Down Along the Valley
A Community Awaits

January 1st, 2010
by Benjamin Roberts

[private]

Many of these structures are compiled of mud, stone, and sticks. Whatever nature is able to provide, and traditionally known as "Bahreques."

Many of these structures are compiled of mud, stone, and sticks. Whatever nature is able to provide, and traditionally known as "Bahreques."

Walking along what seemed to be a once beautifully ornamented drive, the weeds and grass have now taken over the carefully placed stones. The path curves around and ascends; it looks as though there should be nothing here, yet there is another piece of random and poorly planned construction, failing to proceed years ago. It is so common here in Roatan. This specific place doesn’t even give the impression that it should exist at all. You reach the top, to the left is a large resort overlooking Caribbean and the other side, a shell of a building. Not so much resembling a skeleton nor solid structure, as the concrete walls surely someone’s dream home way back when, such as the decrepit cobblestone drive would indicate. There is a path there, to the right, cutting just past the structure and moving down and through the tall grass and forest. You reach an opening just before you descend into yet another ambiguous valley yet another structure appears. This one is not made of steel or concrete, but wood and flat metal. Dogs, almost a dozen of them in all sizes, colors, and demeanor, show their teeth but only at first instance.

There are people here too, mostly children and young adults. The parents and patriarchs arrive after dark when they are done with work. Around 15 persons in total, ages ranging from 2 to 49 years, occupying four living-quarters attached at the seams, create what appears like an exterior dormitory. The small complex of enclosed rooms, clothes wires with garments strewn about, and a chicken leave much to be desired. Three of the four families are here with permission of the owner, a man named Marco. However friends in need are beginning to move in as well and most likely don’t have his consent. They are all from the mainland and all have traveled here for a better life.

Roatan provides higher wages, which attracts many immigrants from all areas throughout Honduras. Although minimum wages are indeed higher, around Lps. 7,000 per month in comparison to Lps. 5,500 on the mainland, the costs of living are substantially higher as well, thus the wage disparity. Many island immigrants do not take this into account. The case of Los Fuertes is a prime example. Many people came from the mainland because of a high demand for manual labor during Roatan’s labor boom. When this period of rapid growth subsequently ended, the surplus of workers remained with nowhere to go. When it was time for the laborers to leave, shanty towns were set up. Government and various churches were forced to get involved and began to take the area by force in favor of the squatters. Hence the name: Los Fuertes.

With no electricity, the sun seems to set more rapidly than usual

With no electricity, the sun seems to set more rapidly than usual

Times have changed. Not so many are as eager to help, nor support those once thought less fortunate. Virtually all of Roatan is now privately owned and closely watched. On October 15 the residents of a small area in Oak Ridge were kicked out of their homes, their time was up. “Oak Ridge was a disaster,” remarks a local Roatan attorney who has since moved out of realty litigation. “A disaster created mainly by the Municipal. They were more interested in receiving funds than keeping records.” Although the residents were indeed paying taxes on their homes, the all important issue of “when” and “where” was never documented. The land owner nowhere to be found, the process went unchecked until the property was handed ultimately down, and the dispute came to light. The litigation process began, the property owner won, staking claim to his new inheritance, leaving dozens homeless and angered.

As for the family along the path, like so many other families along so many other ambiguous trails, snaking through the jungle, the end of their story here on Roatan Island remains open-ended. Will it be one of dispute or resolve? Perhaps both may emerge like so many other shacks and sheds one can find along the way down in the valley. [/private]

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