Monthly news magazine for Roatan,
Utila & Guanaja
March, 2006 Vol.4 No. 3
Calendar Style
Bay Islands Voice Updates:
feature story / editorial / local news / business

Words and Photos by Thomas Tomczyk

Living Off Garbage
The People That Take Care of Our Waste
Most Roatanians stop thinking about their garbage the moment it is picked up from their front yards. About 50 Roatanians try to make a dignified living from what the Honduran and local governments failed to do- recycle.

The first on the scene are the flies, thousands of them. Then come people and dogs. Dogs look for morsels of food. People compete against one another for aluminum cans, beer battles and plastic wrapped food items. When people and dogs leave, it is the birds' turn. Dozens of vultures and crows fly in to scourer the picked over heaps of moist and smelly matter for anything that is still digestible.
The best time to watch this spectacle at the Mud Hole municipal garbage dump is 5pm, when the West Bay garbage truck pulls in bringing the "best garbage" on the island. "Truck brings lobster, fish, they even eat it sometimes," describes the scene Houston Eden, 47, from Coxen Hole who makes his living finding small electrical appliances at the dump and repairs them. Not unlike on other third world garbage dumps, Roatan's Mud Hole dump supports many people that with dignity make a living and relieve the local and central government from their recycling responsibilities.
The dump's construction and maintenance, a cooperation between the central government (through PMAIB) and municipal government, has went from good, to bad, to barely sufficient. For three weeks in January, the Mud Hole road in front of the dump was reduced to one lane, as trucks dump their garbage in front of the garbage dump entrance. Three weeks worth of Roatan's garbage piled 15 feet high until two Diamond Jack pushers created a dirt road on top of the three-four foot high garbage mound. "The dump is one of the priorities the mayor has. We had a problem and the municipal is trying to solve it," says Manuel Serrano, 28, Roatan Municipal Administrator.
It is all because of a Lps. 19,000 fuel injector part that is needed to operate a heavy duty garbage compactor. According to Serrano since December 2005 the Caterpillar compactor needs new fuel injectors, ball bearings and a muffler. The other machine still in use, a pusher, can only work on solid surface. The pusher's rubber coated tires get stuck in the mushy garbage.

Desmond Curtis, 40, is a recycler from Oak Hill in French Harbour. Every day picks up discarded aluminum cans and beer battles between Los Fuertes and French Harbour. When aske how long he has been doing this he says: "a long time. My whole life I think."

The layers of garbage should be mixed with layers of dirt, to harden the surface, reduce the foul smell, flies and bird population living on the dump. The dump permanently supports two dozen dogs, three bird species and uncountable number of flies.
Some simple measures could and are taken to improve the current situation: a surface road, better machine maintenance and employee training. PMAIB trained half a dozen municipal workers in maintenance of the garbage dump, but the last such trained person left six months ago and things have went from bad to worse.
The garbage was designed to be managed by an on-site crew of four people: a manager, two machine operators and a night watchman. Now it is operated by two people. Rene Echevarria, PMAIB coordinator of public services, says that the dump runs at around 70 percent capacity. That's not so bad, considering that that island garbage project started with poor coordination and inability to compromise. In 2000, the idea was to have one garbage site for both Roatan municipals. "The operating cost [for entire Roatan] would be 50 percent less," said Echevarria. But the two municipal governments couldn't come to an agreement about a garbage site located more centrally on the island.

Jose Antonio Riveras uses a mallet made out of an aluminum tube and car axel to crash hundreds of cans. The 12 members of the Riveras family has been living by the Mud hole dump for the past eight years.

There were other delays that came from SERNA, Honduras' ministry of Environment, that didn't want to give the environmental permit because the Mud Hole dump was located to close to the sea. Finally, the construction of the 100 by 200 meter garbage dump begun in 2001 and by 2002 the facility was opened. Four years later, the mangrove that was dying, is now coming back.

PMAIB spent $850,000 to prepare the site and move its 60,000 tons of previously dumped garbage. The organization also spent $600,000 buying two Volkswagen garbage trucks, a compactor and pusher/tractor for Roatan municipal.
Tuglio Funez, 31, is the sole machine operator responsible for spreading the garbage dump. On a Lps. 8,100 municipal salary, along with a watchman he is the only person responsible for leveling garbage for as many as 50 thousand Roatan residents and tourists.

The Mud Hole garbage dump. For several weeks in January, garbage from all over Roatan was dumped on the road. Eventually two Diamond Jack tractors were hired to construct an earth road on top of the garbage heap.

The garbage disposal problem is further compacted by not following the guidelines in garbage dump maintenance. The dump heap was designed to go as high as 14 meters, that is with periodical leveling off with dirt to keep the garbage flat, firm and absorbing its odors. As the mound reaches higher it becomes more sponge-like and moving machinery on top of it becomes almost impossible. "This used to be a swamp and when it rains I can't move the machine," said Funez.
When it rains a stream of run off water crosses into the road and fills a ditch. "This is all going into the aquifer," said Steve Helm, a Palmetto Bay resident who drives by the dump every day. "It is embarrassing." Not only that. Value of local properties have been adversely affected and local business people are losing money.
According to Echevarria, in November the garbage passed the one meter height mark, a signal that it needed a 30 centimeter layer of earth. The 15-20 day task of moving the 6,000 cubic meters of earth, paid by Lps. 200,000 fund from central government, is scheduled to take place in March.
PMAIB estimated that around 50 gallons of diesel fuel was needed to operate the pusher and compactor machines. According to Serrano, Roatan municipal supplies 60 gallons of fuel per two machines a day. With the four municipal garbage trucks needing additional fuel, the money left over for municipal garbage employee salaries and equipment maintenance is minimal.
There is a disagreement of how much fuel is really allotted for the operation of the two machines. Santos Milla, the dump's watchman, says that the municipal used to bring 120 gallons every week, not every two days. "Now [with one machine broken] we ask for 80 [gallons] and they give us 50. I guess they think we are taking it," says Milla who works on a Lps. 4,400 salary.
Fuel is by far the biggest cost of collecting and disposing of garbage on the island. With a goal of collecting Lps. 1,750,000, in 2005 Roatan municipal collected Lps. 3,147,000 in garbage collection taxes, or $456 a day. The garbage tax for businesses is based on each company's sales volume and many "trash efficient" businesses are picking up the tab for small businesses that produce a lot of trash.
According to Serrano, part of the problem lies in two of the machines being made and maintained by two different companies. The other problems are with the unregulated dumping on the site. "RECO carries their wire to the dump and that's prohibited," said Serrano, who described how wire wraps around the garbage compactor's axel and is periodically removed with a blow torch.
In Santos Guardiola garbage collection and disposal is even worse. After having been donated two acres, the previous SG administration purchased for Lps. 529,000 a four acre property in Diamond Rock with the intention of creating a proper garbage dump.
The complications in purchasing the land delayed the process by a year. After an environmentally hazardous dump and burning site by the sea in Oak Ridge was leveled and closed down, the municipal was left without any alternatives how to deal with their garbage.
Left with no options, in December 2005, people begun dumping their garbage by themselves, illegally, on the main road by the Jonesville road entrance. A temporary solution was found when a private property owner agreed to let the municipal uses his property to fill a ravine with municipal garbage. There was no environmental assessment done by PMAIB on the dump site west of Punta Gorda and potential damage done to the aquifer. PMAIB says that the accumulated garbage will eventually be moved to Diamond Rock, but the steepness of the site will ad to the expense of doing so.
PMAIB has one million dollars budgeted for the 90 by 180 meter dump and bids are expected to come in by March 15. Construction could begin as early as May 1 and last until October 2006. Meanwhile the SG municipal's only garbage truck is broken down forcing the expense of renting a truck.
On Guanaja there are two places where garbage is burned. The Bonaccians have been burning their garbage by the cemetery for generations, and for the people living on Guanaja proper a site between Savannah Bight and Brisas del Mitch is used for burning garbage. PMAIB expects to begin garbage dump construction on that site in June-July.


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Wrestling With Mohammed by Thomas Tomczyk

Nothing hurts as much as truth does and cartoons have a particular ability to get to the truth's heart of the matter faster, with more wit than other media.
In September 2005, a Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten contacted 40 artists and asked them to contribute drawings of how they see a modern Mohammed. Jyllands-Posten responded to a story about a Danish author who couldn't find illustrators for his book. Five months later, the twelve artists that offered their contribution live in fear for their lives.
I found two of the 12 cartoons funny, several thought provoking, others of poor journalistic quality, but none of them offensive. Journalists by definition tackle subjects that some people can find disturbing or offensive. Journalist's responsibility is not towards not offending anyone, but to report the truth and challenge the status quo in accord with their conscience.
By publishing these images Danish paper raised an important question: are Muslims able to critically look at ideas expressed in the Koran and discuss the imperfect life of their prophet? And, how far are non Muslims willing to go to subjugate themselves to the Sharia law forbidding portraying, especially criticizing their prophet? What the discussion has focused on recently is whether non Muslim societies choose to discuss these topics and face the Muslim wrath.
If any Muslim could be offended by a journalist, writer or an artist challenging him to think critically about their religious beliefs- that is to bad.
I felt offended many time as well. Still, I will not kill, burn down or threaten people who do these actions.
I find it offensive that writer Salman Rushdie remains in fear of his life 18 years after he wrote critically about Mohammed. My sensibility is offended every time I see a video of Muslims decapitating a hostage in front of a video camera shouting "God is great." They are calling to a different God than I do.
I found it offensive to see Palestinian Muslim crowds applauding on the streets as the twin towers fell on September 11. I find it offensive when Islamists blew-up world's biggest statues of Buddha. I find it offensive for a Muslim to cut a throat of Dutch filmmaker, Theo Van Gogh on a street in Amsterdam. I find it offensive for anyone to attempt to intimidate me, boycott me or threaten me to give up my rights to critically analyze any subject.
We don't accept that Hindus, or Christians burn cars in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Bangladesh where they can't practice their religion in freedom, but we accept Muslims to be violent, burn embassies, churches (Nigeria, Lebanon), cut-off heads, call to killing of Danes, and kill priests (Turkey). "There just has to be a reason why they do it," many in the West think and say. "Its something we did."
Islamists have for decades developed the concept of being victimized and few have called them on it. This strategy that paid off as many people now see Muslims as the oppressed minority… beyond criticism, last it offend.
Still criticism of Mohammad is as old as Islam itself. Mohammad himself ordered a murder of two poets in Mecca who criticized and mocked his actions and Muslims today practice only what their prophet taught them to do.
Mohammad's preaching, actions and subsequent interpretation of his spoken message attracted criticism in Europe for centuries. Dante portrayed him in eight circle of hell in 'Divine Comedy,' as one of the "Sowers of Discord." More recently Mohammad appeared in TV show South Park and Spike TV's parody advertisement for an imaginary video game called 'Holy War.' In 2002 Mohammed was depicted in a cartoon, published through the US print media, driving a truck equipped with an atomic bomb. The Middle East didn't fallow with the boycott of American goods.
Despite the focus on Islam's clash with the West, free societies are challenged by Islam all over the world: in Thailand, India, Nigeria, Philippines, Georgia. There is a growing fear amongst artists and journalists to criticize or even analyze Islam. "Nothing is more despicable than respect based on fear," wrote Albert Camus. Succumbing to the fear, to false understanding of religious correctness, there is a danger of appeasing Islamists to the point that we lose our own freedom.

A Renaissance fresco in a Bologna's Church portrayed Mohammed tortured by Satan in Hell. In 2002 a plot to blow-up the church was foiled.

A two foot high frieze bas-relief sculpture of Muhammad on the US Supreme Court building.

A Salvador Dalí painting of
Mohammad suffering in hell.

A 2002 Mohammad cartoon
published thought the US media.
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Free Zone Islands On Horizon

President Mel Zelaya visited Roatan on February 5, to announce his commitment of making Bay Islands a free zone that will incorporate all four municipals of the island department.
"This zone will have a special judicial [status] to address the migration, drug trafficking and protection of the environment problems," said president Zelaya. Ricardo Martinez, tourism minister, in an interview with La Tribuna explained that the free zone is envisioned to resemble that of San Andres and the Cayman Islands."
Attending the meeting at Coral Cay was Ricardo Martinez- Minister of Tourism, Leo Starkman- Minister of Investment, Congressman Jerry Hynds and the four Bay Islands Mayors. Governor of the Bay Islands, Janice Johnson, was not invited to the meeting.
President Zelaya reiterated his promise to have islanders as Vice-Minister of Tourism and Director of Fisheries- Apesca. Several days later Paula Bonilla, a Coxen Hole attorney was named a vice minister of Tourism.

President Zelaya with Roatan constituents. Argelia Galindo, Yvette Hyde, Stalin Jones, Arlie Thompson, Nessie McNab, Ivan Jones Sr., Pres. Mel Zelaya, Congressman Jerry Hynds, Rita Morris, Mayor Dale Jackson.
The president received a particularly strong applause when he mentioned to the change in the way the island department will be administered. The president also promised to create an office where fishing permits would be given directly on Roatan, not only in Tegucigalpa. "Administration of the islands will stay on the islands," said President Zelaya. "The goal of the modern state is to dispense powers to the municipals."It is unclear how quickly and how the free zone will affect the life of Bay Islanders. Some businesses, customs agencies for example, could disappear altogether. "We still don't know how this will affect all the people," said Elmer Flores, 34, general manager of Anacaribe, a customs agency based in Coxen Hole.
Other business people see opportunities in attracting visitors and growing investment. "It would be great if we had similar [to Cayman Islands] banking laws," said John Edwards, US developer.
President Zelaya said that the free port proposal will be submitted to the cabinet of ministers by the end of February. Then the free zone proposal will go in front of congress for approval.

Evictions In Dixon Cove

Rita Aceituno is consoled by a friend as she waits across the road from the site where she lived for 16 years.
A Dixon Cove land invasion case that for years remained in Roatan courts received a final resolution. Three families judged to be illegally occupying the 27 acre property were evicted at 6am on February 3. Dozens of officers from DGIC, Preventiva and tourist police converged on the site. Police was on high alert asking all passing vehicles to slow down and lower their windows.
The dispute on the property dates back to a 1985 land transaction. In 1989 Dulce Maria Duarte bought the property and asked Rita Aceituno to maintain the property where she remained for 16 years. Bob Waring, an American real estate investor, purchased the property in August 2004 and after a series of court rulings, on June 30, 2005 managed for the first time to evict the 14 people that lived on the property. After several weeks of living on the side of the road, the three families managed to regain access to the property and gathered some local support.
The site became a periodical meeting place for hundreds of Aceituno's supporters who offered psychological and sometime financial help for the families living on the property.
The stand off continued and on January 13 Rita Aceituno received a judicial notice to leave the property within 15 days. She decided to do nothing. "The people that were helping us before now say that we stole the land," said Aceituno, who now blames her ex-lawyer for telling her not to take the $20,000 dollar offer made by Waring in July 2005.
Waring says that the eviction procedure cost him between five and seven thousand dollars. Much less than the settlement offer of $15,000 he made to Aceituno in July 2005. "This is a landmark case. This is the first time that people were moved off the land because of the law," said Waring.
Waring said that he has not decided what he will do with the property where the eviction took place. The site lies in a valley that provides access to other 90 acres that Waring owns. According to Waring, a number of the people who lived on the property received a permanent restraining order to keep away from the property.
Aceituno's possessions were moved barely 300 meters from the site she was evicted from, but her situation is quite different. She lives in a small house that a friend lets her use while she gets her life in order. Her clothes and some furniture rest on the ground in heaps covered by a blue tarp. Her face is swollen, eyes red and the supporters that once accompanied Aceituno around the clock are no longer there. She and other 14 people need to move soon and the only financial help she recently received came from Waring - a $1,000 check..
The inauguration was preceded by speeches and award ceremony when an award was given to Manuel Martinez, veteran accounts manager at the municipal. "If Manuel is my 'paraguas' (umbrella), you are my lightning arrester," said about Nicole Brady Mayor Hynds. Brady received a silver recognition plate for her work as the Mayor's secretary.
Before signing off to May Dale Jackson witnessed the ceremony, but neither the departing SG Mayor Kirby Ducker nor his vice-mayor were present.
CSI Roatan

Dozens of police officers gathered around two mannequin heads partially covered in sand at Palmetto Bay. The officers were taking part in three day course in forensic science given free of charge by Prof. Aric Dutelle, 32, an ex-police officer and death investigator, who currently teaches in the Criminal Justice Department at University of Wisconsin in Platteville. The University's department is considered one of the better Criminal Justice Schools of the 119 such programs across the US.
Twenty-one Preventiva, DGIC and Frontera police along with Bay Islands' coroner took a six hour forensic course to help develop their crime scene investigation skills. What is now planned as a twice-a-year event attracted police professionals from across the Bay Islands and as far as Tegucigalpa.
This is the fourth time that Prof. Dutelle came to the island. His collaboration with Roatan police begun in 2004 when he helped local police officials locate a body of a drowned French Harbour fisherman.

"I realized the need for training the police here," said Prof. Dutelle who with the help of Steven Helm, an American living on Roatan, organized the first course in spring of 2004.During the first two courses 77 people received the training. "Some police had a chance to use the techniques [they learned here] already- in the Gary Smith case in particular," said Prof. Dutelle, referring to a December 2005 murder case.
The forensic science course served as a refresher for some police officers, but for many was as an initiation into securing and gathering of evidence at a crime scene.
"On Utila or Guanaja we don't have a DGIC, or a coroner, so the crime scene investigation has to be done by the Preventiva. This workshop is of great help," said Lieutenant Murillo, of the Roatan's Frontera police.
The University of Wisconsin paid $1,000 towards traveling expenses of Prof. Dutelle and his three students, Palmetto Bay Plantation provided housing, while the students themselves paid for the rest of the costs of the visit. Security tape, fingerprint kits and body bags were given for the use of the local police

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Santos Guardiola struggles to make ends meet




Campaign poster in front of Santos Guardiola municipal building.

The first in 36 years national government of Santos Guardiola begun it's term with a clean-up. There was changes inside-out in the municipal as its building was painted and drastic staff changes took place.
All but one of the previous municipal's 37 employees was let go. "We just couldn't trust them because of the bad administration of the last government," said Vice Mayor Hernan Acosta, 46, an ex-city council member and owner of a taxi business. In mid-February, Mayor Terry Bodden had 16 employees on staff, and planned to hire another four. The reduction in municipal staff will translate to 32% savings in municipal salaries: a decrease from Lps. 200,000 to Lps. 137,000.
While its staff was reduced, the SG municipal is expanding its Oak Ridge offices and decided to rent a small building next door. Mayor Bodden's plans for the first 100 days include improvement of the 15 Municipal school buildings and filling the potholes with dirt on the main road. These plans might not seem ambitious to some, but reflect the reality of working on a small budget and with a constant string of unpaid bills coming in for collection.

At the time of taking over, Municipals BGA bank account showed a balance of Lps. 619.44. In the first two weeks of operation the municipal received Lps. 305,000 in bills and tried to pay them as funds become available a task especially difficult as an additional Lps. 238,000 is still owed to Diamond Rock Aggregates, Hondutel and RECO.
Not much help came from the government per capita subsidy each municipal receives every quarter. The first 2005 subsidy of Lps. 555,000 was deposited in Santos Guardiola's Atlantida account on January 19 and by January 25 there was Lps. 171,700 left in the account. Receipts show payment for municipal projects such as Punta Gorda water tower, Lucy Point road and Jonesville streets, but according to Vice-Mayor Acosta however, the central government fund is envisioned mainly for maintenance of the municipal' school and health buildings. "Only 10 percent of these funds could be spent on municipal projects," said Acosta.
"Many people waited with paying their yearly taxes until we took over the municipal," said Vice-Mayor Acosta. "They felt their funds weren't being put to good use." Not everyone felt that way though, as the current administration found December 2005 and January 2006 receipts showing 114 individuals who paid municipal taxes through 2009. "These people might have to come back to our offices because they tax structure changes every year," explained Acosta.
In an effort to quickly create a realistic budget for Santos Guardiola, Manuel Martinez, an eight year veteran of Roatan Municipal, was contracted as Santos Guardiola's financial assessor. An external financial audit is planned for March.
According to La Prensa, on February 21, due to illegally issued diminio plano 'prosecutor to investigate corruption' charged four previous municipal members with abuse of authority and falsifying documents. The indictment included ex-Mayor Kirby Ducker, Ex-Vice Mayor Arad Rochez, and two city council members.


No. 4
May 8

Vol2 No. 2

Vol2 No. 3

Vol3 No. 12

Vol4 No. 1