Changing Course on Roatan’s East Side
[private]This is an unexpurgated version of our interview with Santos Guardiola Mayor Carson Dilbert. An edited version appears in the June issue of the print magazine.
Carson Dilbert of Politilly Bight was inaugurated Mayor of Santos Guardiola Municipality, which covers the eastern half of Roatan Island, in January after serving four years as a regidor (councilman). Before entering politics he spent 22 years as a realtor on the island. “When I began real estate, there was only 2-3 real estate offices on this island: Southwind, Century 21 and Mary Monterroso,” he said. “I was the fourth.” Dilbert acquired US citizenship through his wife, whose mother was American, and lived in Salt Lake City 1999-2006. We spoke to him in the Mayor’s office in Oak Ridge May 7, his 102nd day on the job.
BIV: What are your impressions on Day 102? How has moving up to being Mayor been different from what you anticipated?
“It’s quite different than I anticipated. I knew the Municipality was very limited in resources. But what I didn’t anticipate was the amount of bills, the amount of debt.”
BIV: What is the financial state of the Municipality at the moment?
“At the moment the Municipality owes about Lps 8.3 million in debt.”
BIV: To whom mostly? Is it the Central Government? Suppliers?
“Suppliers and workers.”
BIV: So you’re behind in payments to payroll?
“Yes. Some of the employees was up to seven months (not getting paid). Today is the 7th of May, and up to this moment some of the employees hasn’t got their Christmas bonus yet.”
BIV: Are you making progress in working that down?
“We’re working on it. I got about 70 percent of them that are paid, that are up to date.”
BIV: How did you manage to do that?
“Cutting expense, reducing the amount of employees. There was over-staff, heavily over-staffed. And cutting back on wages. The new people that I’m putting in, paying them less than what the previous Administration was paying. Not that I have a problem with high wages. But the Municipal don’t have the capacity to do that at this moment.”
BIV: How many people were on the Municipal payroll when you came in?
“One hundred and eight.”
BIV: And how many is it now?
“We got about 52-53, something like that. And I still intend to cut that back. I’m hoping to get … the payroll was Lps 1,000,023 a month, and I’m hoping to cut that back to 600 … between 600-650 a month.”
BIV: Where was most of the surplus staffing? In what functions?
“Some of the departments was overstaffed. Some of these departments had like 5-6 people. And you had no room for that amount of people. So the department that had five employees, now have two, and doing the same job.”
BIV: So it was sort of across the board? Not one particular area?
“Across the board.”
BIV: So other than getting finances in order, what are your goals, the things you want to accomplish in your four-year term?
“My goal is to change course – have this end of the island head in a different direction.”
BIV: Can you be more specific?
“Security. Health. Education. The community was very filthy. We did a cleanup in the month of March, trying to prepare for Good Friday. And what I’m doing now is working with the schools … What I’m seeing is that some of the problem is we ain’t teachin’ that in the schools. If you teach these kids from there in school not to throw trash where it don’t belongs, throw it in the trash can, if we teach them that from in school, then that will turn things around. Because kids will then begin to tell their parents not to throw it out the window. Don’t just throw it out in the ocean. Or just don’t throw it out on the road. Get the garbage where it belongs. We’re working on that. We’re meeting with teachers and we’re doing a general cleanup. We’re getting the place clean. We want to keep it clean. And we’re going to implement regulations that gonna help us to do that.”
BIV: What about the landfill that was built about five years ago and is not being used? What are your plans for that?
“I’m waiting for ZOLITUR. They have some technicians, and I already had a meeting with them, asking them to help train a few guys for us, from the Municipality, to manage the landfill. And as soon as we can get that done, we’re going to open that up there to throw garbage in.”
BIV: I heard that you didn’t have the equipment or the vehicles necessary to operate that landfill.
“That’s incorrect. We got machinery out there that hasn’t been used from the day it was put there.”
BIV: What about trucks to collect and compress the garbage?
“We don’t have the type of truck that compress. We have just the open-back trucks. We got three of those. I intend to get the trucks that compress, but that’s gonna take time and money that we don’t have at the moment.”
BIV: Is it going to require some kind of sorting program to be able to use that landfill properly?
BIV: What about taking some of Roatan’s waste at that landfill for a fee?
“We discussed that. But I haven’t presented that to the Corporation (city council).”
BIV: I understand you and the other Bay Islands mayors got together back in March and formed an association or commonwealth to deal with some of these issues. What can you tell me about that project?
“We really haven’t done much on that. We talked about it. With the four municipalities – it’s five municipalities actually: Utila, Roatan, Santos Guardiola, Guanaja and Cortes. But we haven’t done very much.”
BIV: What would be your idea of what it might be able to do?
“It would give us a little more of exposure … with the national government and with foreign governments.”
BIV: I think one of Mayor Ebanks’s goals for it was to get more autonomy for the islands.
“I’m not quite sure how that works. Currently the municipality has a lot of autonomy. In most cases, we don’t already use the autonomies that we really have. I think one of the problems is, most of us, most of the politicians, we get too dependent on the Central Government. … That creates a certain amount of weakness. When these municipalities was decentralized, if we go back to the Constitution, they’re supposed to be ‘auto-sostenible” … sustainable, self-sufficient. And for the municipality to be self-sufficient, and at the same time the Government has given the 298 municipalities a fund for working, most of us gets to a place where we just depend on what funds come from the Central Government instead of trying to create our own. And that’s what I’m working on, trying to be able to generate enough income for the Municipality to operate on its own. Of course, when you get help from the Central Government it’s highly appreciated. … but not to just sit down and depend on hand-outs.”
BIV: What are the main sources of income for Santos Guardiola Municipality?
“We get some ZOLITUR contribution. But the biggest source of income for the municipality is tax. The business registration tax.”
BIV: You mentioned security. How many municipal police are there in this municipality?
BIV: A new National Police facility was just constructed here. Is that being used yet?
“Not yet. It’s semi-ready. I need to furnish it. … computer, air conditioning, the whole interior. That’s the Muni responsibility.”
BIV: Is there going to be a detention facility? The old one just has a little shack in back.
“That’s there now.”
“I’m hoping to open that (new police facility) by the end of this month sometime. … by the end of May.”
BIV: How many National Police are currently assigned to the unit here?
BIV: When Tigre Bonilla (former head of National Police) was here last year he promised to basically double that. Those people never showed up?
“They promised to give us 15 (total) when we inaugurate the new police station.”
BIV: Did that commitment carry over to the new Administration?
“The facility they’re in now can’t take 15.”
BIV: So have you had conversations with the new Security Minister to follow through on that?
BIV: There’ve been some issues here over the last couple of years with tourists being held up on some of the side roads out here. What steps would be taken to cut down on that if you had some additional personnel?
“We’re going to control that. We’re going to definitely control that. One, we’re going to have more police officers. Two, I’m going to buy some motorcycles, and we’re going to have police patrols in every community of Santos Guardiola by day and by night.
BIV: Are you going to be able to do that with 15 people?
“We’re going to be able to do it, because I’m putting together an effective municipal police force. They’re going to be working in conjunction with the Preventiva (National) police.”
“One of the problems I’m seeing, in the little time I’ve been here, they rotate the police too often. I see that as a problem. But if we work the municipal police along with the Preventiva police, even when they rotate the Preventiva police officers, the municipal police will not be rotated.”
BIV: And the municipal police probably speak English.
“They’ve gotta be bilingual.”
BIV: Because there are communities out here where people don’t speak Spanish.
BIV: So will that require an increase in the number of municipal police?
“Yes, it will. I got that (funds) reserved for that purpose.”
“Municipal police are gonna be strictly bilingual … Then, I’m going to put two or three different employees that are going to be bilingual … You’re going to be able to call 24-7 and get response if there’s an emergency, that you need the police to come and arrest someone or for whatever reason, and they’re going to be bilingual. I’m going to have them at the police station. So when you call the police, there’s going to be someone answering the phone that’s going to be bilingual.”
BIV: Is that going to be part of the 911 call center they’re setting up?
BIV: I also recall last year there was talk when another minister came from Tegucigalpa about having a fire station for Santos Guardiola.
“I just acquired yesterday a property for that. Next week, God willing, we’re going to start it, flatten it out. … That’s on the main road, just before you get to the Jonesville entrance, on the right-hand side.”
BIV: In terms of the road network, do you have any plans? What are the priorities?
“I’m hoping to be able to pave most of the roads in Santos Guardiola over the next four years. There’s a fideicomiso (trust fund) that’s in place with SOPTRAVI (transport ministry) for the pavement of the road to Port Royal. … Jerry (Hynds, Bay Islands representative in the Honduran National Congress) is working on that. We’re both working on that.”
BIV: When do you think that might be done?
“I’m hoping we’ll get that going sometime this year … before the rains hit. If we don’t get it before the rain, it’ll be sometime next year.”
BIV: Do you think that will help cut down on some of the road robberies?
BIV: Will there be any additional street lighting going in?
BIV: What other plans or ideas are you going to be focusing on the next couple years?
“Well, since I’ve been here I already employed 12 teachers, English teachers. Because I want to be able to establish a bilingual system in all the public schools on this end of the island. I think being on an English-speaking island, it is very important that we have bilingual system in the schools.”
BIV: Are there relatively more English speakers in Santos Guardiola than in Roatan Municipality?
BIV: Because most of the people who have come over from the mainland have settled in places like Coxen Hole and Los Fuertes?
“Yeah, because there are more activities down on that end of the island, more employment and everything else. There’s not very much happening on this end of the island.”
BIV: So Santos Guardiola has retained more of its English-speaking tradition, but you still don’t have bilingual teachers in all of the schools?
“I need 10 more. We got like 22-23 schools. I need one in every school.”
BIV: What about in the public health area?
“I hired a dentist since I’ve been in office. Now you can get all your dental work done. … I’ve got an architect working on a plan for a second level on the clinic (in Oak Ridge). We’ll be able to bring in more doctors and get more medical attention.”
“Long term, I’m hoping to get a hospital, a real hospital, in Santos Guardiola.”
BIV: During this four-year term?
“Well, at least I’m going to start it. And then whoever comes after me can continue it.”
BIV: What stage is that in now?
“I’m looking for a property. … It’s what I’m working on at the moment.”
“I want it to be more or less center of the Municipio, on the main road someplace. Kind of in the middle of all the communities.”
BIV: Any other issues I haven’t mentioned that are priorities for you?
“Security, education, health. …”
“I’m bringing in an INFOP program (Instituto Nacional de Formación Profesional). What I want to do is, we got a lot of single parents, a lot of youth that wasn’t fortunate enough to get a title (diploma) … and if you go to the port where the cruise ship come in, and you go to buy a souvenir, most of the souvenir is made in Guatemala, Nicaragua, all over the place. So what I want to do is teach most of the single parents to make souvenirs, the youth that hasn’t been able to finish their study, to teach them to make souvenirs so that we could benefit more from the cruise ships that is already coming here. And that would do two things: 1) it would generate more jobs for the people of Santos Guardiola, and 2) it would help to advertise Santos Guardiola, get Santos Guardiola’s name around … Because all I’m going to be asking from them in return is that whatever souvenir you make and sell into the ports down on that end of the island have engraved in their souvenir ‘Made in Santos Guardiola.’ So when the tourists buy a souvenir, they’ll say, ‘Santos Guardiola? Where is that?’”
BIV: So that’s sort of an employment program. What is the main source of employment out here?
“Most of the people from Santos Guardiola goes to the other end of the island to work. We want to change that.”
BIV: How? Bring more tourism out here?
“Well, we gotta bring tourism out here sooner or later. We gotta get a flow of tourism on this end of the island. But that’s a process. I don’t think we’re prepared for that yet. We’ve got to enhance security. We gotta do a lot of preparation out here that they haven’t done on the west end of the island. Down on that end of the island, tourism just happened. I want to prepare for it first, then bring it out here, then try to get it here.”
BIV: I think one of the things that’s going to attract people out to this end of the island is that it hasn’t had so much tourism and you still have the natural forest and the beauty.
“We want to keep it all natural, protect it. Keep it protected.”
BIV: So you see the East End developing more sort of eco-tourism as opposed to beach developments like you see in West Bay?
“Exactly. We want to be able to offer a different type of attraction. And if you keep it all natural, that will give us an advantage.”
BIV: So that means when you have people leveling land for new developments here, you need to make sure they’re not creating runoff that’s going to wreck the reef. Do you have the systems and capacity in place to make sure that when the muni gives a permit that they’re taking the appropriate controls to reduce their runoff?
“We already pulled in some of them and put a fine on them.”
BIV: Have you stopped some people from going forward?
“We stopped a few of them already.”
BIV: On the way out here I encountered a couple of daredevil bus drivers going 50 mph and passing me around curves and over speed bumps. Obviously it’s not going to be good for tourism if some bus driver kills a lot of tourists going around a curve. Whose responsibility is it to discipline reckless drivers? Is there a muni permit that they have to have?
“No, they gets all that from the Transito, the Traffic Police.”
BIV: Is there anything the Muni can do?
BIV: Any final comments on Day 102? How many to go? Are you counting down yet?
(laughing): “No, no. … Thank you for coming.”