Sun, sand and broken promises

Image of Beach in Honduras

Tourists enjoying the brilliant sun and sand of Tela Bay or other beaches in northern Honduras may be oblivious to an ugly underside of resort development in the region.

Local hotels are supposed to offer employment to the local Garifuna community, an Afro-indigenous group long present in the area. Instead, the Garifuna are being dispossessed of their land and dismissed from tourism jobs in favour of the country’s dominant Mestizos.

“On the racial hierarchy, indigenous and Afro-descendant populations are at the bottom,” says UTSC’s Sharlene Mollett, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Geography and the Centre for Critical Development Studies. “They’re seen as backward, primitive and hard to work with—all the typical racialized discourses. So the promises of employment and poverty reduction go unfulfilled. The local developers hire them for a month, then fire them and ship in Mestizos.”

Mollet says the Garifuna are also being denied their traditional land rights, as more hotels and luxury residential units go up in the resort centre of Tela Bay on the Caribbean coast.

Ironically, the Garifuna presence is essential to Honduran tourism marketing, says Mollett. “Black bodies on the coast make it look ‘authentically’ Caribbean to attract foreign tourists. They sell the Garifuna as part of these landscapes. But the Garifuna rarely get to work there.”

Mollett, who specializes in Central America, explores the issue in a paper titled “A Modern Paradise: Garifuna Land, Labor, and Displacement-in-Place,” recently published in the peer-reviewed journal Latin American Perspectives.