Monthly news magazine for Roatan,
Utila & Guanaja
March, 2005 Vol.3 No. 3
 
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Bay Islands Voice Updates:
feature story / editorial / local news / business

When Pirates Ruled... Written by Matthew Harper

How many times have we heard or read in publications that Henry Morgan once operated from Roatan? Not often. However, it is entirely likely that he knew Roatan or Rattan and Guanaja or Barnacho, as they were known amongst seafarers before they were first mapped. He probably even stepped ashore to stretch his legs or watched his vessel marooned on a cay while he chewed on some smoked hog and sipped on some Jamaica rum. In fact, most Caribbean pirates came to these parts. If they didn't, they had certainly heard of it, as the Bay of Honduras during its golden age was to piracy as Plymouth was to the British Royal Navy. However colorful a character Henry Morgan was, there were others who once trafficked these parts and were just as charismatic, but probably way more brutal.
Why here in these islands? Before the treaty of Utrecht in 1713, England, Spain and France were constantly at war with each other, and more bickering happened in the western Caribbean than anywhere else. The golden age of piracy, as it was known, was a period that began after the discovery of the New World (1492); it ran for about 250 years during which pirates and buccaneers were most active and it is this time period that is most documented and considered most glamorous.
This so called 'golden age' had its origins a little north-east of here on the island of Hispaniola (Santo Domingo and Haiti today) where, after 1492, more and more Europeans started arriving. On Hispaniola first and then later in the bay of Campeche, Mexico, Belize and the Bay Islands, white men sought to make a living cutting lumber from the logwood tree (Haema toxylon campechium) and shipping it back to Europe or to the colonies. These logwood cutters fed on little more than smoked wild boar which abounded everywhere here (even on Roatan up until the 1950s). Boar meat was smoked on open fires called boucans and so the logwood cutters became known as boucaners.
Around the mid 17 century, the Spaniards became alarmed at the number of boucaners and began culling the pigs in an attempt to deny the logwood cutters an important food source. Once discouraged, they started moving farther afield, all over Central America. Because the mainland of Honduras at that time was under Spanish rule, Englishmen steered clear and settled on the islands where there was a ready supply of logwood, pigs, fruit and fresh water. The first known patent for a settlement was started in Port Royal in 1638, but was short-lived. Its remains can still be found there today. It is more than likely that the Spaniards had already begun to continuously harass the settlers. Actually, in early 1650, it is documented that Spaniards attacked the small village, but were sent packing by the well-defended settlers.
This pattern of harassment by the Spaniards had the opposite of the desired effect because the settlers in the Bay, and indeed as far as Mexico to Nicaragua, formed an alliance called 'Brethren of the coast'. The brethren, spirited by small victories like the ones in Port Royal, began plotting bold attacks on the Spanish shipping that passed the bay hauling precious cargos of gold and jewels stolen from the Inca on their way to Spain. Starting small, literally, the boucaners used small row boats called pinnaces to board the larger vessels and silently overwhelm the crew at the point of pistol and cutlass. When things start to snowball into full-fledged piracy, the pirates preferred small single-masted sloops to enable them to enter into shallow water and negotiate reef channels. British pirates preferred a vessel with a dozen or so cannons onboard, whereas the French pirates favored small arms and hand to hand combat.
One such pirate whose life in piracy perfectly illustrates this sudden change from simple woodcutter/boucaner to pirate is Captain Edward 'Ned' Low. Born in Westminster, England, he was toted around as a young boy on his brother's back in a basket stealing wigs and hats from noblemen. Seeking a life of adventure on the sea, he later went to Boston where he eventually joined a vessel going to Roatan to collect a shipment of logwood. images/ad-palmetto-1.jpg
He was employed as a patron going ashore to supervise the loading and carrying of the logs. Once, after a day's work, he came aboard hungry and the captain informed him that he would have to wait to eat and that he and his men would have to be satisfied with a ration of rum as the captain was in a hurry to leave. At this, according to an eyewitness in the quaint vernacular of the time, Low, "took up a loaded musket and fired at the captain but missed him, shot another poor fellow through the throat, then put off the boat, and with his 12 companions goes to sea: the next day they took a small vessel, and go in her, make a black flag, and declared war against the world."
And so began on Roatan the bloody career of Ned Low, who trafficked in between the Bay Islands, Cayman Islands and Jamaica together with his sidekick Francis Farrington Spriggs. Low taught Spriggs the torture technique of tying up the hands of victims with pieces of rope between the fingers and setting them alight, burning flesh down to the bones. At one time early on in his career, Low joined forces with another famous pirate, George Lowther who was also a regular to the Bay Islands. Low's flag, unlike the skull and crossbones, was a red skeleton holding in one hand a dart stabbing a bleeding heart and in the other, an hourglass.
One of the most famous examples of using false flags in piracy happened off Roatan (according to maritime records, between Utila and Roatan's west end) March of 1723 when Low closed in on a Spanish vessel by trickery, "hoisted up Spanish colors and continued them until they drew near the sloop, then they hauled them down hoisted the black flag, fired a broadside and boarded her."

Low and his men were no doubt under the influence at the time as was their custom. They tortured the crew in a barbaric nature and even those who begged for mercy were tortured to death. Not much is known of Low's end, but some accounts attest to him falling victim of mutiny by his own crew and then forced to shoot himself. Among his darker deeds, Low was also responsible for the marooning of Philip Ashton, a sailor from Boston here on Roatan. His story makes for another article in itself. He was a prodigious writer and seemed to capture the spirit of what Low and his brigands were all about when he wrote: "where prodigious drinking, monstrous cursing, hideous blasphemies and open defiance of heaven and contempt of hell itself were the constant employment."
As I have mentioned, Francis Spriggs was a Low acolyte who eventually became a captain himself and, in addition, a Roatan regular. Spriggs, in April 1724, captured a sloop under a Captain Hawkins. He stole the cargo and forced Hawkins to eat candles before putting him off at Port Royal with only a canoe, a musket and powder so that he could fend for himself.
Spriggs, running from the navy in Jamaica in November 1724 arrived in Roatan to find 12 vessels about to head north loaded with logwood. He and his now expanding fleet of the damned captured the vessels and marooned their crews on Roatan.
At the beginning of 1725, he took a further 16 logwood vessels and put their crew off at Barnacho. The navy finally caught up with him here though and navy vessel Spence chased him and his vessel, The Delight, ashore where he took to the woods of Roatan and he was never heard of again. Probably subjected to one of his own tortures, standing in line at Banco Atlantida!
Another rogue who came undone in these waters was the infamous captain Charles Vane who was fairly successful at stealing ships between Jamaica and the Bay Islands. On the 16 of December, 1718, Vane, in partnership with Calico Jack Rackham, came upon the Pearl of Jamaica anchored in Port Royal harbour which they took. images/ad-palmetto-1.jpg
Vane had captained a previously captured sloop in partnership and Rackham skippered a similarly-procured brigantine. Because Vane, like other pirate captains, favored the Bonacca cays for careening, he carried the Pearl there. While in transit between Roatan and Guanaja, they encountered another sloop from Jamaica which they also took, marooning all crews.
In February of 1719, Vane left Barnacho with all four vessels for a cruise toward the west. A day from Bonacca, he was separated from his fleet by a terrible storm and ran aground on a small island a few leagues to the west of Bonacca. (Descriptions seem to indicate the Cayos Cochinos).The sloop was staved to pieces, all his crew drowned and he was himself a castaway. He was provisioned by fishermen and turtlers from the mainland who frequented the island. After some weeks there, a vessel from Jamaica stopped at the island for water, the captain of which was Charles Holford, an acquaintance of Vane's. Thinking that he was saved, he asked Holford to take him from the island. Holford replied "I shant carry you aboard my ship unless I take you prisoner; for I shall have you caballing with my men, knock me on the head, and run away with my ship a-pirating." Vane did not believe him and Holford, true to his word, sent two of his mates to clap Vane in irons at gunpoint. Once in Jamaica, Holford handed Vane over to the authorities where he was tried, convicted and hung at Gallows Point.
Many of the well-known pirates of the era passed through these waters at some point due to the strategic significance of the place. After all, the islands were an ideal place to run to and hide after committing acts of piracy off the Spanish mainland or in Jamaican waters. We know that even the legendary Blackbeard (Edward Teach) who mostly pirated off the Carolina coast came down to these parts during the American winter. The most notable of those visits was the documented taking of the vessel Protestant Caesar off Barbareta in November 1718. In 1684, Captain Jeremy Rendell had a difference of opinion with the ship's doctor, John Graham, on which route to take on a voyage. Rendell was turfed-off his vessel and put ashore at Port Royal by Graham "giving them a turtle net, and canoes with arms to suit for themselves, the said island not being inhabited."
There are few publications giving particular detail about the pirates of Roatan and geographical detail is not exact, owing to the fact that Roatan was not formally mapped until 1775. It was then that His Majesty's geographer, Thomas Jefferys, did an initial survey at the zenith of British interest in the islands. Interestingly, on Jefferys' map, Coxen Hole is called Calkett's Hole and Oak Ridge as Falmouth Harbour. Port Royal, being the centre of the British community at the time, is given prominence.
In 1775, the golden age of piracy was just a distant memory and so all maritime records prior to this time are vague. Roatan, and the Bay Islands in general, were referred to as "the bay". Many accounts state that pirates sailed from Jamaica "down to the bay" and then "off Rattan" or "off Barnacho". Only Port Royal is mentioned by name on Roatan, mainly because around that time (1638 to 1725) only the Claiborne settlement, Fort Augusta, had been formally settled and was a point of contact for mariners.
The National Maritime Museum in London has extensive records available online for anyone who has the time and interest to conduct research. The General History of the Pyrates is considered the authoritative account by historians of the golden age of piracy. Written in the mid 18 century by Daniel Defoe under the pseudonym, Capt. Charles Johnson, the book makes frequent mention of the Bay Islands. My favorite, however, is Under the Black Flag by David Cordingly who was once curator of the National Maritime Museum in London. Recently written, he details the life of the pirates and also frequently mentions the Bay Islands.

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2005 Honduras Elections- by Thomas Tomczyk, Managing Editor
  images/ad-palmetto-1.jpg

Too Close To Call
Slim Margins of Victory in Presidential & Deputy BI Elections

Several Bay Islands election results are still too close to call. On February 20, Honduras' two major political parties held internal elections to decide who will represent National and Liberal parties in the general election in November. In the Bay Islands department, the trends were clear. Esperanza Liberal easily won their nominations for all but one position. Among the National Party candidates, the race was tight between two main tickets: Nuevo Tiempo and Trabajo y Seguridad.
Voting began at 6am in 17 voting stations in schools throughout the department. The 106 ballot boxes were in the care of Honduran Navy personnel. The Puerto Cortez regiment secured the voting on Utila and another 49 from Puerto Castilla were present on Guanaja, JSG and Roatan.
Free buses with campaign stickers drove from town to town bringing in voters to the voting stations. Several movements set up campaign headquarters in Coxen Hole and kept track of vote turnout through local representatives. Esperanza Liberal set camp in the Roatan municipal building and the Trabajo y Seguridad team crowded into their small Cooper building office. Nuevo Tiempo operated out of the town's Chamber of Tourism offices. Status reports were coming in by television, radio and telephone. Movement volunteers recorded numbers pouring into the offices.
Early reports indicated that the race for National Party Deputy was close between Nuevo Tiempo candidate Shawn Hyde and current Deputy Evans McNab, running on the Trabajo y Seguridad ticket. After almost all ballot boxes were recounted that night, unofficial numbers indicated that Hyde won by 79 votes, only by only 2% of the vote. Days after Election Day, candidate for the National Party Deputy is still unclear.
National Party presidential race was also close. Preliminary reports suggest that Nuevo Tiempo Presidential candidate Miguel Pastor won the Bay Islands department over Pepe Lobo, leader of the Trabajo y Seguridad movement by only 22 votes. In Guanaja and Utila, presidential voting was almost even. Roatan Municipality voted by over 300 votes for Pepe Lobo.

However, it was Jose Santos Guardiola that made the biggest impact. Pastor's votes tripled those of Lobo in JSG, earning him the slim margin of victory in the entire department.
La Prensa initially reported that Lobo had won the Bay Islands and Pastor had taken only four departments nationally. Bay Islands Voice unofficial reports show a Pastor victory in the Bay Islands by 22 votes or a 0.6% margin. Overall, Lobo won a national majority to win the National Party presidential candidacy. "I think it will be difficult for Pastor supporters to get behind Pepe Lobo because there was so much animosity between the two of them during the campaign, but now is a time to unite," said Nuevo Tiempo supporter Kirby Warren Jr., who voted in West End. Julio Galindo won his candidacy by a comfortable 65% of voter support.
For the Liberal Party, voting followed one clear pattern: Esperanza Liberal dominated the polls. Political newcomer Dale Jackson won the Liberal Party nomination for Roatan mayor, while his running mate, current Roatan Mayor Jerry Hynds won his party's nomination for Deputy. Utila Mayor Alton Cooper easily won his nomination for re-election. In Guanaja, Rafael Zapata won his nomination with a staggering 89.9% of the Liberal alcalde vote. The one exception to the Esperanza Liberal landslide was the win of the current JSG Mayor Kirby Ducker who won his candidacy with the Jaimista movement. Nationally, Mel Zelaya easily won the presidential candidacy over leading opponent, Jaime Rosenthal.
There were estimated 4,771 ballots counted for the National Party in the Bay Islands; 773 of those were classified as either blank or invalid. An estimated 513 people, or 13% of the voting public, voted for their local alcalde, but did not vote for a National Party Deputy candidate. In Guanaja, 594 Liberal votes were cast; Liberal voting statistics for other municipalities were unavailable at the time of going to print.

MAYOR
OF ALL TRADES

Alton Cooper, 35, is not a typical Bay Islands Mayor. Not just because he wears cowboy boots and drives an off-road motorcycle to work. He is articulate, charismatic and accessible. He has overseen some of the more rapid developments Utila has ever seen. The island that had once lagged behind in the department, has surpassed Guanaja and JSG and is catching-up to Roatan. Not in scale perhaps, but certainly in the quality of life.
Mayor Cooper was raised and educated in Utila. He became a ship's mate working abroad and came back in 1993 to become the first Utilian to be certified as a SCUBA diving instructor. He founded his own dive shop a year later and worked in real estate for a few years, before, in 2001, he was elected Mayor. A father of three, Mayor Cooper has been married to his wife Lisa for 16 years. He has easily won the nomination from the National Party to run again in the 2004 mayoral race.

Bay Islands Voice: How has Utila's budget evolved over the last couple years?
Mayor Alton Cooper: I've been working around the Lps. 5 or 5.3 million every year since I've been in office. (…) Since the early 90s, our budget has been around Lps. 5 million; in the last administration it had fallen to around Lps. 3 million. But, there was a situation before where the prior municipalities had a huge advantage as far as the dominos planos. (...)
B.I.V: It looks like you compensated from the lack of revenue from the dominos planos in other ways?
A.C.: Yes, well we've definitely tried to get the people in the habit of paying their taxes, collecting water bills. If someone goes a long while without paying their water, of course we cut their line and there's a fine. And I think a lot of people too are confident that I am using their tax money appropriately and so there's been willingness for the people of Utila to come ahead and pay their taxes.
B.I.V:
Is it good to be Mayor?
A.C.: Yes, it's good in the sense that the decisions you make can really make a difference. There is a huge responsibility for one thing. You sacrifice your family a bit. This is a full-time job. Your business suffers a bit. (…) I have been Mayor for about three years. The first year and a half or so is not necessarily lost, but you're learning the laws and the way things work. You're trying to make the necessary contacts with the different national organizations.
B.I.V: At one point, you were a bit hesitant to run again?
A.C.: There was a lack of support from the family. It's difficult for the wife and for Mom and Dad. They asked that I not get involved in this anymore and I turned away. But, a lot of the people around me just came forward and said "We're depending on you". And I am going to go ahead and do it again. Whatever I do, I put my heart and soul into it. (…) I think most people appreciate what I've done. I've made some mistakes; there's no two ways about it. But, I've also learned from those mistakes. I think what I will be able to accomplish over the next four years will definitely be worth running.
B.I.V: Why does Utila has the lowest voter registration of the entire department?
A.C.: Within those 1,600 registered voters, there are many people who aren't on the island. On any given day on Utila, you could find about 8,000 people. It's a floating population, a transient population. There's only about 2,500 permanent inhabitants between Utila and Eastern Harbour. But again, there's a lot of people from the mainland over here working and there's a lot of tourism.
B.I.V: In the 2001 election, only 800 people voted. Have there been any attempts raise voter registration?
A.C.: We went ahead and did a campaign a few months ago and we managed to do 50 vote transfers. Only about 26 or so came through. (…) It's not easy.

B.I.V: What would you consider as your major accomplishment while in office?
A.C.: There have been several. One would be a water cistern: 75,000 gallon water cistern. The fact that I am running water lines to Utila cays and the acquisition of a desalination plant. This plant is worth $2 million. With that, our problems should be solved as far as water. It comes with a 500 kilowatt generator. I've accomplished to get the properties necessary to build a visitor's centre. We are also building a health center. (…) I've managed to get computers in our schools. (…)I think the water and the desalination plants would be my greatest accomplishments.
B.I.V: What is your biggest failure as a Mayor? What weren't you able to accomplish?
A.C.: I think the one thing that I didn't accomplish was getting the bars out of town. As far as loud music and discos and everything. I tried to implement an ordinance and tried to give the bars a certain amount of time to get out of town and establish their business somewhere else. That was definitely unsuccessful. I think in order for this to happen the municipality is going to have to acquire the land to donate to these people. The fact is that properties are just too expensive. (…) It's difficult for neighbors to have to put up with this all the time.
B.I.V: What are the major concerns right now for the population on the Utila cays?
A.C.: The major concerns for these people are health and education, education being priority. As far as health, they would like a nurse or someone down there, someone to give them immediate treatment. I think they're happy, but the kids down there can only do to school until sixth grade and then they have to come up here to attend school after that.
B.I.V: What can you offer this population?
A.C.: The only solution to the problems at the cays is a road. Right now, we have power lines to the cays and this was something that my administration was able to accomplish. We are in the process of running water lines to the Utila cays. I will do everything possible in the next four years to build a road to that area. I think where the road would go is far enough back away from the beach and it would cause minimum damage to the environment. (…) I would hope that construction would start within a couple of years, about 2007.
B.I.V: Do you see Utila growing as a tourist destination for backpacking tourists or maybe for a spectrum from backpacker up? What's your vision?
A.C.: I am hoping that this island will continue to be a backpacker destination. For one, our inhabitants really benefit from this type of tourist. A lot of other places don't really appreciate backpackers. We do. We do appreciate them very much. These people, they come to Utila. They need a place to sleep, eat; they go out to the bars. They buy souvenirs just like anyone else. Really, you don't need to spend your money on a lot of advertising to attract this type of tourist. It's just word of mouth. You don't really need a huge investment in terms of hotels or whatever to be able to accommodate these backpackers. However, I do think that different parts of the island will open up, such as the north side. The areas will be able to cater to upper-class or middle-class tourists. That's my vision.
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The Money Train by Thomas Tomczyk
Small Businesses in Utila & Guanaja Receive over $300,000 in Grants

Gunter Kordovsky received a $3,000 grant, scaled down from a $30,000 request, to help remodel his art gallery and workshop. He bought about 900 feet of mahogany lumber, paint and tools to improve the overall look of the space.
Projects benefiting tourism industries were given priority. A point system favored islander and Garifuna applicants and projects offering work places to single mothers. The more ingenious projects on Utila include a climbing wall and a motorcycle rickshaw taxi service. Munchies Restaurant, one of the oldest buildings on the island, is getting a make-over and a brand new kitchen.
On Guanaja, Terry Zapata received a Lps. 540,000 grant with which he is finishing construction of the Hotel Lighthouse Inn. Zapata began building the structure to replace his rental apartments which were destroyed by Hurricane Mitch. "I had a building started, but I didn't have the financing to finish it," said Zapata, "That is when I heard about the grants. It was a good chance to supply the materials I need." The Lighthouse Inn will be located on Pond Cay, a private cay on the south side of the island owned by Zapata and his brother. The 6-bedroom hotel is near completion; Zapata hopes to have it operational by Semana Santa. "We should finish the roof soon and we need to level the floor and put in the windows, but it is coming along," said Zapata who, five years ago, opened the Best Shop restaurant on Bonacca. Each bedroom will have a king-size bed, TV, phone and private bath; Zapata also plans to offer Internet services to guests.
Zapata applied after encouragement from two friends who attended the CHF information session on Guanaja. There were some initial questions about his application, but after visits from CHF officials, Hotel Lighthouse Inn was approved. According to Zapata, each project is watched closely by the CHF administration in La Ceiba. "We get weekly visits from inspectors who check on the project and see that there is progress. They take notes and pictures, so their office is aware of the status."
Bay Islands projects received 31.3% of the IDB national grant. The other recipients were: Omoa: Lps. 1,24,578 (6 grants); Tela: Lps. 3,195,762 (13 grants); La Ceiba: Lps. 3,952,430 (14 grants); and Trujillo: Lps. 4,319,359 (16 grants). According to Ramirez, Guanaja will receive another set of grants in the next couple of months. How successful can a "free money" project be? The devil lies in the detail, and the next months will show how different recipients spend the cash.

  Javier Antonio Alvarez's Moto & Bike Taxi Service in Utila.

Utila and Guanaja residents seem to be teeming with energy. The sound of electric saws and hammers lasts well into the evening. Over the last six months the two Bay Islands municipalities received a healthy injection of cash ($310,000) through a CHF grant, part of a small business development project of International Development Bank (IDB).
According to Yanu Ramirez, Ministry of Tourism Coordinator of the Technical Development Unit, in 1998 World Bank gave close to $1 million for small business grants. So far $990,000 has been distributed. The money was funneled through the Ministry of Tourism and managed by independent NGOs: in the case of the Bay Islands - CHF. The grants were to help small business owners grow to accommodate tourism development in Honduras' North Coast; the maximum grant size was $30,000.
Even though Utila and Guanaja were among the recipients, Roatan's two municipalities were not included. According to Tatiana Perez, Director of International Cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism, in 2002 Roatan was not included in the overall Proyecto Tourimo Costero Sostenible and its subproject Micro Business Loan because the Central Government felt that PMAIB was providing sufficient assistance to the island already.
Applications and proposals were accepted without fees and all local residents were eligible. According to Ing. Michelle Fernandez, Coordinator for Utila Municipal's Tourist Unit, a workshop to generate ideas was held and all the recipients were obliged to attend several workshops in business management. "We went to them [local business owners] individually, asking them that they should apply," said Fernandez. "The first time people were very skeptic about the possibility of receiving the money." Once a first group of three projects was awarded the grant money, the applications started pouring in: 77 in total.
On Utila, the first three grants were awarded in June 2003, the next 12 were given in November. Ralph Zelaya 49, has applied both times and in the second round received the second largest grant in the Municipality. $26,000. Zelaya is building a 20 room bed and breakfast above his house in Sandy Bay. With two beds to a room, Zelaya's three story structure could turn into the island's biggest sleeping accommodation. "My boys and I worked for no wages. Not a penny. Every penny of CHF money went to pay for the materials," said Zelaya.
The most ambitious of the CHF projects funded on Utila is the construction of the Utila Culture Museum. Julia Centero-Keller, 33, is the recipient of this $30,000 grant. On a piece of their own 40 by 50 foot centrally located property, with her husband Neil Keller, the couple envisioned a museum to house artifacts from Utila's past. The two story, 3,500 square foot museum is being built on the main street, just 100 meters uphill from the Municipal dock.

Read past issues of
Bay Islands VOICE

No. 4
May 8
2003

Vol2 No. 2
Jan.29
2004

Vol2 No. 3
Feb.12
2004

Vol2 No. 14
December
2004

Vol3 No. 1
January
2005