story / editorial
Text by Susan Jensen, Photos by Thomas Tomczyk
Hog, Big Hog
Cochinos, the forgotten Bay Islands, provide tranquility
and Amazement to a Trickle of Visitors
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.
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.
of Upper Long Cay and Big Hog island from the
air. (photo: Steve Dankovich)
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
Fisherman throws a net to capture sprouts used
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
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.
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.
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.
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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______________back to top
Coaster Ride Ahead
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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to the Free Zone by Thomas Tomczyk
Free Zone Law for Bay Islands Passes by Congress
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Sober, Rebuilding Lives
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
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.
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
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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Hopes for High Education by
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.