Another Senseless Crime Tarnishes the Holidays
This being our holiday issue, I had hoped to make it uplifting and positive, full of optimism for a new year after two months of depressing news. Then Captain Vern was killed.
I expected to write my monthly column while spending Thanksgiving with my family in Virginia, listing the things I should be thankful for, like the opportunity to move to Roatan and publish the Bay Islands Voice, or, after my experience in September, recounted here in October, just to still be alive. Then, the day before I got on the plane to fly home, Captain Vern was killed.
We cannot not note the passing of Vernon Fine, a fixture of the Bay Islands community, long-time Voice advertiser and, by all accounts, all-around great guy, the sort that makes life here what it is, or at least ought to be. His murder aboard the catamaran he used to ferry people between Roatan and Utila was as senseless as it was brutal. It’s not even apparent his killers gained anything from their crime, other than a cot in a cell, where we should all hope they remain (assuming, of course, they are guilty).
Which raises the question: who are these people? What sort of society have we created that produces them?
As Gunter Kordovsky points out in this month’s Utila Perspective, there is a temptation among islanders to blame all such atrocities on outsiders. The two suspects in Captain Vern’s murder are both mainlanders, although one reportedly lived several years on Utila. The man suspected of killing Canadian tourist Tim Vallee on Roatan in October was also a mainlander, although his suspected accomplice was an islander.
No one can deny that there is plenty of island-grown crime and brutality. Neither should we deny that most who arrive on the islands from the mainland are peaceful and law-abiding. Even so, it is not unreasonable to ask ourselves whether we are doing all we should, as islands, to keep bad elements out.
For instance, we were disturbed to learn following publication of our last issue that the suspect in the Vallee slaying was wanted for a murder on the mainland before he came to Roatan eight months earlier. How was he able to enter undetected and fly under the radar? Also, a US citizen was arrested here in late October who had multiple felony convictions in the US and had skipped bail on drug charges in South Carolina three years ago. He had no passport when he was arrested, police said. How did he get here? How long was he here? Why was he never picked up, and why was he released after his first arrest?
Our main feature this month discusses how Roatan’s population and development booms of the last decade are straining its capacity to deal with the resulting sewage. The point is not that more people and more development, more openness to the outside, are necessarily bad; only that our infrastructure needs to keep up with it. Similarly, it is neither racist nor xenophobic nor naive to consider whether another consequence of that greater openness and development is that, by neglect or malfeasance, we have become safe havens or dumping grounds for other people’s human sewage – their criminal elements. Pirates used Roatan as a hideout in the 17th and 18th centuries because there was no law. What is the excuse today?
Screening visitors for criminal warrants is not inconsistent with the Bay Islands’ status as an open society or an integral part of Honduras. One could argue that not screening them is the anomaly. Hong Kong, another former British island possession reverted to the mainland by treaty, is as open as they come, but it maintains tough and independent border controls and its own police force.
Perhaps the only positive thing that could come from Vern’s senseless murder would be if we were to rededicate ourselves to taking meaningful steps to assure that honest business people and carefree tourists cannot so easily fall prey in the future to such heartless, soulless savages.
All that heaviness and gloom aside, we have some uplifting holiday stories this month thanks to George Crimmin and Alfonso Ebanks. We also have a photo feature on Roatan churches and a piece on island Christmas traditions, all in a holiday spirit and all written before Vern was killed.
There is also some good news to report on the crime front as it appeared at press time that the Tourist Police would soon be returning to West End and that business leaders there are exploring other options to deter criminals. Hats off to the water boards and Patronato.
Finally, we’re following through on a commitment we made to ourselves months ago to make the December issue free, as a Christmas gift and thanks to our loyal readers who have supported us for nearly 10 years now. When the Voice debuted in March 2003, printed on a laser jet in Thomas Tomczyk’s apartment, the cover price was Lps. 10, or $1. It remained at $1, or the equivalent in depreciating lempiras, until 2006, when we began running color cover photos and raised the price to $1.50. When we went full color in 2011, the price went up to $2, or Lps. 40, to cover the additional printing cost. That’s still no more than a beer in West End. But it’s a lot for some people on the island, which limits our readership in many communities.
If we get a little bit more advertising support in the new year (hint hint), perhaps we can keep it free, expand our readership and reach more of our island communities. In the meantime, enjoy this free edition in the spirit with which it was offered.