," said Alfredo Lopez, 56, a community activist and one of about 400,000 ethnic Garifunas in Honduras. "The constitutional assembly would have given us a chance to change that."

Zelaya was toppled June 28 as he aggressively and, some argue, illegally pursued a national referendum to redraft the constitution. With just six months left in his term, his enemies feared he was bent on abolishing presidential term limits to remain in power.

But for many Garifunas, the constitutional assembly held the promise of winning long-sought rights, such as proportional representation and legal title to communal and ancestral land.

"We have been in a continuous struggle for decades to have a voice, to be visible, to have representation," said Celeo Alvarez Casildo, president of the Organization for the Development of Ethnic Communities. "It's not that we supported Zelaya — and much less the events that led to his ouster — but we have our own very good reasons for wanting a constitutional assembly.''

link: Who had hope under Zelaya? Neglected black Hondurans | McClatchy


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