Tourism expansion, land grabbing and resistance in post-disaster contexts
Many studies have focused on the positive role of tourism following major disaster events. It is commonly believed that tourism has the potential to revitalise disaster-stricken communities and contribute positively to the recovery process (e.g., Ritchie, 2009; Marshall, 2015; Van Strien, 2018). Yet, in many cases, rapid and unfettered tourism development in the aftermath of a catastrophic event may allow rogue investors to prey on the plight of disaster-affected people and turn the disaster into an economic opportunity for their own benefit (Cohen, 2011; Neef et al., 2018; Neef and Grayman, 2018).
Klein (2007a) coined the term ‘disaster capitalism’ (cf. Box 5.1), making reference to the reshaping of the post-disaster landscape by private investors - often in conjunction with governments, donors and financial institutions - while masking their real economic agenda with a discourse of rehabilitation and ‘building back better’. Disaster capitalism - particularly when exercised by the tourism industry - has the potential to ignite a host of conflicts over post-disaster recovery processes and access to natural resources.
Box 5.1 Disaster capitalism
Schuller (2008, p. 20) defines ‘disaster capitalism’ as “[n]ational and transnational governmental institutions’ instrumental use of catastrophe ... to promote and empower a range of neoliberal capitalist interests.” It refers to the use of disasters and acute crises as opportunities for the private and public sectors to capitalise on temporary or permanent vulnerabilities and to push for policies and practices that are likely to be rejected in times of social and moral order (Klein, 2007b; Forgie, 2014; Schuller and Maldonado, 2016; Pyles, Svistova and Ahn, 2017).
One of the first reported cases of disaster capitalism occurred in the wake of Hurricane Mitch which lashed the Central American countries of Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua in October 1998 and killed more than 11,000 people. The first section of this chapter discusses how the Honduran government opened the country to foreign tourism investors in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.
Disaster capitalism reached another level following the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, which claimed the lives of more than 227,000 people in 14 countries and displaced around 2.5 million people throughout the region. Following this unprecedented disaster event, the Sri Lankan government imposed a no-building zone of 200 meters from the high-water mark in the eastern and northern parts of the island country, but exempted resorts from the buffer zone regulation (Klein, 2007b). This measure prevented about 30 per cent of the tsunami-affected population from returning to their land, while opening ample opportunities for investors in the tourism industry (Cohen, 2011). Governments in other tsunami-affected countries, such as Indonesia and India also declared arbitrary setback limits with no consideration of local topography and without consulting local governments and planning authorities, while exempting hotels from the ban on building directly at the shoreline (Mulligan and Shaw, 2007; Mowforth and Munt, 2016). This led to allegations that policy making had been captured by elite interests and that the true purpose of the setback limits was the relocation of poor fishing families and squatter communities from prime beach locations to make way for tourism development.
Thailand is another country that was heavily impacted by the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami and where disputes over coastlines ensued in the aftermath. A set of three case studies in this chapter discusses conflicts over access to land and other natural resources that affected Indigenous communities along the kingdom’s Andaman coast, facing the Indian Ocean. The third section in this chapter explores disaster capitalism following the 2010 earthquake in the Caribbean island nation Haiti, where tourism has been proposed as a key recovery strategy. The final case study examines a major corporate land grab that occurred following 2013 super typhoon Haiyan on Sicogon Island in the Philippines.
Post-disaster livelihood displacement among Garifuna communities, Honduras
In 1998, Hurricane Mitch brought utter devastation to several Central American countries. In Honduras, an estimated 7,000 people died, some 12,000 persons remained missing (presumed dead), and about two million people (more than one third of the small country’s population) were left homeless (Stonich, 2000). At the time of the catastrophic event, tourism in Honduras had already become one of the most vital and continuously growing sectors of the country’s economy. The sector was, at the time, concentrated around the Bay Islands and the cultural heritage site of Copan, which remained relatively unscathed from the disaster. In the midst of the recovery process, the Honduran government engaged a US-based public relations firm to develop a tourism campaign strategy together with the Honduran Institute of Tourism (Stonich, 2000). The strategy even included a brand of disaster tourism under the name ‘The Trujillo Project’, whereby US American tourists were lured with discounted airfares into vacationing on a tropical beach, with removal of debris, planting of trees and restoring of turtle nesting sites all part of the holiday package (Mowforth and Munt, 2016).
Only a few months after the disaster, the Honduran congress passed several laws to facilitate the privatisation of airports, seaports, highways and parts of the water sector (Klein, 2007b). Further extraordinary judicial measures opened up opportunities for the tourism sector, most importantly the reform of Article 107 of the Honduran Constitution to legalise the purchase of land and ownership of infrastructure by foreign investors on the Caribbean and Pacific coasts and the country’s islands (Stonich, 2000). Provisions under the 1999 Tourism Incentive Law waived the income tax over a period of 15 years for new tourism establishments and exempted them from paying taxes and any other duties on goods and equipment imports during their construction and start-up operations (Loperena, 2017).
Development of the tourism sector was explicitly prioritised in the Master Plan for National Reconstruction and Transformation (with its Spanish acronym PMRTN) published in 1999. ‘Ecotourism’ was presented as the most viable strategy of both boosting tourist numbers and preserving pristine nature in this poverty-stricken country. A military coup in 2009 caused a temporary decline of tourism numbers, but in 2011 the newly elected president announced in a high-profile international conference that 'Honduras is Open for Business’ and presented tourism as one of six key investment areas (Loperena, 2017). Major emphasis was now on large-scale tourism developments, and Tela Bay with its six Garifuna communities was selected as one of the focal sites. Back in 1998, the then Minister of Tourism had already identified the North Coast as a “tourist developer’s dream” with its “600 kilometers of uninhabited beach” (quoted in Mollett, 2014, p. 37). Conjuring up the tourism imaginary of an empty beachfront area waiting to be valorised by ‘ecotourism’ resort development is a prototypical example of the ‘idle land’ discourse described in Chapter 2. In addition to enclosure by ecotourism development, the declaration of both terrestrial and marine protected areas along the North Coast has contributed to limiting access of Garifuna communities to their customary subsistence farming areas and fishing grounds (Mollett, 2014; Loperena, 2016). These protected areas include the Cayos Cochinos Marine Protected Area and the Jeannette Kawas National Park (Brondo, 2013; Loperena, 2016). Miranda (2009) estimated that about 60 per cent of the Garifuna communities lived within the confines of protected areas.
Several tourist and real estate megaprojects have been planned within the buffer zones of Tela Bay’s Jeannette Kawas National Park since the early 2000s (Loperena, 2016). The financial infrastructure for tourism megaprojects in Honduras is composed of capital from national elites, foreign investors and loans from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration and the Inter-American Development Bank (Loperena, 2017). The World Bank also got involved through its ‘Honduran Poverty Reduction Strategy’, approved in 2001, which funded a four-year Sustainable Coastal Tourism Project that was aimed at improving environmental planning capacity and tourism destination management along the municipalities of the North Coast (Brondo, 2013). The Honduran state has played its part through enacting further pro-tourism legislation, implementing neoliberal economic policies, creating special economic development zones, and providing the state-security apparatus in the form of its police and military forces (Loperena, 2016). Through a special provision, the state has legalised foreign ownership in places like Tela Bay by declaring coastal land a ‘tourism priority’ and classifying such land as ‘urban’, thereby opening the real estate market to foreigners (Brondo, 2013; Mollett, 2014).
The liberalisation of the land market in combination with the expansion of protected areas has put enormous pressure on the Garifuna who fear the dismantlement of their ancestral, communally held territories (cf. Box 5.2). Despite being predominantly subsistence fishing and firming communities, the six Garifuna communities have been classified as ‘urban’ which exposed them to market forces (Mollett, 2014). Giving in to mounting pressure by the state and corporate investors, some Garifuna have sold parcels of communal land since the early 2000s out of fear of losing the land to the tourism sector without compensation (Thorne, 2004). Violent interventions by park rangers and naval officers - including the 2008 killing of a Garifuna fisherman accused of fishing illegally in a protected area — further instilled fear and anxiety among Garifuna communities which have been labelled as environmental threats due to their alleged refusal to abide by marine protection measures (Brondo, 2013; Loperena, 2016). Ironically, tourists and private investors are hailed as stewards of the environment by the Honduran Institute of Tourism and the National Institute of Conservation and Forestry Development (Loperena, 2016).
Box 5.2 Garifuna communities on the North Coast of Honduras: A brief ethno-legal history
The Garifuna people are descendants of African slaves and two indigenous groups originally from South America - the Arawak and the Carib Indians. In 1797, the British colonial power deported 5,000 Garifuna, also known as Black Caribs, from the Caribbean island St. Vincent to another British colony Roatan, an island among the Islas de la Bahia archipelago about 65 kilometres off the North Coast of Honduras. From Roatan, the Garifuna people migrated to the Honduran mainland and across the Atlantic coast of Central America, including Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belize. In Honduras, the Garifuna established communities along the North Coast of Honduras in the early 19th century where they engaged in subsistence farming and fishing. Garifuna connections to coastal lands are grounded not only in their livelihoods but also in important cultural rituals, such as ancestor worship. Their distinct cultural traditions, including language, dance and music, were declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2001. Despite this global recognition of their culture, the
Garifuna continue to face discrimination and harassment within the Honduran socio-political and economic system.
Traditionally, the Garifuna have only known collective land ownership, often vested in women due to the group’s matrilineal and matrilocal customs. Historical documents show that Garifuna communities in Tela Bay had been in possession of registered ejidal (community) land in the early 20th century. Female land ownership and collective titles have been weakened by a World Bank instigated land registration programme that focused on the distribution of private land titles in disregard of the Garifuna’s legal traditions. The Garifuna have suffered from various waves of dispossession, starting with the expansion of US-owned banana plantations in the late 19th century, which forced many Garifuna to abandon residential areas and agricultural lands. More recently, the Garifuna have faced pressure from the expanding tourism industry and the delineation of new protected areas.
Source: Brondo, 2013; Mollett, 2014; Jubis, 2015; Loperena, 2016
One tourist mega-complex — inaugurated in 2013 - extends over 500 hectares along three kilometres of coastline and boasts an 18-hole golf course, several five-star hotels, an equestrian centre, 400 private villas, shopping centres, bars, restaurants, and pools (Mollett, 2014). The resort was funded through a public-private partnership between the Honduran Institute of Tourism and the Tela Bay Touristic Development Society whose president is also the head of the financial group FICOHSA — one of the largest financial institutions in Central America (Loperena, 2017). While the resort was not directly involved in the physical displacement of the Garifuna, investments in the area’s infrastructure combined with land speculation led to a slow but steady erosion of Garifuna’s territorial rights (Loperena, 2017), a process that Mollett (2014, p. 40) has coined “displacement-in-place”.
Prior to the establishment of the resort, neighbouring Garifuna communities possessed full ownership titles to their ancestral territories, although not all were fully recognised by the government. Research by the Council of Hemispheric Affairs found that the implementation of the 1992 Agrarian Modernization Law — backed by the US administration and the World Bank — led to the expansion ofTela’s city boundaries and stimulated transactions of ancestral lands without consent of the Garifuna communities (Jubis, 2015). In a gross misuse of its power, the municipality of Tela sold a portion of the Garifuna ancestral territories to a local corporation well beyond the real market value of the land and later issued construction permits for the development of several large-scale tourism projects (Brondo, 2013; Jubis, 2015).
Yet this form of state violence has been countered since the late 2000s by strong grassroots resistance led by the Ethnic Community Development Organization (Organización de Desarrollo Etnico Comunitario — ODECO) and the
Black Fraternal Organisation of Honduras (Organization Fraternal Negra Hon-durena — OFRANEH) which organised a series of local protests and took the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) (Brondo, 2013). In the midst of massive local protests and ongoing territorial disputes between the investors and the Garifuna communities, Honduran national police and military forces tried to violently remove the Garifuna from their lands in 2014 (Loperena, 2017). In 2015, the IACHR ruled that the Honduran government was to restore ancestral land to the Garifuna community and compensate them for their losses (Agudelo, 2019). Yet, five years later, the ruling has yet to be enforced.
To date, the conflicts between tourism development, militarised conservation and Indigenous rights to ancestral lands remain largely unresolved, and Garifuna communities continue to live in a constant state of fear. Since September 2019, at least five Garifuna leaders and land rights defenders have been killed, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Honduras, and in July 2020, five Garifuna community leaders were kidnapped at gunpoint by armed men in police uniforms (Lakhani, 2020). At the time of writing this chapter, their fate remains unknown.