& BEAR IT
COXEN HOLE SURVIVE ITS MAKEOVER?
by Jaime Johnston
by Thomas Tomczyk
of sewer water mix with raindrops and overflow onto the streets.
Mountains of fresh earth and rocks frame the edges of the 10-ft
hole in the ground. A stream of single-file pedestrians wear a thin
path through hills of soil. Their legs are splashed with caked mud
as they walk a tight-rope routine. The buzz of heavy machinery nearly
drowns out the chorus of car horns in the distance. Traffic is stopped.
Cars are lined bumper to bumper. This is a typical day in Roatan's
capital. Welcome to the streets of Coxen Hole.
a high price to pay for progress," said Curby Warren, owner
of Coxen Hole's grocery, H.B. Warrens. Poised to celebrate their
49 year of business in February, H.B. Warrens has suffered a 50%
loss of sales since the beginning of the road construction in April.
"I don't have the words to describe it," said Warren,
"It has us where we don't know what to do. I'm pulling my hair
out." H.B Warrens housed a 15 by 30 foot hole at their storefront
for over three weeks, barely allowing access to the main entrance.
"It's ruined our business because our revenue is cut in half,
but the overhead isn't changing," said Warren, "We've
tried having product sales and raffle prizes to draw customers into
the store." Warren cites the road construction as the dominant
factor in his family's decision to sell the business "When
you're not profitable, you have to find a way to survive,"
Directly across the street from H.B Warrens, workers at the New
Souvenirs store share their neighbor's experience. "I couldn't
even shop at Casa Warrens because when I tried to pass, my foot
slid into the hole," said Dominga Ramos, a New Souvenirs employee
for the past three years. According to Ramos, New Souvenirs drew
an average of 50 customers daily before the construction began;
while the hole was in front of the store, they saw only three to
four people each day. "Luckily, the owner has another business
on the mainland. If she had to depend on this one, she would be
in trouble," said Ramos. Similarly, Terry Anderson, owner of
Yabba Ding Ding, reported the store's first monthly loss in its
Down the road at the Gibraltar, a 125-ft cargo boat owned by Lloyd
Davison, ships product to and from Puerto Cortes twice a weekl.
The 100-ton capacity boat has been operating out of Roatan for four
years and serves 35 local businesses. "The road construction
has really affected us. Customers have had to make three, four,
even five trips to try to pick up their merchandise, but they can't
pass to our office," said Janet Matias, Gibraltar's Office
Manager, "We are now looking for a new dock, so customers can
reach us again." While the Gibraltar staff search for a new
dock in French Harbour or Brick Bay, the Roatan Port Authority has
been renting use of the cruise ship platform for unloading their
cargo. The rental cost is 2,000 Lps. for a full day of use. "In
four weeks, we have used the cruise ship dock eight times, but we
don't stay all day each time," said Matias. Next door at Flying
Fish, Davison's problems multiplied. "Road workers hit one
of our own water mains and left us without water for eight hours.
We need water to wash and ice the fish, but since we were without
water, the fishing boat couldn't unload his catch and leave the
dock until we fixed the problem ourselves," said Davison who
ceased the exportation of fish on the weekly direct flight to Miami
because they can't ship to the airport by road.
Businesses along the Thicket Mouth Road were blocked from April
until October, when a small section of the road was opened. "Normally,
this is a good location, but business has been down by 50%, bit
by bit. We didn't have a choice," said Pastylee Bodden, two-year
owner of Mini Super Patsylee. Only a few stores down from there,
Fecombe Ferretera Comercial Beverly reported low sales. "Not
only is business down, but I have to take a wheelbarrow
to the entrance and carry 50 boxes each shipment back down to the
store because the trucks can't deliver here anymore," said
General Manager Zoila Yolanda Villeda who has run the store for
nine years. As the Thicket Mouth road nears completion, area business
owners fear that business may not bounce back. "We lost a third
of our business. It's been so long since we lost customers that
people have found other ways to find our services. The real question
is: will they come back when the construction is finished?"
asked Paradise Computers owner Mitch Cummins.Transportation though
Coxen Hole has been hindered by unpredictable road access and traffic
congestion, impacting taxi and bus drivers in the city. "People
would rather walk because they know the taxis can't go where they
want to get," said taxi driver Edson Jeffrey of Flower's Bay.
Jeffrey estimated his business is down by 30% and noted that the
extensive detours caused increased costs in fuel consumption. "People
don't know what to do. They even ask us [taxi drivers] every day
where they can catch their buses ever since they tore up the main
street in front of Casa Warrens," said Jeffrey. Coxen Hole
bus driver, Ward Bennett, reported minor problems since the construction
"Business is down a little, but the main problem is that the
bus routes are taking so long to get through town. The whole town's
having problems," said Bennett. Heading into the peak of Roatan's
cruise ship season, Roatan Port Authority officials met with members
of the community to make arrangements for the volume of passengers
from the ships. "We had a meeting with the Mayor, PMAIB people
and CANATURH and decided to open the Thicket Mouth to Market St.
section a little early for the Norwegian ship [on October 14] to
ease the transport of the passengers," said Batres who added
that any passengers heading west from the cruise ship would be transported
through Flower's Bay instead of Coxen Hole."We are finishing
the Thicket Mouth road soon and then we need to give the concrete
14 days from the last pouring," said Municipal Engineer Ivan
Jones who was contracted to work on the roads' project in September.
"In appearance, it looks like we're moving slow, but we're
accomplishing a lot. We've been seriously limited by the hospital.
We have to ensure access at all times to the hospital and that has
prevented us from doing that one stretch of road all at once,"
said Jones. He explained that accelerants have been added to the
concrete mix and compression tests have been completed to ensure
that the roads are opened after an appropriate amount of time. While
the concrete sets, roads will be blocked from automobile and pedestrian
traffic. The Municipal Police have been enlisted to monitor the
blockades. "We have spent a lot of manpower on directing traffic
and on surveillance to make sure no one travels on the concrete
until it's ready," said Director of Municipal Justice, Joseph
R. Solomon, "It's sad to waste tax money on this- people should
just adhere to the rules and be more supportive." For the last
month, Solomon estimates that 50% of his officers have been occupied
with the road construction, causing an unnecessary burden on the
municipality. In addition to police labor, there are crews from
Island Concrete, G & S Concrete and Cotizar working on concrete
and sewers, while the 15-member municipal crew works on drainage
and infrastructure. "There are 60-100 people working daily
to get these roads done and the sewer work is about 90% done. We
will push through the rain and get this done," said Roatan
Municipal Mayor Jerry Hynds who initiated the roads project which
remains on budget.
After completion of the Thicket Mouth Road, crews will move to the
main street. "I estimate that the main street should take about
90 days to complete, but the rain is going to be a problem. We'll
have to close the main road by sections and exit through the side
roads," said Jones. One meter sidewalks will be poured after
the roads are paved. "Coxen Hole is the capital. It was in
horrible condition. What we are doing should have been done 30 years
ago. Once it's finished, Coxen Hole will have some of the prettiest
streets in the country," said Mayor Hynds, "When we're
all done, I think that not only will business come back into downtown,
but it will be even stronger."
the West End Yankees lost in the Island playoffs I really thought:
"This place is nothing like New York." The only way that
Giants could be the best team in New York if we were talking about
football or could travel in time to 1957. I'm homesick and I see
New York everywhere. But, how far really did I travel from Manhattan?
Isn't Roatan just a replica of Manhattan
rotated 90 degrees,
stretched twice it's size and barged 3,000 miles West-South-West?
The highest hill on Roatan (235 meters) is no taller than the 57
story Woolworth building (241 meters). Manhattan is 14 miles long
and 2.3 miles wide. While Roatan stretches 28 from West Bay to Saint
Helene, 3 miles in width.
The Broadway is the historical North-South trade route that crossed
the New Amsterdam and I think of it every time I drive from Oak
Ridge to West End. I'd like to imagine I'm driving Broadway from
Washington Heights to Washington Square.
I estimate six native New Yorkers to be living on Roatan; there
are probably similar numbers of Roatanians making Manhattan their
home. For everyone wearing a New York Yankees hat on Roatan, there
is one person wearing "Where the hell is Roatan t-shirt?"
Mayor Hynds is more a Giuliani than a Michael Bloomberg. And the
improvements going on to the underground of Coxen Hole remind me
of the Ground Zero site. Citizens of both islands are just as stoic
looking into the pit in front of Warrens as they are looking into
the void that was the World Trade Center.
Then, there are the little differences that make the two islands
really unique. I could get Chinese take-out anywhere on Manhattan;
Atlantic in Los Fuertes is my only option on Roatan. And, in Manhattan,
you actually have to go to another island, Coney Island, to get
to any decent beach. I'd like to think of Utila as our Staten Island
and Guanaja as Brooklyn and Queens. (I guess that would leave La
Ceiba as the Bronx).
Then, there are some more serious differences. In 2002, there were
82 murders in Manhattan. In the last 12 months, there were 39 homicides
reported by the Roatan branch of Preventiva. Manhattan's (population
1.5 million) homicide rate is 5.5 per 100,000 people per year. On
Roatan (estimated population 50,000), it comes out to about 78 per
100,000, surpassing (2000) Honduras rate of 46.3. That would mean
you are about 14 times more likely to be killed living on Roatan
than in Manhattan.
The taxis are just as annoying and, on a good day, the Roatan taxi
driver skills don't seem that different from some of the fresh on
the job New York cabbies. On another thought- maybe I'm stretching
things just a bit.
At least there are no dog leash laws and the only one place where
you can get a parking ticket on Roatan is in front of the Municipal
on Manhattan there are about 200,000 of them.
MORE CONCH SOUP?
HONDURAN FISHING INDUSTRY FACES ANOTHER EMBARGO.
future of the Bay Islands' fishing industry is in jeopardy as Honduras
has been sanctioned with its second trade embargo in 2003. After
struggling with the effects of the American shrimp trade embargo
since January, Bay Islanders received notification of a trade embargo
against Honduran conch only days before the season opening. The
embargo was imposed by the Animals Committee of CITES, an international,
organization designed to protect endangered species; CITES is the
governing body for conch trade worldwide.
The decision of the Animals Committee was handed down at a Geneva
meeting on August 18-21. It was a result of claims that Honduras
was exporting more conch that it could sustain, fuelling Jamaican
complaints that Honduran vessels were fishing illegally. Embargos
were also imposed against the Dominican Republic and Haiti. CITES
outlined seven short-term requirements which Honduras must action
within eight months, followed by seven long-term actions for implementation
within 18 months.
There are twelve conch dive boats in the Atlantic fleet of Honduras,
seven of which are from the Bay Islands. "We are being victimized
by a situation that's out of our hands," said conch boat owner
Saul Arias of Oak Ridge, "It's a serious situation for the
Bay Islands." Arias estimates that he spent 650,000 Lps. in
preparation for the eight-month long conch season. These costs include
crew salaries, diesel, supplies and routine maintenance for his
boat, the Captain Stuart which caught 300,000 pounds of conch last
season. Each conch boat carries an average of 95 crew members which
translates into 1,140 unemployed conch fishermen in Honduras' Atlantic
fleet. "It trickles down and affects a lot more than the fishermen
and owners. Local businesses, crews' families, the packing plants-
everyone feels the impact," said Arias. The conch and lobster
dive boats employ 69.5% of those working in Atlantic fishing industry.
One of Honduras' 12 Atlantic packing plants, Roatan's Hybur relies
on conch for 30% of its business. "Between the conch and the
shrimp embargo, I have had to reduce my staff from 120 people down
to 60. If things don't change before the end of next week, I probably
have to go down to 40 people," said Hybur Manager, Shawn Hyde.
On October 9, Hyde and Arias joined a group of local fishermen,
packing plant owners and Bay Islands' officials to meet in Tegucigalpa
with Minister of Natural Resources, Mariano Jimenez. "We have
made a proposal to CITES to put tracking systems on all Honduran
boats as a temporary solution. Each device would record where the
boats are fishing," said Bay Islands Congressman Evans McNab,
"We're just waiting for them to come back with a response and
see if they can suspend the embargo."
AMERICANS OUT THERE? ALCALDE DISCUSSES EMBARGO CRISIS
of two countries merged as one community to discuss Island issues
on October 17 at Fantasy Island. Over 200 American nationals, now
residing on Roatan, attended the meeting, along with Bay Islands
Congressman Evans McNab and Bay Islands Governor Clinton Everett
and meeting organizer Roatan Municipal Mayor Jerry Hynds. The subject
matter of the meeting was undisclosed.
"We had a meeting at the American Embassy and were told by
an official that there were bad relations between Roatan people
and Americans living here. I wasn't prepared to hear that,"
said Mayor Hynds, "Maybe we're not as close as we could be.
My first priority is finding out what the problems are." Mayor
Hynds promised to hold two annual meetings to be conducted in English
to increase foreign nationals' involvement in the community. A panel
of American citizens who have lived on Roatan for many years was
introduced to the crowd. "There is no foundation to the remarks
heard at the Embassy," said panel member Mary Mason Monterroso,
owner of Island Properties. These comments echoed the sentiments
of the audience. "You can come to visit Roatan for the sun
and beaches, but it's the people who keep you here. We've seen nothing
but grace and respect from the Island people," said John Kennedy
who came to Roatan two years ago from Washington State.
Mayor Hynds appealed to the group for their support in efforts to
lift an existing American trade embargo against Honduran shrimp.
The embargo was imposed in January 2003 after several Bay Islands
vessels were found in violation of American regulations concerning
Turtle Escape Devices. Bay Islands' representatives have been negotiating
with American officials since July, but the embargo remains in effect.
"The percentage of people found in violation wasn't great.
We have complied with their [American] regulations and our biggest
problem is getting inspectors to come down and see us," said
Mayor Hynds. Bonnie Jackson of Jackson Shipping advised the crowd:
"I think this is a good opportunity to write your Congressman,
your Senators, the Embassy and try and help get the embargo lifted.
The Island people can't wait until next season. They depend on this
industry," said Jackson who added that crime will increase
if the shrimping industry dies off. "I am concerned that the
US Government is using force with the embargo because of land disputes
and other issues on the Island. I think they are overstepping their
boundaries and they, themselves, are fostering bad relationships
between Islanders and Americans," said Monterroso. Members
of the audience organized a petition to send to the US State Department
and proposed sending a delegation of American citizens to the Embassy
in support of Roatan. "We have to ask ourselves what part we
are playing in this community. We have Mayor Jerry Hynds here saying
'Let's work on this together' and I think we should take advantage
of that," summed up Charles George, owner of Vegas Electric.
October 16, the first open meeting took place to discuss the development
of a Roatan Realtors Association. All eleven Roatan-licensed real
estate companies were invited to participate. Along with Governor
Clinton Everett, Mayor Jerry Hynds, Patrick Crowley- a liaison between
American Realtors Association to ANABIR (National Realtors Association
Honduras), six Roatan realtors attended the meeting. The three companies
that initiated the process are: Roatan Real Estate, Margot &
Matt and Roatan Life Real Estate. Four other realtors participated
in the discussion: Al Western from Roatan Realty, Steve Dankovich
from Utila's Rainbow Realty, Realtor Henrik Jensen and Coldwell
"If we don't agree amongst ourselves on major rules and regulations,
the government will do it for us," said Larry Schlesser, owner
of Roatan Real Estate. During the meeting, the parties agreed to
separate plans for Roatan Realtor's Association from the concept
of joining MLS (Multi-List Service) system. MLS is a databank of
sale properties listed by each member; if a realtor sells a property
that is listed by another broker, they receive a percentage of the
The idea of an MLS remains controversial in the Roatan Realtor community,
as the number of properties on the market is still relatively low
and several real estate companies are already co-brokering. The
three companies that decided to initiate the process of creating
Roatan's Realtors Association contributed $1,000 as a membership
fee. The $3,000 was used to purchase MLS software and create the
property database available to the group members.
"The main focus here should be the consumer," said Crowley.
According to Crowley, the presence of appraisers that already practice
on the mainland could reassure investors that their investment is
secure. "Some banks could be then attracted to provide loans
towards the purchase of properties." According to Crowley,
Fleet Bank is one of institutions that provide housing loans in
several Latin American markets.
Crowley mentioned that the prices recorded officially in the municipal
are sometimes below what the property was sold "net."
This practice of "net selling", where a property is sold
for more than what seller is informed about doesn't instill confidence
in the Roatan property owners or potential investors. As the property
is sold the realtor collects both the Roatan standard 10% commission
on the price quoted to the seller and the entire difference collected
from the buyer. Net selling is illegal in the United States and
unethical on mainland Honduras, yet some Roatan real estate companies
continue the practice.
Schlesser expressed intention of joining ANABIR once the Bay islands
Realtors Association grows to five members, a minimum number required
to form a local chapter of ANABIR. ANABIR has its own code of ethics
and procedures of mediation in cases of conflict. ANABIR is expected
to become affiliated with the American Realtors Association during
their upcoming conference on October 7-10 in San Francisco. Honduras
would be the fourth Central American country to sign the agreement
following Realtors Associations of Costa Rica, El Salvador and Guatemala.
"You either join in or you can't sell land on Roatan,"
said Mayor Hynds about the idea of realtors association, "You
put it on paper and if it's fair to the island and good to you all,
I'll sign it."
RE/MAX Bay Islands did not attend the meeting, but issued a statement
that expressed their support to the idea of forming a Roatan Realtors
Association and eventually a MLS. "An MLS system cannot simply
spring up from nowhere and be successful in promoting properties
and monitoring practices. (
) Due process must occur. It is
essential to begin with an association at the international and
national levels with Code of Ethics and Standards of Business Practices
with which all realtors must comply," wrote RE/MAX Bay Islands
owner T.J. Lynch.
Century 21 representative could not attend the meeting due to conflicts
of scheduling, but representative Al Johnston, Century 21's Sales
manager, expressed his intention to participate in the second open
meeting on October 23.
"I think it's [a realtor's association] a good thing. There
needs to be more self policing in the industry, because there are
a lot of unethical practices. Simply joining the MLS doesn't solve
a problem that we have," said John Edwards, owner of Roatan's
Century 21 and the islands only developer/realtor. "There is
a tremendous amount of negative sales. When one company or individual
is badmouthing another individual, MLS isn't going to stop that