English language news sources reported this week that five Miskito federations received collective land titles through the Instituto Nacional Agrario.
The titles cover 970,000 hectares (approx. 1.6 million acres) of land in the eastern part of Honduras, along the Caribbean coast and the border with Nicaragua. This constitutes almost 7% of the land area of Honduras. The latest land titles add to titles for other lands allocated in 2012 and May, 2013.
The recipients of these titles are territorial councils. Twelve Miskito and Pech Federations are organized in territorial councils:
Rayaka - located in Belen,
Finzmos - Morocon - Segovia
Katainasta - Laguna Caratasca
Auhya Yari - Puerto Lempira
Lainasta - Laka
Wamakliscinasta - Auka
Watiasta - Eastern Mosquitia, along the Caribbean coast adjacent to Nicaragua
Bamiasta - Ahuas, Rio Patuca, Biosfera Río Plátano
Bakinasta - Wampusirpi, Río Patuca, Reserva TawakaAsagni
Batiasta - Barra Patuca
Truksinasta - Tipi
(Map taken from page 16 of this source.)
Honduras acquired title to the land that has now been titled from Great Britain through the Cruz-Wyke treaty of 1859. This treaty ceded British control of the Bay Islands of Utila, Guanaja, Roatan, Morat, Elena, and Barbarete to Honduras. It required Honduras to recognize existing land titles on those islands, and for Honduras to observe freedom of religion and worship for their residents.
Article II of the treaty recognized ownership by Honduras of the land occupied by the Miskito, except for land that might be claimed by the government of Nicaragua. Otherwise, the treaty was non-specific about the boundaries involved.
Article III of the treaty is what underlies the new land titles. It reads:
The Misquito Indians in the district recognized by Article II of this Treaty as belonging to and under the sovereignty of the Republic of Honduras shall be at liberty to remove, with their property, from the territory of the Republic, and to proceed withersoever they may desire; and such of the Mosquito Indians who remain within the said district shall not be disturbed in the possession on any lands or other property which they may hold or occupy, and shall enjoy, as natives of the Republic of Honduras, all rights and privileges enjoyed generally by the natives of the Republic.
Article III went on to called for an annual fund to be established for educating the Miskito over a ten year period, the fund to be guaranteed by income from the logging rights to any state-owned land in the Bay Islands and Miskito territory. That means the Treaty recognized that not all the land in the ceded territory was privately held.
Only some of the present-day territorial councils have received title to the lands they occupy, as prescribed by the treaty. On August 30, 2012, the council of Katainaska received title to the lands around Laguna Caratasca, where the US is building a military base for the Honduran Navy.
In May, 2013, the council of Auhya Yari received title to lands around Puerto Lempira.
Five councils received land grants together totaling 970,000 hectares in the latest phase of complying with the treaty. The council of Finzamos (26 communities, 1340 families) received title to lands around Morocon - Segovia. The council of Truksinasta (26 communities, 840 families) received title to lands round Tipi. The council of Wamakliscinasta (19 communities, 790 families) received title to lands around Auka. The council of Lainasta (39 communities, 1800 families) received title to lands around Laka. The council of Waitasta (18 communities, 1200 families) received title to lands along Honduras's eastern border with Nicaragua.
These titles are corporate, indivisible, and non-transferable.
Sounds great, right?
The Consejo Coordinador de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH) suggests, through its spokesperson, Bertha Caceres, that the Lobo Sosa government has an ulterior motive in granting these land titles at this particular time. She said:
"What a coincidence. They authorize land titles just as they are to begin asking the Misquito people to approve oil and gas exploration by the English company British Gas Group."
In May this year, at the same time as the second set of Miskito land titles were being issued, the Lobo Sosa government announced it had granted British Gas Group a license to explore for off-shore oil and gas all along the coast of Honduras, from Tela east to Nicaragua.
Honduras has had at least one test well yield oil in the sea off the Moskito lands, and the area around Tela contains suspected gas reserves.
The grant to British Gas Group will bring in a substantial sum for the government, whether or not the company finds gas or oil. However, to get their environmental license, they must get the consent of the Miskito peoples, through a series of public meetings that are just about to take place.
So maybe the timing on these land titles is coincidental. Or maybe it is meant to influence local attitude toward the environmental license for British Gas Group, in the hope of avoiding the kind of conflict that is happening everywhere else the Lobo Sosa government has authorized exploitation of natural resources near indigenous communities.
Either way, titling this land is long over due, a treaty right, not a gesture the government should be credited with taking out of the goodness of its heart.