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written by Jaime Johnston
photos by Thomas Tomczyk

Puddles 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.

"It's 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," said Warren.
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 five-year history.
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

down 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 began.
"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."


When 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?" on Manhattan.
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.

local news

The 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."

by Jaime Johnston

by Jaime Johnston

Citizens 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.




by Thomas Tomczyk

On 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 Banker.
"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 commission.
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 from happening."

Read other issues of
the Bay Islands Voice

No. 1
March 27 2003
No. 2
April 10 20
No. 3
April 24

No. 4
May 8

No. 5
May 22
No. 6
June 5
No. 7
June 19
No. 8
July 3

No. 9
July 17
No. 10
July 31
No. 11
Aug. 14
No. 12
Sept. 11

No. 13
Sep. 25

No. 14
Oct. 09