The Norwegian Star pulled away from its mooring at the Port of Roatan April 18, leaving many workers at the port without a steady source of income until the next cruise ship arrives in late October.
“I’ll have to find another job,” said Dana Brice, 26, who has sold hand-rolled cigars from a kiosk at the Coxen Hole port for the last seven cruise seasons, earning about $100 a day in commissions. In previous off seasons Brice, who lives with her mother in Colonia Los Maestros, has tended bar in West End and West Bay. But as this season’s last ship prepared to pull away, she had no job lined up for the coming six months.
Brice is not alone. Maynor Cordova, 20, who sells paintings from an art stand in the port and lives with an uncle, said simply that he would “look for something” (Busco que hacer).
Not all port workers are laid off during the slow season. Many who are directly employed by the port, or by some of the larger establishments there, will continue to draw a salary. Some employers, like Diamond International, keep their staff busy with social service projects or shift staff to Mahogany Bay, which still receives 1-2 cruise ships a week during the off season.
For example, Edwin Martinez, a port employee who has tended a drink kiosk for the last six seasons and also works part-time at the Argentine Grill in West Bay, said he would continue to draw his port salary and work his second job. So his income will not be much affected.
The story is quite different, however, for independent operators or those indirectly employed by the port, such as tour guides, taxi drivers and souvenir vendors.
Damaris Pacheco, who describes herself as a “semi-volunteer” selling T-shirts and other items for the Roatan Marine Park, said she would continue to work once a week at the RMP stand at Mahogany Bay but otherwise devote her time to Bible studies. She will continue to earn some income, she said, but “It will be a lot less.”
For older workers with families to support, the situation is more serious.
A 29-year-old tour guide, recently widowed with four children aged 4-9, who asked not to be identified by name, said she would try to get by “with the help of the Lord.” She said on a good day during cruise season she earned anywhere from $160 to $240 and was able to save $150. During the off season she plans to open a booth outside a nightclub in Flowers Bay to sell island food. But like Pacheco, she expects her income to be “a lot less.”
Roatan Mayor Julio Galindo said off-season employment options dimmed after the real estate market “went sour” in 2009. Previously, he said, investment in real estate generated “unbelievable” cash flow and was “our biggest source of employment.” But “we lost that,” he said, and he estimates 6,000 jobs went with it.
Galindo said the suspension of the Zolitur preferential tax regime by the Honduran Congress in January further soured the environment for investment and job-creation. “It’s hurting the economy,” he said.
Indeed, Antonio Munguia, a taxi driver and father of three, said only a few of the 410 drivers on the island who transport tourists during the high season would find off-season work in construction or fishing. Most, he said, would continue to subsist on the cruise ship passengers still arriving at Mahogany Bay or tourists arriving by ferry or by air.
“Hay que estirar las lempiras durante esos días,” he said (We’ve got to stretch the lempiras during that time).