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Hallelujah, the Fish will Live
by Thomas Tomczyk

Roatan Celebrates Honduras' 189 Years of Independence with a New Tradition: Setting their Marlin Free
A mother wipes perspiration from the forehead of her daughter in a September 15 parade.

XI annual Roatan Municipal Fishing Tournament became the island's first catch-and-release tournament. After many years of trying and just as many years of excuses, the catch-and-release tournament replaced the catch-and-kill tradition on Roatan. In the three days of fishing, 14 blue marlin were caught and released, but surprisingly not a single white marlin, sailfish, or spearfish.

The signs of dwindling billfish populations are all around. Omoa's deep sea fishing tournament in March ended with not a single marlin caught. "We need to conserve our resources before it's too late," said Roatan's Mayor Julio Galindo. Still, not everyone was happy with the tournament becoming catch-and-release. According to Mayor Julio Galindo a couple boats based in Puerto Cortez decided not to attend the tournament specifically because it was catch-and-release.

That opinion was in a definite minority and some travelled very far to attend the event. One of them was Robin King, a sports fishermen from San Antonio, Texas. King studied the map of the Caribbean and considered their options for a once-a-year deep sea fishing tournament: Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Panama and Guatemala. He finally chose Roatan and made three trips to the island checking out its security, facilities and establishing personal contacts. He and 11 of his friends are now looking to bring their three boats and keep them here.

More sports fisherman like King are likely to discover Roatan, which is well placed to take advantage of the flight of tourists from Mexico, increasingly mired by drug related violence. King has been sport fishing and tournament fishing in Isla Mujeres, Mexico for 25 years. When two years ago his captain was kidnapped by the Zeta cartel, King raised $10,000 for the ransom. This was a tipping point for King and many of his American fishing friends who decided that the security concerns were a bit too much and decided to look for another place to fish and holiday.

Back on dry land in West End after a day of fishing, hundreds of West End visitors watched videos of the boat crews hooking the blue marlin, then spending hours reeling them in, unhooking them and making sure they were alert enough to be released. The videos proved captivating for the island audience that lined up in front of the main West End festival stage and its screen projector. "People love to see fish hanging from the posts, so we need to do a better job showing videos of the fish on a larger screen," said Mayor Galindo.

Second place winners receive their prize. Reel Doctor out of Lawson Rock. Mayor Julio Galindo, Giacomo Pascuale, Robin King, Bubba Jensen, Gary McLaughlin, Greg Baldwin, Shaun King.

Roatan fishing tournament is quite different from most fishing tournaments in the Caribbean. While after 10 years, the tournament originators have finally embraced the Catch and Release model, its fees and prizes are some of the lowest and barely stand up to the Caribbean average. It costs $300 to register a boat for the tournament. "Because of the hard economic times, the committee decided that it was a fair price," explained Ana Svoboda, one of the tournament organizers. It barely registers on the scales of the tournaments that attract hundreds of boats and charge thousands for the privilege of participation.

According to King, many of the Caribbean fishing tournaments charge as much as $10,000 for boat registration. That doesn't include the 50% prize claim that is auctioned off to the highest bidder and entitles them to earn 50% of that boat's winners. The funds raised in the auction are usually given for charity.

The Roatan tournament's biggest prize was blue marlin and brought in the most points--300. White marlin and spearfish brought in 200 points, and catching a sailfish got you 150 points. The tournament organizers awarded 50 bonus points for "clean hook removal" supported by video evidence. Green, orange and red banners with numbers indicating the day of the tournament had to be visible in videos submitted as proof of catching a marlin.
Unlike the catch and tag system, the catch and release system doesn't assure that some billfish are not caught twice by the same or competing vessels during the tournament.

If a tournament boat caught a marlin that was bigger than the record marlin of 708 lb, the marlin could be killed and brought in for weigh-in. If the marlin was smaller than the record, according to the rule book, that boat would be automatically disqualified from the tournament. In 2008, a record 708 lb blue marlin was caught during the Roatan Fishing tournament.

Forty-one boats registered for the tournament, one coming from Cayman Islands. After three days of fishing, on September 19, the tournament winner was announced: Treasure Chest, a 52-foot boat stationed in Puerto Cortez, captained by Arturo Estrada. Captain Estrada amassed 1,000 points from three blue marlin. The first marlin was caught on the first day of the tournament, around three miles north of Barbareta. On the second day, the crew caught two more marlin. "We hooked another six marlin, but they got away," said Julio Molina, one of the boat's crew.

The tournament's Sportsmanship award was awarded to the boat that came to the rescue of Erik McKenzie's "Tequila Sunrise" boat that ran into engine problems and needed towing, but the prize has not yet been claimed. The Grand Slam award, rewarding the catching of three different billfish species, went unclaimed. The Best Fish Story award went to Robin King, who's boat Reel Doctor: captained by Greg Baldwin took in second prize in billfish.

While Utila's first catch-and-release event occurred in July 2009, Roatan has tried the catch-and-release for the first time this year. The coveted Roatan tradition of taking pictures with dead fish hanging by their tails was replaced with taking videos of catching the fish. Guanaja, with its October 21-24 deep sea fishing tournament, is also scheduled to also be a catch and release event.

A school band in front of Juan Brooks School.

Parades on September 15

The 15th of September is celebrated as Independence Day all over Central America. On that day in 1821, Spain granted independence to Central American provinces. In 1822 the United Central American Provinces decided to join the Federal Republic of Central America.

The transition to statehood was difficult as the five provinces--Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica--had conflicting interests and were often at odds with the central government in Guatemala City. Political chaos ensued and an almost permanent civil war between liberals and conservatives existed.
Honduran General Francisco Morazán was the president of the republic from 1830 and attempted to introduce reforms. His attempts failed, however, as by 1838 the federation was in such chaos that it disintegrated into five independent nations. Still, it is September 15 that is celebrated in Honduras as its day of independence. On September 14 and 15 parades of schoolchildren accompanied by school military-style bands mark the anniversary.

For several months prior to the parades children in schools from across the country practice playing their instruments, marching and singing. While Coxen Hole sees the biggest school parades, they are by no means the only parades on Roatan. First to mark the occasion this year were the schools in Sandy Bay, in the rain on the morning of September 14. The parades in French Harbour began before 7am on September 15. There were parades in Oak Ridge as well.

While hundred of spectators watched, mothers kept their parading children hydrated with bottles of water and used towels to wipe away sweat during the increasing heat of the day. Around 10am a few of the young girls in fine dresses barely avoided fainting and had to take a break to sit down.

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Just Coincidences By Thomas Tomczyk

And Our Political Leaders Tell me Thinking Otherwise Would be Insensitive

Westerners' willingness to assimilate the Muslim religion into their culture has only improved Islam's ability to become a more dominant force, and to grow in converts. Islam is a religion of strength and simplicity and is growing increasingly attractive to many Westerners confused by the constantly questioned, eroding and esoteric values of their parents.

In the last 15 years, I have been invited and coerced to convert to Islam several times: in Albania, Somaliland and Iran, to mention a few places. In March, a couple of these attempts took place during my three week stay in Khartoum, Sudan. "On Friday, we'll take you to a mosque and make you a Muslim," said Ali, the president of the Blue Nile Sailing Club where I was staying. Fortunately, I have spent enough time in Muslim countries to know how to respond without escalating this into a confrontation.

I wasn't the only person who was invited to convert "to the religion of peace." While many may have missed it, every American has officially been asked to convert. In a September 2007 video Osama Bin Laden addressed American people: "I invite you to embrace Islam" in order to achieve your "desire to stop the war in Iraq and show 'warmongering' major corporations that you have lost confidence in your democratic system."

Ali and Sheikh Osama follow in the footsteps of their prophet who in 628 wrote an invitation to rulers of Byzantine, Persia, Abyssinia, Egypt, Syria and Bahrain. "I invite you to Islam and if you become a Muslim you will be safe, and Allah will double your reward," read his letter. Today only one, Abyssinia- Ethopia, of these countries is still not majority Muslim.

Our political leaders assure us that any fear of Islam is unreasenable, unfounded, that more then Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity, "Islam is a religion of peace" and that "we have a lot to learn from Islam." I could also tell you that calendar dates and invitations to convert are just coincidences and unrelated facts. I however believe that history is meant to educate us about the context of our reality and help us avoid repeating mistakes.

Polish forces come to the rescue of Vienna

I was born in Poland, and I'd like to think that on September 11, Polish forces saved one of the greatest cities of Western civilization. In a great battle 18,000 Polish mounted hussars came to the rescue of Vienna, surrounded by 250,000 Muslim forces and ready to fall. The year was 1683 and the moment marked the high-water of Turkish and Muslim expansion in Europe. 318 years later to the day, two planes flew into the World Trade Center towers, marking a new chapter in a war that most people in the West never knew existed.

Westerners seem more engrossed in a campaign to assimilate Islam into Western society than into understanding the context and strategies of the militant Islam determined to expand into the heart of Western civilizations. While the construction of the Ground Zero Cordoba Mosque is raising so much controversy, the largest mosque in Europe is planned to be erected right next to and tower over the London's 2012 Olympic Stadium. Just like most New Yorkers, majority of Londoners aren't too happy about that either, but my leaders tell me that the location is just a coincidence and that thinking otherwise would be insensitive. The London mega-mosque is meant to accommodate 12,000 people, and its image will appear in every aerial shot of the London's Olympic venues.

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The Garifuna Experience By Thomas Tomczyk

Party and Dance Rock Punta Gorda

In the last five years, the Punta Gorda town has become less and less exclusively Garifuna. The ladino community has grown steadily in size and recently opened its evangelical church. Instead of the Garifuna language, Spanish is being heard more and more.

The east of Roatan is booming. There are new bed and breakfasts, bars and plenty of new homes and fixed up old ones. Punta Gorda town has received a paved, concrete road, for at least a portion of the community. Still, instead of the Central Government's promise to pave the entire Punta Gorda road, only around 25% has been paved so far. About 600 meters of the road has been paved from the main east end road entrance to about 100 meters past the Cinco Hermanos Hotel.

During the "Halangante Garinagu" festival, five bands played music on a beach stage, contests for children and grownups were held, and a Garifuna landing on Roatan was re-enacted. Karla Leiva, coordinator of the carnival, said that the biggest help came from sponsors such as Galaxy, Gallo Mas Gallo, Bojangles and Sun Supermarket. According to Leiva, four other events will take place before the end of the year.

Maypole dancers in front of the Church

The first festival of "Halangante Garinagu" took place on September 12 in Punta Gorda with the idea of protecting and strengthening Garifuna culture. Local Garifuna leaders feel that their culture needs more protection as its identity and purity is being increasingly under threat. While Punta Gorda hosts an annual April 12 Garifuna Landing celebration, the "Halangante Garinagu" is the first festival of its kind.

The Forgotten Yellow Building By Thomas Tomczyk
French Harbour Community Center Moves Library, Expected to Host other Organizations

Still, the Roatan Municipality continued to pay the electrical bill for the facility and the salary for its one librarian/cleaning person. The majority of the much underutilized, forgotten resource remained vacant with the roughly 36-meter square room designed for drivers education never once opened.

For some Roatanians however, the local library is a place where young people can spend time in a quiet, structured environment. "It's a place of refuge. Somewhere where kids come eager to be helped," says Joann Dixon, the librarian.

Within a couple of months the center is expected to house offices for French Harbour Water Board, APESCA offices, Government liaison office of Evans McNab, and ZOLITUR offices. According to Mayor Galindo, the relocation of ZOLITUR offices to down town French Harbour will help in generating foot traffic to the town and help struggling local businesses.

The move is not all that good for the library and its resources. The library now operates out of a new space that is three-quarters smaller than the original space. Many quality, handcrafted, donated bookshelves and hundreds of books could not be fit into the space. Some books were sold for a dollar a piece; others placed in boxes and shipped out.

The crowded new space of the library in French Harbour.

The library at French Harbour's Jared Hynds Community Center opened its doors in January 2006 with 200 people in attendance and much fanfare. It was the last accomplishment in the Mayor Jerry Hynds' administration and opened days before he handed off power to Mayor Dale Jackson.

"It's not just a building. It's a purpose," said Catherine McCabe on the day of the opening. McCabe, an American retiree, was instrumental in creating the center and donated 3,000 of her own books to the library. The purpose of the building is changing. The 6,500 square foot building was intended as a place where you could rent a book, grab a coffee and surf the net. A drivers-ed center and even a post office were envisioned to eventually open there. None of these ever opened and the building fell away from mind to the point that Roatan Municipal council members didn't even realized it was there.

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A Butchered Purchase By Thomas Tomczyk

While New Roatan Hospital can still Happen, 20 Acres of Municipal Property in Dixon Cove are at Risk

"Dale [Jackson] started construction using his equipment two days after closing [June 2007] on the property," said Gary Evans, a property owner of Bay Islands Environmental Equipment Rental in Dixon Cove. According to Mayor Jackson, SERNA issued an environmental license for the project on February 6, 2009. However, for almost two years prior, the site work proceeded without national SERNA permits, with dozens of large trees cut, roughly 75,000-100,000 cubic yards of soil removed from the site and the entire Dixon gully rerouted. "It was all about the Dale Jackson stadium for Arsenal [football club]; the hospital was just a secondary thing," said Evans.

Extensive erosion from the site has allowed silt to be carried directly into Dixon's Cove. "As usual, there was no independent authority to oversee the project. The Municipal authorities were able to issue their own permit, contract the work to be performed, and then wash their hands of responsibility for the consequences. It's like having a fox watching the henhouse." said Charles George, who for over 17 years has been operating Vegas Electric on a neighboring property.

An audit of the Roatan Municipality by Honduras' Tribunal de Cuentas took place in January and February, and while its findings have not yet been released, several Roatan Municipal city council members that signed the Dixon Cove purchase agreement feel they are now in "hot water."

While the eight acre land site was eventually secured for the hospital, the road access to it was not. Evans is considering legal action to regain ownership and control over 20 foot by 320 foot land piece that is the only way to access the Municipal and hospital land. Evans also claims ownership of two of the 20 acres Roatan Municipality attempted to purchased from Sarah James. These two acres happen to overlap the road access constructed to the hospital piece.

As a last chance for Roatan municipality, according to Mayor Julio Galindo, Sarah Jarvis James agreed in writing to give Roatan Municipality extra time, until December 2010, to pay the remaining balance of the transaction. If that does not happen, the Municipal land will default back to James and the Lps. 13 million already spent on the purchase as well as additional moneys spent on the grading will be lost.

The funds for constructing the hospital are there. Over the last several years funding for the hospital has changed from the South Korean government to Banco Interamericano de Integration Economica. Currently, Mayor Galindo says that the President Lobo administration has set aside $28 million for the construction of the Roatan Hospital. The funds came from a forgiven loan repayment by the Spanish government. For now, if all goes well, groundbreaking is scheduled for March 2011.

Mayor Jackson's construction company begins work on the site in June 2007. (Photo courtesy of Gary Evans)

The ongoing drama of Roatan finally getting a new hospital has hit another low note. While the Roatan Municipality paid off the eight acre hospital site on a hilltop in Dixon Cove, the remaining 20 acres are at risk. Originally, the site was envisioned for a municipal stadium for 7,000 people, but Roatan Municipality is at risk of defaulting on the property without having even secured right-of-way access to the hospital site.

The 28-acre Dixon Cove purchase was the single biggest land purchase in the history of Roatan Municipality. In June 2007 then-mayor Dale Jackson agreed to pay Lps. 19 million ($1 million), or $36,000 an acre, in 36 monthly payments. However the Jackson administration did not pay off the land as scheduled and with Lps. 6 million still owed to property owner Sarah Jarvis James, the 20-acre property is in default and could be reclaimed by its owner.

James purchased the land as a "domino plano" from the Roatan Municipality in 1992 and, according to lawyer Melvin Rosales, "paid only 10% of the 80,000 Lempiras for it." Four years later she was offered Lps. 19 million for it. Rosales, in 2008 has placed a denuncia against Mayor Jackson, and Sarah James as accessory. "They [Municipality] could have found much better land, closer to the main road and flatter. We didn't need to pay excessive price for it," said Rosales. Indeed, much of the land in Dixon Cove is on a 30% slope, difficult to get to, to built on, and expensive to grade.

The hastily done purchase has not only placed municipal dollars at risk, it has also delayed and greatly complicated the future of a new 120 bed Roatan hospital. International airlines demand the hospital, expat retirees want it, and 65,000 islanders count on it to ensure the island's future growth and prosperity. Fulfillment of this need has been delayed and placed in jeopardy.

Hardly anything in the purchase was done correctly. The Roatan Municipality didn't advertise that it was looking for a suitable piece of land to give other landowners the opportunity to offer better land and better prices. Road access to the land chosen was never secured in writing.

Mayor Jackson said that he purchased the property as an "emergency purchase" allowing him to circumvent the public bid process and approval of the entire Roatan municipal corporation. Public bid is required when items considered for purchase are over Lps. 1.7 million. While Mayor Jackson acted with the advice of the Municipal lawyer, it looks like that advice was misguided.

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