story / editorial
/ local news
words and illustrations by Thomas Tomczyk
THE ISLANDS FROM OURSELVES
and extensive new law proposed for the Bay Islands aims to control
growth and protect the environment. The manner of doing business and
living on the Islands is about to change. Or, is it?
proximity of the reef to land makes the Roatan marine environment
especially vulnerable to pollution, whether in the form of sediment
or waste. The reef in Belize is, in most cases, miles from scarcely
populated coast, bay islands reef system is sometimes less than
100 meters from shore.
The government of Honduras finds itself in the delicate position
of trying to legislate laws that would both preserve the fragile
environment of the islands and keep the local tourist and land development
economy booming. Honduras could be only the second country in Central
America that developed a land management law for at least a part
of its territory. The law for the Bay Islands is expected to be
eventually followed by similar laws specific to other parts of the
country: Sula valley, Atlantida, etc.
A new law is under proposal to replace the "Acuerdo No.2"
that has set the rules on construction and growth of the Bay Islands
since the early 1990s. The new document addresses issues from construction
setbacks to use of plastic bottles. It will likely impact all business
and people making a living in the Department.
Just as fragile as the Bay Island's ecosystem is its balance of
tourism business profitability. Island economy is dependent and
sensitive to the ever-changing regional tourism trends, hurricane
patterns, global security concerns, US and local legislation.
laws in a third world country is different then in the US or Europe.
The laws in developing countries sometimes overshoot their intentions
to compensate for the lack of on the ground control, law enforcement
and absence of complementary local laws. The key, however, is the
reduced ability of enforcing the laws.
"I've seen things change when a political law was introduced.
It hurt the economy for three years. And after it was taken off
,it took another eight to get us back where we started," said
John Edwards, owner of Century 21 Bay Islands, about his experience
at Ambergris Cay, Belize.
Even though the proposed law has been in the making for a number
of years, its recent draft has been triggered by the augmenting
lawsuit that was presented in front of procurator general of the
environment. Several lawsuits against developments on the Bay Islands
have also paralyzed two of four municipals that have all but suspended
giving out construction permits, fearing backlash from central government.
"Municipalities don't have environmental authority," said
Dr. Jose Guillermo Flores Rodas, director of PMAIB. "There
is only one authority on building on the islands or coast lines:
SERNA. They are the only ones authorized to give environmental license.
Municipalities can give a building license, but you still have to
respect the environmental permits given by SERNA."
to Enoc Burgos, coordinator of PMAIB Protected Areas Project, 30-40
people attended a two day workshop on August 5 and 6 in Tegucigalpa
which included eight people from SERNA, five from Ministerio de
Gobernacion and two from PMAIB. Representing the Bay Islands were
the four mayors, Romeo Silvestri from CANATURH, Rita Morris from
Chamber of Commerce. To concentrate on more specific issues, the
panel was randomly divided into four working panels to concentrate
on the issues of immigration, coral reef protection, zoning, etc.
A 44 article proposal was created and submitted for review to business
After the draft making session in Tegucigalpa, many Bay Islands
businesses and politicians felt excluded from the lawmaking process.
"I am surprised I didn't get an invitation," said Governor
Clinton Everett, "They need to sit down with us and talk this
over." Why more Bay Islands businesspeople weren't invited
to participate isn't clear. "The government isn't stupid to
create laws that would throw-out investors," said Burgos, "the
Bay Islands don't belong to the developers, they belong to everyone."
The proposal is expected to pass into law not through congress,
but by presidential decree- a more rapid lawmaking process avoiding
the scrutiny of congress. "We can do a lot of things to stop
it, as long as we work together," said Emilio Silvestri. "I
am opposed to this document until a feasibility study is made to
assess the economic impact of this law on the Bay Islands,"
said John Edwards. "This legislation would stop, or at least
hamper the businesses on the islands."
According to Alex Villela, an attorney with seven years experience
in Tegucigalpa and Roatan, there are two ways of trying to legally
stop a project law. One option is to lobby congressmen to oppose
the law, or file a complaint in the Supreme Court claiming that
part of the law is unconstitutional. Four entities that have legal
initiative are: the president and his ministers, congress, the supreme
court and the elections tribunal.
To voice their frustrations at the proposed law, about 40 realtors
and business people met at the Parrot Tree meeting room on Tuesday,
September 7. The meeting accentuated the frustration and anxiety
of the Roatan business community, not sure about the speed and implications
of the law. "It's not only an anti-gringo law. This thing is
anti-everybody law," said Shawn Hyde, general manager of Mariscos
There was also criticism of the law in part excluding the rapidly
growing areas like Los Fuertes. "They are excluding the communities
that need most help. They neglect the barrios. They don't want to
deal with it," said Edwards.
The meeting produced a plan to lobby Thierry Pierrefeu, Honduran
Minister of Tourism. A group of Roatan businessmen and politicians
traveled to Tegucigalpa on September 14 and presented a list of
alternative points that would "lessen the negative impact of
the law on businesses."
all the reluctance to introduce any changes to Bay Island zoning laws,
business and local government have been making demands for aggressive
legislation to limit migration to the island department. Potentially,
the most explosive part of the proposed legislation is Chapter XIII-
migration. The submitted draft didn't include any details of the issue,
but restriction of access of any Hondurans to Bay Islands is so sensitive
that it could spark a national debate.
"Any law that provides restrictions to that movement is unconstitutional,"
said Dr. Flores. "San Andres [Colombia] is a protected area.
If you call something a protected area, you will need to have even
more restrictions on growth."
Many investors are concerned that the parcels of land they purchased
will lose value. Some beachfront lots are only 50 meters deep and
with new building restrictions limiting construction on the 40 meters
and with a road setback of another 5 meters, the opportunities to
erect a building all but vanish. So does the potential land value.
The height restrictions for building only below 150 meters (200 meters
on Guanaja) above sea level will have minimal effect on building construction.
The tallest hill on Utila is only 74 meters above sea level. The existing
houses on Roatan's Cohoon ridge and around Juticalpa are located at
only 80 to 110 meters above sea level, well below the proposed cut-off
line. Still, the Roatan business community countered the ministry
of Tourism proposal asking the limits to be raised to 200 meters on
Roatan and 250 on Guanaja. There are only three hills taller than
200 meters on Roatan. Picacho hill being the tallest at 235 meters.
Through its research programs and protection efforts, Program for
Environmental Management of the Bay Islands (PMAIB) has been key in
formulating the proposed law. PMAIB has been working on the island
since 1998 and, in the first phase of its effort, the organization
conducted almost 150 studies on the catastro, natural resources management,
strengthening of local institutions and basic sanitation. As part
of phase one, basic infrastructure projects were introduced: the Coxen
Hole sewage treatment plant, potable water systems and septic tanks
in French Harbour and Coxen Hole and Oak Ridge. PMAIB received a $22
million loan from IDB for the first phase of the project.
July 2003, PMAIB began its second phase of its work. To fund this
phase, PMAIB received a cocktail of funds amounting to $16.8 million.
$1.8 Million came from Government of Honduras (grant originating
from Government of Taiwan); $12.5 million has came as a secured
loan from Inter-American Development Bank and another $2.5 million
is pending and will be a grant from GEF. According to Sandra de
Midence, Executive Director for IDB for Central America, Honduras
received $90 million of IDB loans in 2003 and its current debt to
IDB is $1.3 billion. These are 40 year loans, with 1% interest charged
for first 10 years, then 2%.
Suspicion of PMAIB motives was expressed by some business people.
"We will lose $300 million to get $16 million that will be
wasted on PMAIB," said John Edwards. "PMAIB- they cost
us more harm than good," said Julio Galindo, owner of Anthony's
Key Resort. "Some regulations, I agree. We need to regulate
a little bit." Some voices noted the clearly positive parts
of the proposal. "Density, ground coverage [regulations]. Yes.
There are some good things in there," said Edwards.
is walking the fine line of studying the deteriorating conditions
of the Bay Islands ecology, proposing measures to limit these changes
and trying to educate the business community in becoming more ecology
To fund the maintenance of 12 proposed protected areas and other
programs, PMAIB wants to access money paid in taxes during land
sales, money that currently leaves the island for Tegucigalpa. Further,
a $20 per person tourist tax is envisioned for long-term tourist
along with smaller tax for short-term cruise ship tourists.
A new organization has been created to create long term environmental
and tourism policies for the department. Executive Commission of
Sustainable Tourism (Comisión Ejecutiva de Turismo Sostenible
or CETS) was established in 2002 and is headed by Minister Pierrefeu.
CETS brings together representatives from government and private
Ministry of Justice, Ministry of the Environment, Ministry of Tourism,
PMAIB, Governor Clinton Everett, Congressman Evans McNab, Bay Islands
mayors: Jerry Hynds, Alton Cooper, Kerby Ducker, Eddy Tatum. Business
people: Estella Miller from Guanaja, Arlie Thompson from JSG, Alfred
Cooper from Utila, Eldon Hyde from Roatan; plus honorary members:
Rita Morris representing Chamber of Commerce and Romeo Silvestri
representing CANATURH. So far, CETS has been meeting every three
months to discuss matters at hand, but the organization is to take
over more of the PMAIB responsibilities and eventually grow in importance.
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University Skips a Semester to Perfect its Image
After four semesters of Bay Islands University has decided to
temperately suspend classes to concentrate on fulfilling the remaining
requirements needed for its accreditation. "We were expected
to stop and get our things in order," said Pastor Perry.
The registration at the Bay Islands University dropped from 100
students in Spring 2003 to 70 and finally to 48 in the spring
2004 semester. With no students registered and no revenue coming
in the paying of salaries to remaining University staff is especially
difficult. The situation was helped by local support. "Jerry
Hynds is working hard to make sure that our finances are covered
during this period," said Perry.
In late June two members of the Directorate of Higher Education
visited the university to inspect the facilities. The inspection
team issued a report pointing out some maintenance issues and
recommending eight areas of that needed improvement:
1. Improving the condition of at least four classrooms.
2. Improve the quality of administrative offices.
3. Locating a permanent, exclusive library for university students
with study cubicles and internet access. The library should have
300 book titles and 10 journal/magazine subscription for each
4. Professors should have accredited degrees.
5. Expand the number of audio visual aids.
6. Placing a check-in window at the registrar's office.
7. Keep the university space clean and uncluttered.
8. Organize basic services for students: orientation, academic
The document was issued on August 3 and sent to Bay Islands University.
board of directors met on August 9 to discuss the accreditation
status and decided to suspend classes until January 2005. To clarify
the final steps needed for the accreditation, a group of nine
Roatan businesspeople and politicians traveled to Tegucigalpa
on August 11, and met with Luis Barahona, director of higher education
in Honduras. According to pastor Perry, they received assurances
that all needed for the accreditation to be completed is the fulfillment
of recommendations. "We are hoping to do this before January,"
said Pastor Perry. "Both the University's legal status and
career programs are already approved."
Wrights has studied four semesters of Engineering Systems at Bay
Islands University. "I was 'freeking-out' about not knowing
what was going to happen with the accreditation of classes I was
taking," said Wrights. "I calmed down after we had a meeting
with the University administration." In December Wrights is
planning on enrolling at Universidad Pedagogica de Honduras in La
Ceiba to continue her education, but wants to continue taking classes
at the BI University at the same time.
the midst of filming musical group Puro Sol in Palmetto Resort
on August 22.
The local community already responded to the university needs. Ms.
Marlene Jackson, founder and chief librarian of the French Harbour
Memorial Library, has agreed to set part of her library for university
use. Still, the Bay Islands University is appealing to anyone interested
in donating books and equipment needed for the accreditation: slide
projector, DVD player, VHS player, etc. Tel. 455-5927
Jose Guillermo Flores Rodas, 59, holds a degree in BS in Forestry,
MA and PhD in Natural Resources Economics from University of Washington
in Seattle. In 1975 he was one of the founding members of the National
School of Forest Science in Ciguatepece. He was the head of the
Honduran Corporation of Forest Development (COHDEFOR) between 1979
and 1981. He worked with UNDP and FAO in 10 different countries
before coming back to Honduras in 1994 to take a job as consultant
in natural resources policy for CHEMONICS corporation. Since 1998
he has been the director of PMAIB and shares his time between Tegucigalpa
and Roatan. He is also the director of National Program for Sustainable
Tourism and commissioner of COHDEFOR.
Islands VOICE: Where did this new law proposal for the
Bay Islands originate?
Dr. Jose Guillermo Flores Rodas: This is a reformulation
of a previous law "Acuerdo No.2" that has been
in effect since 1990s. Many of the things that have realtors,
investors worried were in place before. There is nothing
new about that. Whatever you do on the coast and whatever
you do on the lagoon affects the very fragile ecosystem,
the reef. Our [PMAIB] studies have shown that this is something
that should worry all Bay Islanders and all Hondurans. You
need to put some rules so that reef is sustainable and future
generations can continue to enjoy it. The law attempts to
put some order and some limits to development projects.
Of course, this worries realtors. But realtors should also
be worried about the future value of the land. If the reef
deteriorates more rapidly because of undue development practices,
the future land value will be zero. Sustainable development
is whatever development you can do today without sacrificing
the opportunities of tomorrow and this is precisely what
this law is trying to do. Until now, the development practices
have been very permissible. You see roads being washed away
every winter and all that sediment affects the reef. We
have seen the lack of sanitation systems. Before, when there
were few people on the island, this had little effect on
the reef, but now when you have a tremendous growth in development
you need to put some rules on the ground. Otherwise, everybody
will suffer the consequences of the reef deteriorating.
B.I.V.: Are similar land management laws in other
departments of the country to follow?
Dr. J.G.R.: "Ley de ordenamiento territorial,"
this is a brand new law that attempts to put land use planning
at the center of development and growth. It's an extremely
good measure that Honduras has taken. These things are happening
quicker in some places. For example, Sula Valley has some
19 or 20 municipalities that produce almost 50% of the national
GDP. The law has originated a regional land-use planning
board constituted by municipalities and civic organizations.
They are adopting rules for development and conducting in-depth
studies. (...) There are other areas that will come very
soon into this law, especially land from La Ceiba to Omoa,
Cortes. These are things that have happened in Europe a
long time ago, land use planning and controlled growth for
B.I.V.: Is there another Centro American country
that has adopted similar land laws?
Dr. J.G.R.: Costa Rica has adapted a law like this
for the last 10-12 years. Being the most successful tourist
destination in Central America, there was a lot of not very
well controlled development. Manuel Antonio National Park
had one of the most beautiful beaches in the country. It
no longer is. Primarily, this is because hotels were allowed
to be built right on the beach and that destroyed that beach.
It is an example of something that really went bad in less
then 20 years.
How did that affect land values on Manuel Antonio beach?
J.G.R.: From being probably the most successful and
most highly valued land in Costa Rica in early 1990, it
has came down to very, very low prices. You see a lot of
low income tourists coming onto that. This is a perfect
example what we need to avoid here.
B.I.V.: During the working session in making
a framework of this law the business people have been left
out. Even Governor Clinton Everett wasn't invited to that
session in Tegucigalpa. Why?
Dr. J.G.R.: The four mayors were invited. CANATURH
was there. Chamber of Commerce was there. You can't invite
everybody. You assume that you have representative organizations.
Both CANATURH and Chamber of Commerce are representing businesses
and investors. (
) This was a meeting organized by
minister of tourism because there were a lot of problems.
There are two agencies in control of the environment: Fiscalia
del Ambiente and Procuradoria del Ambiente [attorney general
and procurator general of the environment] and there were
a number of lawsuits against developers and they were increasing
every day. So the minister of tourism said 'We can't have
this. Why don't we lay down some ground rules'. (
Sometimes good intentions are misinterpreted and those were
very good intentions on the part of minister of tourism.
Environmental laws have been in Honduras since the 80s,
and why not have regional laws that are adapted to regional
environment. A lot of this [confusion] is due to the lack
of knowledge of the legal system amongst developers. But
ignorance is not an excuse. You have to know the legal system
of a country where you are investing.
B.I.V.: Should the business community be involved
more intimately in creating the framework of the law?
Dr. J.G.R.: In retrospective, everything is so much
clearer. And maybe this is a case where this should apply.
I think if it was a mistake, it was an honest mistake. These
laws are restrictive, but the environment requires that.
We all live on this planet and it is a very small planet.
The environment is a public good, not a private good. (
A lot of these things cannot be consulted, because nobody
is going to say 'I accept that. I want to put restrictions
on what I can do.'
B.I.V.: The 'migration' chapter in the law could
be the most explosive. Why wasn't it outlined in the draft?
Dr. J.G.R.: The law of the land is the constitution.
No law can violate the constitution. The constitution establishes
the freedom of movement to all Hondurans. So any law that
provides restrictions to that movement is unconstitutional.
I'm not involved in formulating this law, but I'm sure if
this [migration] law was included then the whole law become
) San Andres is a protected area.
If you call something a protected, you will need to have
even more restrictions on growth. We discussed this one
time and this what I expressed as my opinion: 'If you want
to, we can propose the Bay Islands as a protected area.
But then you better watch out, because there are others
laws that put much greater restrictions on growth and development.'
If you take one, you have to accept the other.
Junior category, the "Shana Marie" of Roatan, captained
by Derek Cooper, took first prize with 150 pounds of fish over the
three days. The Ladies category, which consisted of a single boat,
was won by the "Quality Time" of Roatan, captained by Delzie
Rosales. Quality Time brought in 32 pounds of fish. This year's winner
in the Adult category was the "Pal" from Utila, captained
by Rick Swasey, bringing in a blue marlin weighing in at an eye-popping
members of the fishing boat, Pal, stand by their winning 242
lb. Blue Marlin. PHOTO: Erika Anderson
crewmate Troy Bodden told of tracking the fish with a GPS "fish
finder" at just before 7am on September 17. The crew followed
the fish around the eastern portion of Utila and the marlin took
the bait shortly after the initial sighting. The catch was complicated
by several factors. First, the fish had taken the hook in the gill
as opposed to the mouth. Secondly, the reel had become loose from
the struggle. After 35 minutes of hand wringing and breath holding,
the team persevered and the giant marlin was brought safely aboard.
Mr. Bodden quipped that, more than anything, it was "pure sheer
the start of the tournament at Thursday morning's send off to the
celebration after the trophy ceremony on Saturday evening, spectators
and participants alike marveled at the success of the event. As
this year's tournament drew to a close, Mr. D. V. Woods offered
this message: "For all you bad luck guys, next year will be
the morning of September 16, captains and crew from all around Honduras
gathered to take part in the fifth annual West End Fishing Tournament.
This year's field of competitors featured 28 vessels, including
entries from San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba, and Puerto Cortes. "It
is good for tourism and brings people from all over the Bay Islands
and Honduras to Roatan," said Head Judge Clint Bodden.
Hosted by Roatan Municipality, the tournament was organized into
three categories: Adult (Co-ed), Ladies, and Junior. The Adult category
was open to any male or co-ed groups over the age of 16, with the
winner determined by point totals based on total weight of all fish
caught and who caught the largest fish. The Ladies category was
open to boats whose crew consisted of all female participants, though
a male captain was allowed, and judged by the largest accumulation
of points based on the total weight of all the fish they caught
throughout the tournament. The Junior category, following the same
rules as the Ladies group, consisted of co-ed crews age 8-16 and
could have one person over the age of 16 as the captain.
West End Fishing Tournament
Ib. Blue Marlin
story / editorial
/ local news
4 U by thomas Tomczyk
Bay Islanders receive a glimpse of 21 century
there are about 4,000 telephone subscribers on Roatan and 1,400
subscribers on both Utila and Guanaja. After the Siemens project
will be completed the capacity for the Bay Islands will peak at
11,900: Roatan will have 8,000 subscribers and Utila and Guanaja
Hondutel's 14 employees on Roatan, five on Utila and four on Guanaja
are working in conjunction with Siemens. Hondutel is replacing all
five Bay Island telephone centers. Smaller telephone centers in
West Bay, Sandy Bay, Colonia Los Maestros, Los Fuertes, and Gunaja's
Punta Caliente are being installed and new three digit telephone
codes will have to be used there.
deployment of fiber optics is the biggest thing on the Bay Islands
since the introduction of wireless to the island," said Mitch
Cummins, owner of Paradise Computers. "It will expand everybody's
potential." The revamped telephone system on the Bay Islands
will offer Caller ID, DSL, call waiting and voice mail. "Demand
for new lines is high," said Roberto Romero, Hondutel department
chief for Bay Islands. Expected prices of opening new lines are
fixed: new residential line will cost Lps. 492 and business line-
Some businesses remain skeptical about the promised potential of
the new technology. "It would be imprudent for any company
to change their whole infrastructure based on what 'could happen.'
It's just a fact of life here. We can plan for it but we won't act
till it's all in place," said Cummins, who is also the Globalnet
distributor on Roatan.
"We had problems in finding heavy equipment transport methods
on the island," said Ing. Aristizabal. Working on the main
roads in high traffic areas was also a challenge. Siemens currently
employs 107 people in project construction in the department: 20
on Utila, three on Guanaja- where work, and 84 on Roatan. On Roatan,
seven brigades of ten people each have been putting up a fiber optic
spine. Coordinating the work are 12 Siemens engineers. Once work
is completed, six local people will be trained to maintain and troubleshoot
the fiber optic grid and towers.
RECO agreed to let Siemens use its posts for running the fiber optic
cable. Still, since some of the posts are not of sufficient quality
and the Siemens line doesn't always follow RECO lines, 50 new posts
are being erected.
Eventually the old copper telephone wire will be taken down and
recycled. The Christmas-Tree appearance of the Roatan posts will
be no more.
Island roads are teeming with crews pulling wire. Siemens began
the work on replacing the old, obsolete telephone system with
state of the art technology in June and the company expects the
project to be completed in October. Only then, Bay Islanders will
be able to notice improvement in the telephone service.
"We're doing something what we've done for Yucatan two-three
years ago," said Siemens Ing. William Aristizabal, coordinator
of the project. Siemens is currently undertaking similar fiber
optic projects in Tegucigalpa, San Lorenzo and Choluteca.
On Roatan 65 kilometers of fiber optic spine is being hanged:
from West Bay to Diamond Rock. Another 75 kilometers of copper
wire will be used to connect individual accounts to the fiber
optic spine. This combination of copper, fiber optic and microwave
towers is expected to provide a DSL service of 128K. Basic DSL
lines will allow internet access for more remote places at speeds
14-30K, depending on the distance from a relay tower. Construction
of four microwave towers (Barrio Brasil, West Bay, Juticalpa,
Diamond Rock) will help in providing service to more remote customers
and three relay towers connecting the grid with La Ceiba are almost
Overall, Hondutel invested $8 million in upgrading the Bay Islands
telephone system. "Hondutel has had a bad image and they
asked us to try to improve that image," said Ing. Aristizabal.