Better Market Access a Double-Edged Sword

July 27th, 2012

[private] A passage by freight boat to La Ceiba has always been a trying experience, but in the past it was much more so. The crossing was bad enough, but the disembarkation was even worse. The old dock was built for ships, so it is much too high for our small freighters, and passengers were set ashore by walking a plank with a safety line tied around their waists.

La Ceiba was a place with very little industry. This and the difficulty of docking made it a secondary port of call for supplying the Bay Islands and La Mosquitia with their ever-increasing demand for products of all kinds.

photo courtesy Rob Velor, Skyscraper City

photo courtesy Rob Velor, Skyscraper City

In an attempt to steal business away from Puerto Cortes, traders and local politicians petitioned the central government to construct a protected harbor for servicing the increasing number of coastal freighters. During the administration of Rafael Callejas (1990-94) this project became a reality with the opening of the lagoon at Boca Vieja and construction of a breakwater on the windward side. The Puerto de Cabotaje was born.

The new dock would bring prosperity to La Ceiba, because even though the city produced very little, the dock would be the embarkation point for products from all over the country brought to La Ceiba by truck. Over the last 15 years or so the cash value of freight leaving La Ceiba from this dock has increased 10-fold. With the closing of the Blanquita Factory, the La Cervecería bottling Company and the Banana-loading dock, this new dock was a lifesaver for La Ceiba.

But as life would have it, there has also been a down side to this wonderful project. Improved sea access has brought about two serious problems that affect not only La Ceiba but the whole north coast of Honduras.

The first to be affected were the lobster-diving community of the Bay Islands and La Mosquitia. With year-round docking available, many people saw the diving business in a new light. They bought huge trawlers and converted them to dive boats, competing for divers with the the small boats that had long operated out of villages in Gracias a Dios Department, many of them operated by owner/captains who had made great sacrifices to purchase their vessels. The owner/operators of these smaller boats showed greater concern for the safety of their boats and their divers. If the captain made a mistake he paid the consequence, after all it was his boat. This attitude changed with the arrival of the new larger commercial boats.

The new lobster-boat owners were not fishermen. They knew nothing of the uncertainties of weather and the fickleness of nature or that sometimes even the very best fishermen catch nothing. They demanded product and set no limits as to what the captains should do to obtain it.

I was one of the pioneers in the dive-for-lobster business. In 35 years none of my divers has ever been killed or paralyzed, because I set rules for my boat captains. My motto has always been: “Bring my boat back empty before you bring me a sick diver.”

The Muelle de Cabotaje has also been responsible for the rampant acts of violence in La Ceiba. Some people are being killed while being robbed, but the majority of murders are drug-related. Drugs would not flow through La Ceiba without this access to the sea. [/private]

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