Falling On Hard Times

July 1st, 2007
by Alfonso Ebanks

[private] v5-7-Our IslandsIn these times of economical stress whenever I mention the desperate straits in which we find ourselves on Guanaja I always get the same response, “it’s tough everywhere.” This is fine for a response but it does not help the situation too much. Every body seems to have a different opinion as to how and why we find ourselves falling on hard times.

Some of these opinions are based on just a little fact and a lot of conjecture. There is one thing that is certain and that is that the bank is calling in some long overdue notes and the people that owe the bank cannot come up with the money. For too long we have based our economy on the fishing industry. Most boat owners are not only indebted to the bank, but they also owe a lot of money to the packing houses. Some of us kept borrowing money to buy boats even long after the hand writing on the wall foretold of a dying industry. We have over-fished, caught undersize and spawning lobsters in violation of every conservation law ever written. We have used borrowed money to coerce any government official with any authority into doing our bidding. We offered them big money for permits to fish lobster and even though there have not been any new slots available for many years, those officials took our money and issued those permits.

With so many more boats fishing the same product, our limited resource (lobster) had to be shared into so many more pieces that some of us couldn’t make enough money to pay our bills. One thing I must say is that almost all of the money made by the boat owners went into this town’s economy. The same cannot be said for the owners of the packing plants. I cannot recall any incident on any occasion that the owners of any of the packing houses did anything of mentionable merit for the town from whence they extracted their millions. Some of those owners never saw it necessary to own a home on this island.

The money they made was invested in other parts of the country. Other packing plant owners amassed huge sums of money in other countries and made local banks loans to operate their plants. This island is going down the drain fast because of the huge amount of money that has left this place over the last few decades. There has not been a consequential investment on Guanaja in many years and the cash outflow continues until this day.

Not only packing house owners are guilty of shipping money off-island. Lately they are getting a lot of help from the three telephone companies that provide services on Guanaja. Of these three companies, only Hondutel has any salaried employees in Bonacca Cay, a grand total of four. Hondutel, Megatel and Celtel take millions out of here on a regular basis and that money is gone forever. There is not much that can be done about that. Our local cable network does the same thing.

With the fishing industry on the way out and no one trying to do anything else, there is not much hope that we will come out of these hard times soon. There is some hopeful news that someone is starting to build a first class hotel on the north side. This is good, but only a very few locals will get work with those foreign owned hotels. To help the whole island we need local investors to build small hotels and finance locally owned sport fishing and diving activities.

I know that European tourism will increase in these islands in the next few years in part due to terrorist activity in their usual Asian destinations. American tourism will also increase at the expense of the Cayman tourist industry. This is due to the fact that their biggest attraction, the feeding of stingrays, is no longer attractive after the accidental death of Steve Erwin sometime last year while handling a stingray.

For us to take advantage of this, we need to convince the few people of means that we have left to help bolster our overtaxed infrastructure and look towards an economy based on tourist dollars. They should set other goals not only for themselves, but also for the whole town and then maybe we will be able to pull ourselves out of this precarious economic situation in which we find ourselves.n these times of economical stress whenever I mention the desperate straits in which we find ourselves on Guanaja I always get the same response, “it’s tough everywhere.” This is fine for a response but it does not help the situation too much. Every body seems to have a different opinion as to how and why we find ourselves falling on hard times.

Some of these opinions are based on just a little fact and a lot of conjecture. There is one thing that is certain and that is that the bank is calling in some long overdue notes and the people that owe the bank cannot come up with the money. For too long we have based our economy on the fishing industry. Most boat owners are not only indebted to the bank, but they also owe a lot of money to the packing houses. Some of us kept borrowing money to buy boats even long after the hand writing on the wall foretold of a dying industry. We have over-fished, caught undersize and spawning lobsters in violation of every conservation law ever written. We have used borrowed money to coerce any government official with any authority into doing our bidding. We offered them big money for permits to fish lobster and even though there have not been any new slots available for many years, those officials took our money and issued those permits.

With so many more boats fishing the same product, our limited resource (lobster) had to be shared into so many more pieces that some of us couldn’t make enough money to pay our bills. One thing I must say is that almost all of the money made by the boat owners went into this town’s economy. The same cannot be said for the owners of the packing plants. I cannot recall any incident on any occasion that the owners of any of the packing houses did anything of mentionable merit for the town from whence they extracted their millions. Some of those owners never saw it necessary to own a home on this island.

The money they made was invested in other parts of the country. Other packing plant owners amassed huge sums of money in other countries and made local banks loans to operate their plants. This island is going down the drain fast because of the huge amount of money that has left this place over the last few decades. There has not been a consequential investment on Guanaja in many years and the cash outflow continues until this day.

Not only packing house owners are guilty of shipping money off-island. Lately they are getting a lot of help from the three telephone companies that provide services on Guanaja. Of these three companies, only Hondutel has any salaried employees in Bonacca Cay, a grand total of four. Hondutel, Megatel and Celtel take millions out of here on a regular basis and that money is gone forever. There is not much that can be done about that. Our local cable network does the same thing.

With the fishing industry on the way out and no one trying to do anything else, there is not much hope that we will come out of these hard times soon. There is some hopeful news that someone is starting to build a first class hotel on the north side. This is good, but only a very few locals will get work with those foreign owned hotels. To help the whole island we need local investors to build small hotels and finance locally owned sport fishing and diving activities.

I know that European tourism will increase in these islands in the next few years in part due to terrorist activity in their usual Asian destinations. American tourism will also increase at the expense of the Cayman tourist industry. This is due to the fact that their biggest attraction, the feeding of stingrays, is no longer attractive after the accidental death of Steve Erwin sometime last year while handling a stingray.

For us to take advantage of this, we need to convince the few people of means that we have left to help bolster our overtaxed infrastructure and look towards an economy based on tourist dollars. They should set other goals not only for themselves, but also for the whole town and then maybe we will be able to pull ourselves out of this precarious economic situation in which we find ourselves. [/private]

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