Monthly news magazine for Roatan,
Utila & Guanaja
December 2006 Vol.4 No.12
Calendar Style
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Text by Susan Jensen, Photos by Thomas Tomczyk

Little Hog, Big Hog

Cayos Cochinos, the forgotten Bay Islands, provide tranquility and Amazement to a Trickle of Visitors

Nestled just 8 miles off the North Coast of Honduras, are a group of islands known by locals as the Hog Islands. It was named after the wild hog once found on the big island. This archipelago consists of 13 islands. Two large islands, Big Hog and Little Hog, and 11 smaller keys, are all surrounded by pristine coral reef and white sand beaches.
Because of their proximity to the mainland and the Garifuna villages along the North coast, the southern keys have been inhabited by Garifuna fishermen. In the beginning, the Garifuna men used the keys as a stop-over during their fishing expeditions. Eventually, the women were brought over and soon a small village developed on the key known as Chachaute. Today there are now numerous small settlements in the archipelago.

View of Upper Long Cay and Big Hog island from the air. (photo: Steve Dankovich)
Along with the women, came some children and soon they had a small school set up on Big Hog, with their maestro coming over from the mainland to give classes. The kids would load into their little dug-out canoes and paddle over to the big island for their day classes. Then on the way home, they would fashion sails from palm fronds to get them back to the key. This was an amazing sight to behold. Life in Cayos Cochinos has never been easy. Because these keys are very low lying, there is no readily available fresh water. It is left for the women to paddle over to the water well on the Big Hog and load the dug-out canoes with containers of fresh water to be used for cooking and cleaning. This is no easy task as it requires a fair distance paddle, a long walk into the hillside, and then a trip back to Chachaute with heavy water containers. All food supplies are brought in from the villages along the mainland and during bad weather this becomes especially difficult, as no boats can go in or out of the area. Cayos Cochinos are also susceptible to hurricanes and the fishermen will be happy to relate stories to you about how they had to tie themselves to coconut palms to survive numerous storms that passed through here.The private ownership of the Hog Islands is probably the biggest factor why they remained pristine and untouched. In 1945 the islands were bought Mr. Hano Griffith, from La Ceiba, from Trujillo's Milado family, for whom he worked as an accountant in their sugar plantation. For many years Mr. Hano was paying the installments on the purchase.
A Fisherman throws a net to capture sprouts used as bait.
Roberto Griffith, the onl y son of Mr. Hano, inherited the remaining islands from his father. Roberto, still the largest land owner on the islands, still honors his fathers promise to the Garifua community on Cayos to let them reside and fish on East End and Chachaguate Cay. Robero feels that the local Garifuna are an integral part of the archipelago's beauty and folklore. During these times islands were not considered to be of any value except to fishermen, which is what Mr. Griffith was.
During his ownership Mr. Griffith had an unfortunate event occur when one of his boats sank leaving him in debt. He decided to sell a portion of the islands to Mr. Horton Kivett, an American pilot, well known in the area. At this time certain pieces of land were leased out to different parties and soon a dive resort, Plantation Beach Resort, was developed here. It became the only resort in Cayos Cochinos for many years. Ever since then, serious dive enthusiasts have been coming to Cayos Cochinos to enjoy the wonders of these untouched reefs. Some years ago the World Wildlife Association became interested in Cayos Cochinos and set about setting up a Foundation to preserve the wildlife and uniqueness of these islands. The organization purchased Little Hog Island from Mr. Kivett and set up a Research Centre there. World Wildlife Association has rangers that patrol the area and have implemented harvesting seasons for lobster, conch and fish. This management of resources has helped maintain the population of many marine creatures.
Fishing has always been very popular in Cayos Cochinos as there are several banks around the islands, as well as great fishing conditions inside the archipelago. However, without preservation, there is always the chance of these fragile areas being destroyed and the marine life depleted.
Cayos Cochinos remains one of the most splendid areas to visit in Honduras. The two big islands have valleys and hills covered with lush vegetation and palm trees. The views from the high hillsides are incredible; you can see clearly the mountains Sierra San Antonia and Sierra Cangrejal of the mainland, as well as Roatan and Guanaja. Beside all the beautiful natural vegetation, you may also get to see the indigenous pink Boa, which is only found on Big Hog Island. You can listen to stories told by friendly local Garifuna, or Garinagu fishermen. Being descendants of African slaves, the Garinagu are a unique people with their own language, music, religion, and ancestral traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation.
These gentle folk are always ready with a big smile and warm welcome. For a nominal fee they offer a thatch hut to sleep in and are ready with a big plate of fresh fish, rice and beans.
Divers from Subway Watersport head back to Roatan after a trip to Cayos Cochinos. Roatan's AKR and Las Rocas also go to dive in Cayos Cochinos on weekly basis.
Early morning on Chachauate brings lots of activity as the children prepare to leave for school and the men ready to go out for the day of fishing. The women rise before the sun to start the day's activities of preparing the fire for cooking, cleaning fish, and collecting fresh water. The life is simple here. There are no fresh water shower facilities and a little shack over the water serves as a toilet.
T he best time to visit Cayos Cochinos is anytime except Semana Santa, when the islands flood with people from the mainland and Central America. You can also take a day trip to the islands from La Ceiba, or Sambo Creek. The easiest route from the mainland is chartering a boat from La Ceiba, but with a little extra time, one can travel by bus to Nueva Armenia, spend the night there at a small hotel or with a local family, and in the early morning ride out with the fishermen heading for Cayos. Neuva Armenia, only a few miles off-shore, is the nearest Garifuna village to the islands.
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by Thomas Tomczyk
Roller Coaster Ride Ahead
I magine all the taxes that you're supposed to be paying, but probably didn't. Take that away and add four percent capital gains and you'll have… Bay Islands Free Zone.
At last, the central government decided that it is easier and more profitable to abandon the futile effort of collecting taxes from Bay Islanders and let them pay their own bills.
Still, the most important change could not come from economics, but in how the islanders administer themselves and spend their taxes. Both police and local government are likely to become more independent from the mainland, better trained, recruited locally and more accountable. Considering the lack of adequate police training and understanding of local issues, any change is likely to be an improvement.
The laws and bylaws that have to follow the framework document will almost inevitably have loopholes, blind spots and leave opportunities for abuse. Qualifications and competence of local officials and government will be pushed to their limits as they are placed in the role of determining their own future. The days of blaming the neglectful central government for inaction and incompetence could soon be over.
There are over a thousand foreigners living in the Bay Islands and some of them for decades have been contributing to the archipelago's prosperity. It is still unclear what the exact criteria for foreigners receiving their Bay Islands resident status would be. Is it their length of stay here, their Honduran residency status, or their business involvement?
The vacuum of skilled and unskilled labor will grow. The growth in construction and staffing of service facilities will require importing of thousands of people to the archipelago. There is a well founded fear of last moment influx of mainlanders trying to make it to the Bay Islands before the census and claim their Bay Islander status.
The landscape of the Bay Islands is already changing rapidly. Nothing until now was slowing these often negative changes or, more importantly, affecting their direction. If the Free Zone status will be able to somewhat control the direction and pace of this growth then that is good. Buckle up and hold on for an exciting ride.
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Road to the Free Zone by Thomas Tomczyk

Free Zone Law for Bay Islands Passes by Congress

The Big Table Congress Table:
Presiding over the Roatan Congress Session on November 28 - 29: Elvia Argelina Valle (pro-secretary), Jose Alfredo Paz (secretary), Blanca Edith Rivera (alternate pro-secretary), Mary Elizabeth Flores Flake (Vice-President), Roberto Micheletti Bain (president of Congress), Victor Relando Sabillon (Vice president), Ruben Francisco Garcia Martinez (alternate vice-president), Gonzalo Antonio Rivera (alternate Pro-secretary), Edna Haylock (Alternate pre secretary)- not in photo.
Everyone had an opportunity of adjusting, adding and taking out controversial paragraphs and rewriting them.One of the more disputed elements of the law was a $3,000 per year allowance for non-Bay Islands residents to do their tax free shopping. Atlantida and Cortez business interests found this element of the law to be detrimental to Atlantida and Cortez retailers, who pressured their congressmen to have the clause removed from the proposed law. A 2% flat tax on all imported goods was eliminated.
The presidency of the Free Zone High Commission went from the Bay Islands Governor to Tourism Minister to Governor and finally ended up in a compromise with Minister of Finance holding the most important ZOLITUR post. Meetings of the committee are expected to be held every two months and decisions will be made by simple majority decisions.
Cayos Cochinos was fought over whether to be included or not in the law and on the eleventh hour were included as part of ZOLITUR.
The law was voted in unanimously around 4am on November 29. Even though all Honduran parties in Congress expressed their support for the ZOLITUR law, 36 mostly National Party congressmen, that disagreed with ZOLITUR proposal but didn't want to go against their party's official line, did not attend the Roatan Congress session.
The decree becomes law 20 days after being published in La Gazeta. Publication in La Gazeta is preceded by presidential signature. In the 120 days following the law coming into effect laws and bylaws will be written by the commission and a census of all Bay Islands residents will be conducted.
The ZOLITUR law allows all Bay Islands residents to import tax free all tourist related items. The 4% tourist taxes and cruise passenger tax will be paid to Central Government and returned to Bay Islands every quarter. The law requires a percentage of the funds to be used for infrastructure and social projects. Banking will not be affected by the law and 30% of that money is expected to be to be spent on social development projects.
"CAFTA will render the Freeport import practically irrelevant within four-five years. "After that you could import U.S. products to anywhere within Honduras," said Emilio Silvestri, Bay Islands National Party President.
The mainland capital gains taxes of 10% will be 4% in the Bay Islands. Municipal taxes, 4% tourism taxes in hotels, cruise ship passenger taxes will remain in effect. A series of fees, between $1 and $6, for air and sea travelers to the Bay Islands was imposed. The day to day management of the free zone will be done by an executive committee headed by managing director.
The only goods not exempt from import duties are oil and gasoline products. Fuel is likely to remain more expensive than on the mainland. Gun control laws are expected to be part of the bylaws drafted. All labor, civil, and criminal laws of Honduras remain in effect in the department.
Bay Islands made Honduran Congress history when 92 congressmen and women, out of the country's 128, arrived on Roatan on November 28. This was the first traveling session of congress of the Zelaya presidency and first one ever in the Bay Islands. The location allowed the congressmen to focus their discussion on the problems of the Bay Islands Department and read through, change, and vote in the Zona Libre Touristica del Departamanto de las Islas de la Bahia (ZOLITUR) law.
The delegates were greeted at the airport, then in buses, transported for a tour of the island. At 12:30pm they arrived at Parrot Tree Plantation for lunch and drinks. At 5pm they met at Coral Cay for a traveling session of congress presided over by Roberto Micheletti Bain.
The Roatan session of congress began at 5:30pm with discussion about RECO, BELCO, and UPCO high energy costs. An investigation committee to look at escalating energy costs in the Bay Islands was proposed and will be formed. "The power companies made little effort to modernize," said congressman Ricardo Rodriguez. "There is an Italian group coming to the island to look at running a power cable," explained congressman Jerry Hynds.
Another delegate, Marvin Ponce from Francisco Morazan, proposed a formation of a commission to investigate land dispute and fraud cases in the Bay Islands. Bay Islands, along with Olancho and Comayagua, are the only departments with completed catastral surveys, but continue to be plagued by land and title disputes.
In comments made by some congressmen it became evident that the bus tour of the island that the delegates received, highlighted more of the positive than the reality of the islands. "I've seen the island and it has developed, but more importantly I've seen the protection of the environment. I congratulate you for it," said Ruben Martinez, deputy vice minister of Congress. A few of the delegates followed Martinez's comments with applause.The ZOLITUR law, the main focus of the Roatan congress session, was written and rewritten several times by the president, Minister of Tourism, Congress Tourism Committee before being submitted to the entire Congress.
The Architect of change
Italo G. Tugliani Salazar, 59, is the chief architect of the ZOLITUR (Zona Libre Touristica del Departamanto de las Islas de la Bahia) law. Born in El Progreso, Tugliani moved to Roatan in 1976 to work as a lawyer for the island's first dive resort- Anthony's Key Resort.
He has practiced law for 33 years, served as a judge at Honduran Appeal Magistrate, as General Procurement Distributor. In 1994 Tugliani was appointed Bay Islands Governor by president Reyna and until 2006 he served as Legal Council of Roatan Municipal.
He is married to Vivian, with whom he had five children. He says that what motivates him to work, are his old friendships with people on the island: Jerry Hynds and Julio Galindo.

B.I.V.: I've heard that this law is a composite of laws from San Andres, Colon, Costa Maya.
I.T.: I am the one who wrote it and I didn't copy any of them. We definitely consulted them, but they are very different [than this law]. The one in Venezuela- it is on the mainland. In San Andres the law was written 30 some years ago and is antiquated for right now. It doesn't have a component for diversifying investment. It was made specifically for the benefit of residents who live in San Andres. In Costa Maya, etc. they are totally different then ours because they don't hold inhabitants. This free zone law is for the whole department and for all the inhabitants that live here. (…)This is a simple law that fits exactly to our needs.
B.I.V.: Who will be considered a resident in the census and are only foreigners with residency documents eligible for being beneficiaries of the free zone benefits?
I.T.: First, Honduran citizens who are domiciled here according to the census. Secondly, everybody: nationals and foreigners who have invested on the island. If they are residents that's fine, if they are not legally speaking residents but have invested on the islands they will be beneficiaries as well.
B.I.V.: Are you disappointed by anything that was added or taken out from your proposal?
I.T.: In making this law we only had two brains in there: Mr. Hynds' and my own. When you put this law in the middle of 140 other brains, defiantly you'll have different thoughts, but I don't have any disappointments.
B.I.V.: What about eliminating the two percent import duty, or eliminating the $3,000 a year purchase exemption for non residents.
I.T.: We thought that this [$3,000 allowance] is to mainlander's advantage. Instead of going to Columbia, Panama, Virgin Islands, Belize or any other free zone why not keep this money here. This was a preoccupation of the merchants of La Ceiba, mainly, that this would develop an illegal competition. With TLC [CAFTA] agreement the whole country is going to turn after a few years into a Free Zone. Availability of goods from Mexico, US, or Dominican Republic will be a reality.
B.I.V.: Is this law going to radically change and restructure the Bay Islands?
I.T.: I don't know. We believe it is going to be for the good. It is the matter of economics, right? We're going to be at a different level [of development] and better prepared to compete. It's a better position then we have now.
B.I.V.: Can the Bay Islands handle all the growth in an economy that is already booming?
I.T.: The islands are changing anyway, but for the worse. I believe we can change course. We will have an index of activities that we can influence. Right now you don't know who is drilling, who is not, who is building and who is not. In a free zone you get to know all of those things. Where you have order you have success, where there is no order there is no success.

Bay Islands VOICE: What are the origins of the idea of Freeport?
Italo Tugliani: The idea came eight years ago when we turned by accident into a tourist destination. We were a very nice green island with a few cabins for scuba divers. It was not a tourism destination; it was a divers paradise. When we became a tourist destination, we heard that Hyatt, Radisson wanted to put a hotel here and we said- 'if we want to compete, we need to be like other destinations in the Caribbean.' From Quintana Roo to Venezuela. They are loaded with tourism [and] free zones. The only reason why the cruise ships are coming here is because the off shore excursions are profitable for the cruise ship [companies on a] better level then elsewhere. [Also,] the people like the idea that they can retire six, seven months out of the year [here]. We have to be able to host them in the same or superior manner, or they won't stay. We talked to the last three administrations: President Flores, Maduro and everyone liked it but nobody had the courage put words into action.
B.I.V.: Another issue mentioned in the context of this free zone was the issue of providing better security and policing.
I.T.: This law has several components: fiscal- to attract investment and business opportunities as there are no duties, income tax, or sales tax. Tourism is a word that you cannot isolate like a bacteria or virus. You cannot understand the meaning of tourism if you don't understand the logistics of transportation, amusement, food and beverage, and accommodation. And to accommodate people you need to build and to build you need materials and workers.
Staying Sober, Rebuilding Lives

A group of Roatan residents meet regularly to help one another stay away from alcohol

AA Roatan Home Group was founded by two American Expats in 1992 and since then, thousands of open and closed meetings were held. Every Monday and Thurdsday at 6:30pm between two and 12 people come to the AA meetings at ?Que tal Café? in Coxen Hole. A Wednesday 7am meeting at Roatan Life office by AKR attracts several other recovering alcoholics. Roatan Home Group meetings are open to anyone interested in learning about AA.
Meetings at ¿Que Tal Café? begin with a serenity prayer and passages read from Alcoholics Anonymous basic recovery book. "If it wasn't for these meetings I don't know where I would have been," said a woman in her 30s. One of these meetings, at end of November, attracted seven members- several men in their fifties and sixties, some in their 30s, a couple of women.
The members are more comfortable talking about their experience on basis of anonymity that offers them a sense of protection and comfort. "The stigma goes away as understanding of alcoholism as a disease becomes widespread in the community," one AA member explains.
Issues of low self esteem are an often heard topic of discussion. "My ex-husband did drugs and I drank and then we would fight," says a woman in her 50s. "I was lucky to abstain during my pregnancies." Her face is tired and weathered. The mental and emotional scars run deep amongst AA members. They are an articulate group and they do have stories to tell. They are stories of struggle, sadness, but also achieving useful lives and success.
Many AA members believe that alcoholism is a disease with mental, physical and spiritual elements. For people who want to stop drinking AA program offers a way to address all of these elements. "People need to understand that recovery is possible," says a AA member in his fifties.
The meeting gives many examples of this positive transformation. "My life began the moment I walked through the doors of AA. I learned of how not to drink one day at a time," says a man who hasn't had a drink in 33 years. Recovery takes place at a different pace and depends on an individual. The AA group attracts a variety of people at different stages in their recovery process. Some can count on decades of sobriety, while others are at the beginning of this process. "I remember being called a promising young man, but alcohol prevented me from doing the things that I wanted. When I was drinking, I no longer had a choice," said a AA member in his fifties.

Coffee, books and AA magazines at the Roatan home group meeting.
AA considers an alcoholic to be a person who lost the ability to control their drinking. That moment is sometimes hard to recognize.
As the Bay Islands population increases, alcoholism is becoming a growing problem. While AA focuses on the recovery of its members, Roatan Home Group has done talks to local schools about how AA could help in offering an answer to alcoholism in the community.
The contact between other AA groups in Honduras is sporadic. There is an English AA group in Tegucigalpa and in Coxen Hole a Spanish speaking AA home group meets almost every day. The cultural and language barriers are the reason why Roatan hosts both Spanish and English language AA groups. The program allows recovering alcoholics to heal on their own terms and members are accepted no matter how many times they relapse or fail.
Al-Anon, a twelve-step program for relatives and friends of alcoholics, has begun to meet in 2006, but struggles to find enough members to keep it going.
AA has followed a decentralized structure, with no hierarchy and little administration from the day of its founding in 1935. The only core and sole principle in all AA groups is the 12 step program. All else is dependent on the priorities and beliefs of the group members. The Roatan group, like all AA communities, has little structure and only a rotating secretary position.
The main purpose of A.A. members is to stay sober and help other alcoholics do the same. Still AA is not the only organization and method of coming out of alcoholism. In US there are several other organizations offering alternative ways towards sobriety: Rational Recovery, SMART Recovery, Lifering. "We [AA] don't have a monopoly on getting out of alcohol addiction. Some people find solution to their alcoholism thru church organizations and support group," says the founder of Roatan Home Group.
AA twelve step program has inspired many other recovery organizations that base themselves on the will of their members to overcome addiction. Gamblers Anonymous, Emotions Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous all trace their roots to AA.
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High Hopes for High Education by Thomas Tomczyk

UTH, Honduras’ biggest private university ends its second trimester of teaching Roatan youths
H UTH Roatan campus has been an answer to prayers of students who attended universities on the mainland, or studied long distance. The costs of living away from home and travel, made studying even more expensive. All that changed in May, when UTH begun offering classes on Roatan, opening its seventh national campus.
Roger Valledares, president and founder of UTH, was considering coming to Roatan eventually, but it was a delegation of business people from the island sped up his decision. A grass roots effort by Bay Islands Chamber of Commerce and local business leaders sped up arrival of UTH on Roatan, that begun giving classes at its Children's Palace School location in May. Classes here are given 4:50pm until 9pm, Monday to Thursday.
"We had five-six people that transferred here from Catolica or UTH in La Ceiba, but not a single person [out of the estimated 250] took exams to receive credit for their Bay Islands University courses. "The 'ghost' of Bay Islands University is still affecting us, as potential students are hesitant in enrolling. They don't trust that their credits here will be automatically transferable to other Universities," said Lars Michelem, UTH Roatan campus director.
Ex students of Bay Islands University, have an opportunity at receiving full credit for the classes, if they pass an equivalency exam that proves their competence in the class subject. So far Michelem doesn't know of a single Bay Islands University student that transferred their credits to UTH.
One ex-Bay Islands University student, that tried to continue his education at UTH, was Geronimo Antonio Moradel, a newspaper vendor from French Harbour. Moradel took a number of hours of classes at the Bay islands University. Then he attended a first semester at Roatan's UTH campus, before having to drop out, as he couldn't afford the money needed for inscription. He is one of six students who dropped out from UTH for financial reasons.
While the cost of attending a private university may seem affordable to some, it is a struggle to afford by many working youth. With the costs of inscription at Lps. 2,052 every four months and an average class cost of Lps. 1,710, the yearly student costs are around Lps. 21,500. The inscription and class hour costs on Roatan are around 34% more expensive then UTH average on the mainland, and costs of books and transport have to still be added.
While around 70% of students attend UTH part time in Honduras, that average is as high as 98% for Roatan.

"All the students here are also working," said Michelem. The working students typically don't have the time to take more then the 3-4 classes in a trimester. This extends the duration of a four year degree, with four-five classes taken every semester for another year.
Myra Vargas, 35, an accountant at Luna y Mar, is one of a handful of students taking a full course load and working. " I want to graduate in three-and-a-half years," says Myra, who is in the process of transferring her credits from two semesters at a University in San Pedro Sula. Her husband is helping her in paying the Lps. 3,600 class cost


UTH Administration course taught by prof. Jaime Cerrato

Elam Avila, 23, Delta Airlines employee is taking a more typical four classes and her Lps. 2,660 monthly class expense is covered in part by her family and husband.
Voice was unable to find out about a single student whose tuition is reimbursed by their employer.
One way of students financing their education is for them to find 50% business or employer sponsors amongst local businesses. The sponsoring of costs of university classes for employees by their employee companies, is not only tax deductible, it helps reduce employee turnover, raises workforce morale, and works as indirect advertising in raising the company's image in the community.
Currently only two degrees, one in tourism other in Business Administration are offered, but other degrees will become available as the numbers of enrollment grow. While it takes around 40 students to make the degree financially viable for UTH, students can transfer to other campuses in the country after completing general courses.
The number of enrolled students went from 51 to 53 in the second trimester and Michelem expects between 70 and 100 additional students to enroll at UTH Roatan campus this January. That could bring the number close to 150, where UTH begins operating in the black.
So far all ten professors teaching at Roatan's UTH campus come from Roatan and Michelem is still looking for more: "They don't have to have teaching experience, but they have to have qualifications."

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