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FROM AN ANGEL- FIRST
LADY BRINGS GIFTS AND HOPE TO ROATAN
by Linnea Brown
by Thomas Tomczyk
11:30am on Thursday, Dec. 11, a rare angel visited the Polo Galindo
Clinic in Punta Gorda. Dressed all in white and bearing a gift of
20 much-needed wheelchairs for local disabled residents, Honduras'
First Lady Mrs. Aguas Ocaña de Maduro pushed back her long
blonde hair, posed for a photograph and gracefully made her way
through hundreds of anxious citizens.
Surrounded by Univisión cameras, her secretary and five crisp,
businesslike security personnel, the First Lady gave a speech about
the importance of the clinic and her concern for Roatan's disabled
citizens. She presented each wheelchair recipient with a hand-made
care package of food, leaning down to hug and greets each one.
Victoria Collins of Camp Bay, who has been immobile ever since a
car accident damaged her knees 15 years ago, wept as the First Lady
kneeled down to kiss her. "I had my friend drive me here at
8am to make sure I would get a chair today," Collins said.
"I'm so happy and grateful to her for doing this. I couldn't
walk or stand anymore."
Mrs. Ocaña de Maduro gave another speech about her concern
for homeless children and the need for a local center for drug abuse.
She announced her plans to open a First Lady office on Roatan, where
she plans to help these two causes.
Heading West from Punta Gorda, Mrs. Ocaña de Maduro stopped
at a local radio station, Magic 107.7 FM. She was a special guest
interviewee on "The Roatan Bruce Show," local DJ Bruce
Starr's English-language afternoon radio talk show.
"I am aware that the Bay Islands were forgotten and a lot of
people think that just because there is a tourism market and some
businessmen own hotels here, there are no problems. However, we
are awakening a conscience about the current situation that has
never existed before. I urge the Roatan people to help put the resources
in our hands, start to volunteer as much as possible and get involved
with the charitable programs here," said Mrs. Ocaña
"I respect anyone who is looking to do good for the Island
and follows through with programs to help people," Starr said
after the interview. "I think she's already accomplished so
much just by donating wheelchairs and providing a better environment
the Roatan disabled community."
At 3 pm, the First Lady led another ceremony at Honduras Outreach
Ministries church in Coxen Hole, where she donated 35 wheelchairs
to local citizens with limited mobility. Working together with the
new Roatan chapter of INFAA (the Institiuto
de la Niñez y la Familia), the First Lady plans to immediately
open her local "Despacho de la Primera Dama," or office
of First Lady. The office will be temporarily located in the Roatan
Mrs. Ocaña de Maduro's office will focus primarily on abused
women, children and families. "The giving out of wheelchairs
today is only one small thing on the big list of things I want to
accomplish on this Island," she said. "We have already
taken the children off the street of Tegucigalpa and we are now
working hard to do the same in San Pedro Sula and now the Bay Islands."
Instituto Jose Santo Guardiola founder Carlos Agustin Gutierrez,
who received a wheelchair at the ceremony for an ongoing leg problem,
was so touched by Mrs. Ocaña de Maduro's efforts that he
wrote and recited a poem about her accomplishments.
A 12-year-old girl named Janet also drew a picture of the first
lady and presented it to her. "It's very nice," exclaimed
Mrs. Ocaña de Maduro, hugging the girl. "It looks like
it's from a fantasy magazine."
After the ceremony at Honduras Outreach Ministries, Mrs. Ocaña
de Maduro stopped at French Harbor's Gio's Restaurant for a private
lunch. Accompanied by her security entourage, she dined on conch
soup and steak with her visiting from Spain Aunt.
At dusk, the First Lady visited Coxen Hole's Pacheco Recreational
Park to pass out 1,000 toys and Christmas presents to underprivileged
children. Various foreign governments donated the toys, worth approximately
Volunteers tossed board games, baby dolls and toy kitchenette sets
to hundreds of children. In the pouring rain, some youngsters burst
into tears or made their way back home with gifts tightly clutched
to their chests.Amid the chaos, the First Lady stood calmly answering
questions to local reporters.
Mrs. Ocaña de Maduro told TV anchors: "I hope that we
will soon be able to rescue the homeless children, prostitutes and
drug addicts of Roatan. We want to build psychological programs
to help these people, too, because it's not only about taking them
off the streets. Instead, we want to give them opportunities to
educate themselves so they can become active, functioning members
of the community." A crew from Honduras' Univision TV channel
filmed Mrs. Ocaña de Maduro's December Roatan visit, to be
edited and broadcasted at a later date.
The next morning, after spending the night at Henry Morgan Resort
in West Bay and eating breakfast there, the First Lady visited the
Majkan Broby orphanage in Gravels Bay. Mrs. Ocaña de Maduro
plans to collaborate with orphanage director Glen Solomon on future
After a brief stop in Oak Ridge to view the site of a municipal
garbage dump, Mrs. Ocaña de Maduro drove directly to airport.
She boarded the presidential helicopter and returned to Tegucigalpa.
According to Vladimir Vega, the First Ladies Press secretary, Mrs.
Ocaña de Maduro is expected to return to Roatan in mid-January.
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LAST CALL FOR MONDONGO SOUP by Thomas Tomczyk
things fade away, some things disappear: the end of an island tradition.
If you are looking for a Roatan diner, you won't find one, at least
yet. If you are looking for a classic island comedor, you also might
not find one, very soon.
Roland Galindo's R&R comedor is closing its doors after 19 years
of service. The fried chicken institution has served as a place
to eat and meet since Galindo rented the space in 1984. "It's
the best fried chicken in Coxen Hole," says Charles George,
Once a week, the place serves "Mondongo soup," a mixture
of cow feet, tripe and vegetables classic. Beef soup is another
A cast of characters have wound themselves through the restaurant's
doors over the last two decades. "Pratty," with pockets
full of lempira bills; "Washington," the cooper bracelet
man. Then there was "Huge," the hardest working, loud-mouthed
man you'd ever meet. "He used to say, 'Money makes you master,'"
says Charles George (A.K.A.Vegas).
The R&R customers "might sound and look drunk," but
they're not, says Galindo. "Church customers make better business,"
he commented on the alcohol-free policy of the establishment.
Rolando and his wife Rita took the place over from another island
restaurant. The 25-by-40-foot structure owned by the Francisco brothers
rents for 2,000 Lps. In January the rent will go up to 5,000 Lps.
and force the restaurant to move.
"Old, young, rich and poor," came through the restaurant
doors. There were no off-limits conversation topics at the R&R.
People from across Roatan gathered to taste soup and talk politics,
religion and baseball.
"For me this is one of the few places, that is 'old Roatan',"
says Vegas. The island is changing and many people look upon the
new buildings, future golf courses and new roads. What is left forgotten
is less ostentatious; it is a place the islanders came from, what
makes them who they are.
Rolando already has a place open on the West Bay road, the R&J
restaurant. The thing is, you can bring the recipes, but you can't
bring the history. So, maybe it's time to try the some mondongo
soup one last time. To see the place the way it is, before it is
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IT FINALLY OVER?
By Linnea Brown
Team of U.S. inspectors give Honduran shrimpers a second chance.
year-long United States shrimp trade embargo on Honduran shrimp
may finally be lifted, following a crucial inspection of Atlantic
shrimp boat fleet by U.S. officials on Dec. 16 and 17.
A team of five US shrimp boat inspectors arrived on Roatan, on Dec.
16. Headed by David F. Hogan of Office of Marine Conservation from
the US State Department, the team included Nicole Urdeneta, US Embassy
Economic Officer, Jack Forrester, Robert Hoffman and Paul Raymond,
all three from National Marine and Fisheries Service.
There are currently four countries that have lost their shrimp exporting
certification: Honduras, Costa Rica, Venezuela and Indonesia. Hogan
said that thanks to the commitment of the Honduran Government, strengthening
of enforcement policies and following proper filing procedures the
Department of State has moved their scheduled certification visit
from March of 2004 to December 2003.
Costa Rica, Venezuela and Honduras have lost their certification
for the second time and Honduras is the first country to be visited
by the inspectors in the annual certification cycle beginning in
May. Hogan stated that if the inspectors will find the Shrimp in
compliance with the law the recertification could take effect in
January of 2004.
The embargo, which has practically paralyzed the Bay Islands shrimp
industry since July of 2003, will only be lifted if all 75 Honduran
shrimp boats pass the inspection. The U.S. originally issued the
embargo when three Roatan shrimp vessels were found to have non-functioning
Turtle Escape Devices (TEDs) on their nets.
"We're even conducting our own inspection of the ships on Dec.
13, 14 and 15, before the American inspectors arrive," said
Pedro Marceo Castellon, General Director of the Honduran Agriculture
and Fisheries Ministry.
Castellon explained that all 75 of the licensed ships were told
to be in port by 2 pm on Dec. 12 and all captains were required
to attend a 1-hour, mandatory meeting at Las Palmas that evening.
captains all seem much more aware of theseverity
of the problems now," Castellon said. "Before, they were
all kind of in denial."
A team of five shrimp boat inspectors arrived on
Roatan on Dec. 16. Headed by David F. Hogan with the Office of Marine
from the US State Department, the team included Jack Forrester, Robert
Hoffman and Paul Raymond from the National Marine and Fisheries Service
and US Embassy Economic Officer Nicole Urdeneta.
Shrimp boat captain Kelly Woods of Plan Grande, Roatan, who had been
out on his boat, Capt. Kelly, since July 15, said he felt a bit annoyed
that a few Captains did not attend the mandatory meeting. "They'll
probably just make them pay a fine," Woods said. "But all
it takes is one or two guys breaking the rules to ruin it for the
rest of us."
The Americans trained 10 Honduran inspectors on Dec. 16. According
to Castellon, any boat captains that did not show up for the inspection
would have their fishing license revoked.
The inspectors will hold a final meeting with all the local shrimp
boat captains on Dec. 17, where they will announce the results of
the inspection. "We're all also hoping that the Honduran government
will leave the season on until the end of February so we can keep
fishing," Woods said. "Maybe then we can make up for the
On Dec. 18, the inspectors will travel to Tegucigalpa and on Friday,
Dec. 19-assuming the ships all passed the inspection-they will hold
a meeting in Tegucigalpa to discuss the procedure of lifting the embargo.
However, Honduran officials are unaware how long the procedure will
Woods stated that the embargo has caused a 50 percent decrease in
his product, more than halfway through the season. "If the embargo
continues for much longer, all the crew members will lose their jobs,"
Woods said. "Five thousand families will soon be starving and
everyone will lose their boat."
Woods pointed out that only three shrimp boats out of 120 broke the
law. "Instead of pulling the licenses of those three Captains,
we all got punished," Woods said. "We're scared it could
happen again, and hopefully no one will stand in our way of getting
the embargo lifted."
TAX MAN COMETH by Linnea Brown
Dec. 8, nine tax auditors and one attorney from Tegucigalpa's DEA
(Dirección Ejecutiva de Ingresos) arrived on Roatan to conduct
an unannounced one-week investigation of local business owners' tax
practices, forcing many businesses to shut their doors for five days.
Customs officer Humberto Chavez of Coxen Hole accompanied the auditors
on their investigation. "We checked all of the local shops, restaurants,
hotels and businesses to see if they've been issuing receipts correctly,"
said Chavez. "If their tax documents were not in order, Honduran
law states that they must immediately stop operating for five days."
By Friday, Dec. 12, the auditors had already required 13 local business
owners to temporarily close their doors - after only five days of
checking paperwork. These businesses were: Yaba Ding Ding, New Souvenirs,
Casa Tony, Mini Super Vivasi, Pulperia Dimas and Variadades Lopez
in Coxen Hole; Drug Store Bahia, Tania's Boutique, Bodega Cadiz and
L&L Super Descuento in French Harbour; Alvin Lee Dilbert's grocery
store in Oak Ridge; Sundowners Special and Bar Monoloco in West End.
Chavez said that the new Honduran government plans to send DEA officials
to Roatan regularly. "The auditors are going to start coming
as often as once a year to check up on people," Chavez said.
"If the same businesses still don't have their taxes in order
next time, they will have to close for 30 days-and they will close
permanently if it happens a third time." The DEA officials conducted
their investigation by going into each business and asking the businesses'
accountant to produce all issued receipts, a monthly record of sales
tax and a yearly record of income tax. If the accountant produces
inadequate documentation, the auditors notify the owner that they
will soon return to seal off
doors with yellow "Clausirado" tape. "The most important
thing we looked for were receipts, which contain an official sequence
number, the name and type of business and the date of issue,"
Chavez said. "Sales tax doesn't belong to anyone except the
government and if people aren't reporting it properly, they're stealing
from the government."
Drug Store Bahia owner Lesbiac Ethel Arqueta expressed dissatisfaction
when the auditors arrived to tape over her doors on Friday, Dec.
12. "You should have at least sent a notice from the mainland
that officials would be coming," Arqueta told DEA lawyer Xochilt
Cordona. "No one ever comes to shut down the drug dealers here,
but instead you come and force the honest people who want to work
to lose out on business."
L&L Super Descuento cashier Carolina Adella Woods expressed
her relief. "I'm happy that it's only for five days,"
Woods said. "Of course it will hurt business, but we're not
going to let this discourage us."
If a business owner tears the tape off their door before their five-day
probation time is up, they will be shut down for an additional 15
days. Any monetary fines for tax violations will be determined and
issued next year.
According to Chavez, the tax inspectors are expected to return in
"The big question is how this will affect Roatan," said
Monoloco owner Billy Burns.
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FLYING VET by
9:30 a.m. on a typical Wednesday, Dr. Higinio Calderon Gostas stands
in his dusty, garage-like Roatan office, carefully examining his
patient: a trembling, fatigued black Labrador named Blanca. As he
diagnoses the dog with a minor condition and recommends an affordable
medication, Blanca's owner beams with relief. "Thank you so
much, doctor," she says gratefully. "I don't know what
Roatan would do without you."
As most local pet owners know, Gostas, a La Ceiba veterinarian,
flies to Roatan every Wednesday and runs an affordable, informal
pet clinic across the street from Bojangles restaurant in Coxen
Although Gostas owns his own veterinary practice on the mainland,
he feels that Roatan pet owners depend on him. "I love animals,"
he says simply. "I could make more money if I just stayed at
La Ceiba, but it's a service that's needed here."
Gostas, a middle-aged and handsome Hispanic man, grew up in Honduras
but received his doctorate degree 16 years ago from Universidad
Federal de Goia's in Brazil. "There was no other quality place
to attend veterinary school," Gostas says. "But it was
difficult to learn both Portuguese and veterinary science at the
Gostas works at his La Ceiba clinic Monday thru Saturday, flies
to Roatan on Wednesdays, and works in the fields with cows, horses
and pigs on Sundays. He also flies to Guanaja and Utila on an unscheduled
basis, and he is always on call. "I work 365 days a year,"
A decade ago, West End dive shop owners Phil and Carol Stevens were
the first Roatan residents to bring Gostas over from La Ceiba to
examine and treat their sick dog. "There was no other vet on
the Island," explains Phil Stevens. "We then invited him
to start coming every few weeks to run open clinics here, and we
used to give him a special room at our old hotel, Sunset Inn [now
Mango Garden] to work out of."
Word traveled fast, and the demand for local veterinary care soon
became so frequent that Gostas decided to rent a room and start
running regular weekly walk-in clinic on Roatan. He now pays $150
a month for his current rental space, where he stores and replenishes
a local supply of necessary surgical tools, vaccines, medication
and pet care items.
Two unpaid local volunteers also help Gostas on Roatan every week:
French Harbour dive shop owner Gillian Notton and West End retiree
From 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every week, a steady stream of local pet
owners bring their animals to Gostas' Roatan clinic, some waiting
as long as an hour. Notton, a certified veterinary nurse, says that
dogs with skin problems are the clinic's most frequent visitors.
"But we do see the occasional sick ferret or hamster,"
"He knows a lot about diseases for all animals," adds
Carol Stevens. "We have eight rabbits, five cats, four dogs
and 11 parakeets, and he's seen them all."
Gostas readily neuters male animals on Roatan on scheduled surgery
days, and flies all female animals to his La Ceiba clinic to perform
their surgery, sending them back to Roatan on a plane two days later
at no extra charge.
Gostas says the worst part about his job is seeing animals whose
owners have waited too long after their pet becomes sick or injured
to bring their pet in. "Then it is too late," he says
Gostas, who lives in a small house near his La Ceiba clinic, said
he sometimes receives emergency phone calls in the middle of the
night for animal births, allergic reactions and trauma incidents.
"My wife is fine with these emergencies," Gostas says.
"What she doesn't understand is the many thoughtless neighbors
who bring their pets to our front door at all hours for routine
Gostas says he plans to continue his weekly clinics as long as the
pets and owners of Roatan need him to. "Sometimes animals are
nicer than people," he says, laughing. "They're worth