Miskitos file human rights suit against Honduran government

Indigenous population claims to have been exploited in dangerous underwater fishing sector

In Honduras and Nicaragua, young men from the indigenous Miskito population undergo a series of life-threatening hardships in their quests to eke out a menial living as divers in the lobster and shrimp fishing industries. Many die or are maimed because of inhumane working conditions.

This week, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission in Washington began taking up their cause in a series of hearings in which one disabled fisherman was expected to testify on Tuesday.

Some Miskitos have been stricken with diving-related illnesses and have problems getting medical treatment, according to lawyers from the Washington-based Center for Justice and International Law, which has taken up the Miskitos' case.

They often reach medical facilities too late, which results in either permanent damage or death, their lawyers say. They work long days and are exposed to unsanitary conditions and housed in overcrowded quarters.

The lawyers explain that the Miskitos do not get the attention they deserve because of poverty, illiteracy and the geographical remoteness of their communities. The center is representing 43 individuals who are suing the government of Honduras for not doing enough to protect them.

The estimated 111,000 Miskitos live along Central America's Atlantic coast. In Honduras, they mainly reside in the Gracias a Dios province, which is often referred to as La Mosquitia or the Mosquito Coast, in English.

As a major industry, the lobster and fishing sectors are prime sources of revenue for the Honduran economy with reported annual exports totaling $40 million. High wages - compared to the rest of the country's salaries - make it an attractive option for Miskito men to earn a living and support their families. In two weeks, they can make $150, which is equivalent to a three-month salary in the agricultural industry.

But the conditions are dreadful as Flaviano Martínez López, one of the plaintiffs in the case filed against the Honduran government, recently described.

"On the boat, there are no bathrooms, no hygiene, no record to note these things, bad food, bad sleeping conditions, and poor treatment of the divers - they treat us with fists," he said according to written testimony presented in the case.

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