Help Us or Leave Us Alone

July 1st, 2009

[private] v7-7-Our IslandsOn a bus ride a few years ago in New England I was surprised to see a State Trooper’s Plymouth pull up next to the driver side of the bus. The policeman in the passenger seat of the police cruiser signaled to the bus driver with a ticket receipt book and a pencil. The bus driver immediately slowed the vehicle to a more legal speed, but we never stopped. I asked the driver why the policeman had threatened him out there on the highway. The driver said: “That was not a threat, he gave me a ticket. I was speeding.”

He explained that the police could not stop an interstate carrier (our bus) on the highway for speeding. He said that what the police did was to ticket the bus by its license plate number and the bus company charges the ticket to the driver. “We have a schedule to keep and not even the police can interfere, unless it’s a matter of life or death.”

That incident occurred over 40 years ago and I still remember it because I was very impressed by that respect for schedules and the value placed on the passengers’ time. I wish I could say the same for the authorities in this country.

Time seems to be that last thing on the mind of the authorities in Honduras and that is especially true when it’s other people’s time. In this country the people in charge make a special effort to foul up other people’s schedules. It is such a common practice that nobody expects things to go right. On at least three occasions in as many months the top brass of the Mercante Marina has seen the need to refuse to issue sailing orders for our freighters going between Bonacca and La Ceiba. These freighters are the life line of this island; they sometime arrive with rotting vegetables and sour milk – everything is planned around their sailing and returning on the specified day.

On a few occasions orders came from Tegucigalpa to deny sailing permits (Zarpes) to our freighter because they (Mercante Marina) believed the sea to be too rough. The latest reason they came up with for denying the sailing permits was that one of the captains of the freighters was intending to carry passengers on his vessels. Befuddled by this dubious crime the port captain called his boss in Tegus and was told that he should not issue any permits to any freighter sailing to Guanaja until further orders.

There is a law that forbids the freighters from carrying passengers. That law was passed at the request of the owner of another vessel that runs both passengers and freight (the owner is a mainlander.) In another instance, a mainlander bought a freight boat for the coastal run and he petitioned and got a law passed that forbids other boats to carry freight no matter if it is was your freight and your boat.

The government went so far as to prohibit fishing boats from picking up their own lobster traps and other fishing gear because this paraphernalia was considered freight. I can’t see where intent to carry passengers is in violation of any ordinance or law. The solution was as simple as to forbid the boarding of the passengers, but instead all the boats were tied up. Then the official said that the intended passengers were not on the Zarpe that was turned in during office hours.

For passengers to be listed ahead of sailing time there must be some sort of reservation system and none of the freighters have offices in La Ceiba. They can hardly afford the exorbitant amounts charged for dockage. Honduras is the only country in the world that requires permits to sail your own vessel within your own borders.

For now, nobody is required to have a permit to travel by car from anywhere to anywhere in Honduras. The registration of a car can be paid at any bank, but for a boat you need lawyers and lots of cash. In this country a permit to operate a boat must be signed by a minister of the president’s cabinet and you must spend money to get that signature.

This island is going downhill fast and the Honduran government is pushing us along. Guanaja no longer has a judge, we no longer have a customs office, the mail service is due to disappear, we are down to one airline. We are being systematically driven out of business while others, especially Jamaicans, fish our waters without fear of retaliation.

For almost two hundred years we have plied the seas around us but now we are being controlled by persons from a landlocked city who presume to know more that we do about our vessels, our weather and our ocean. We are now being told when we can sail our vessels on the seas that our forefathers gave to us as our birthright. We are being told when, where, and what we can fish and on this island, fishing is a matter of survival.

We invented conch soup, but we can’t dive for conch because those landlubbers have denied us that right also. If we really want to make a conch soup we must take an airplane trip and purchase this island delicacy in the super markets in La Ceiba.

To you bureaucrats in the capital I say: Help us or leave us. We were doing fine before you ‘discovered us.’ [/private]

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