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written by Linnea Brown

photos by Thomas Tomczyk


On 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 de Maduro.
"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

Honduras 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 Municipality Building.
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 300,000 Lps.
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 projects.
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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Some 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, A.K.A. Vegas.
Once a week, the place serves "Mondongo soup," a mixture of cow feet, tripe and vegetables classic. Beef soup is another classic here.
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 just history.

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A Team of U.S. inspectors give Honduran shrimpers a second chance.

The 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. "The
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 Conservation

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 lost time."
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 take.
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."

THE TAX MAN COMETH by Linnea Brown

On 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

their 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 eight months.
"The big question is how this will affect Roatan," said Monoloco owner Billy Burns.

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At 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 Hole.
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 same time."
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," he says.
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 Don Hickman.
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," she says.
"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 gravely.
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 vet procedures!"
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 it."

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