story / editorial
and Photos by Thomas Tomczyk
many of the mangroves can be cut down before the system's
balance tips? No one exactly knows the answer to this question.
Yet many people are concerned that that moment is now and
with every eliminated mangrove, the Bay Islands reduce their
chances at keeping healthy reefs and developing long range
is studying the fragile interdependency between dredging, the mangroves
and the reef. But understanding the delicate balance between the
mangroves and the marine environment is more of an art than a science.
While the total mangrove area is constantly being reduced, in 2000
Utila had the largest amount of mangroves in the Bay islands (1,220
hectares); Roatan had 804 hectares of mangroves, while most of Guanaja's
311 hectares of mangroves were destroyed during Hurricane Mitch.
Few Bay Islands residents fully appreciate the role that mangroves
play in the fragile archipelago ecosystem. "Mangroves break
down the sewage that might otherwise impact the reef much more,"
said Rich Wilson of Coral Reef Alliance. Where mangroves once served
as filters, the indiscriminate building of roads and stripping of
land causes massive erosion that ultimately ends up in the sea and
on the reef. With many mangroves gone, the Roatan shore is filling
out with sand and earth and the reefs are being covered by waste,
chemicals and algae.
The rate of the development of the island has surprised many and
caught many off-guard. A 1994 study by PMAIB concluded that the
biggest negative effect on the reef at that time was from human
waste. A far second was deforestation. Carla Ventura, of PMAIB,
emphasized that the study was done before dredging was undertaken
on such a widespread scale across the island. "Every day someone
on the island is cutting mangroves," said Ventura. The project
began in 2003 and is funded by Inter American Bank.
Businesspeople and developers have a lot of money at stake. Their
investment is directly tied in with the main attraction of the island:
the reef. If its condition deteriorates, Roatan will stop being
an attractive place to visit and live for many people. The land
and house values will be adversely affected, and everybody will
lose. That is a long term possibility. In the short term, things
seem more open to interpretation.
The close proximity of nature with tourism areas is not conducive
to protecting the environment. The environment almost always ends
up on the losing end of the stick. Some believe that the interests
of developing a tourism industry, local housing and protecting the
environment are mutually exclusive, or at the least, their coexistence
is very difficult. "In practice it's almost impossible to have
a park next to a growing urban area," says Antoine Pomerleau,
manager of the West Bay-Sandy Bay Marine Park.
entire Utila community of Camponado begun in 1999. Acres of
property were lotted out for hundreds of small house lots
on what used to be a mangrove wetlands
effects of the disappearing mangroves are becoming more and more
apparent. An eight-foot-deep dolphin enclosure that was in use at
Anthony's Key Resort since 1989 was flooded with silt from erosion.
Its depth has fallen to two feet and the enclosure was closed in
November 2005. "I had to abandon the pen that filled with soot
and gunk. We can't even have dolphin shows there anymore,"
said Julio Galindo, the resort's owner and Roatan municipal council
Part of the difficulty in preventing the mangroves from being cut
lies in actually locating the mangroves that are being damaged or
destroyed in time. Other then the limited patrolling done by BICA
and Marine Park, the task of watching over the mangroves is left
to private citizens, who often feel intimidated by the big scale
There is a basic issue of conscience at stake: whether to act or
report when someone sees damage being done to the environment. This
can bring the risk of coming in conflict with some influential businessmen,
or even local government. The other choice is to sit back and ignore
the obvious. According to Lidia Medina, head of Roatan Municipal's
Environmental Unit, the majority of environmental denouncements
come from foreigners.
During two weeks in July 2004, Roatan's BICA (Bay Islands Conservation
Association) office received seven different complaints about the
mangroves being cut. Only two or three of the whistleblowers actually
visited the site they were concerned about. When BICA receives a
legitimate complaint, it contacts an environmental unit at the Municipal
and conducts an inspection.
The other problem is that Bay Islanders are confused as to whom
to contact and how. There is confusion about who issues permits
for environmental projects and the minimal fines that are allotted
by Municipal Environmental units. "The fines are ridiculous.
They are out of context with reality," said Ms. Irma Brady,
Director of BICA Roatan.
The municipal environmental watchdog isn't doing much to protect
the mangroves, or prosecute the violators. In 2005 Lidia Medina,
head of Roatan Municipal's Environmental Unit, tried five cases
of mangrove destruction. In 2005 and 2006 Roatan Municipal applied
no fines, and passed all cases to the Roatan fiscalia, where the
perpetrators worked out a first-offenders "substitute compensation."
"We are frustrated, but can't do anything about it," says
Currently the role that the Municipal plays is very limited. "They
don't issue permits, but they don't prevent from anyone from cutting
mangroves either," says Alvin Jackson, Marine Park board member.
The Roatan Municipal fines max-out at Lps. 5,000 and Medina thinks
raising the fines to Lps. 50,000 and actually applying them before
sending them to the fiscal would make a greater impact. The decision
to increase the fines lies in the hands of the Municipal corporation.
According to Brady the biggest mangrove destruction case since the
founding of BICA in 1990 was the cutting of mangroves in Mud Hole.
BICA performs annual overflights to document Roatan's deteriorating
environmental conditions; these sometime serve as evidence in criminal
The construction laws on the books are often vague and open to abuse.
The definition of "high tide" is not precise enough and
prone to "interpretation" by developers. Establishing
an accurate high tide line creates a problem. The law doesn't stipulate
when the high tide measurement should be taken. On the Bay Islands
there can be a difference of five meters, depending on which time
of year and on the lunar cycle. Unlike
in developed countries, Honduras has no architectural boards to
safeguard against the potential adverse effect of structures that
are a detriment, yet fulfill all the building law requirements.
Honduras may have some of the more stringent environmental legislation
in the region, but the enforcement of laws is virtually nonexistent.
"Until now, none [cases] that I know of has been prosecuted
to the full extent of the law," said Brady.
mangrove area is used as a garbage dump site on Utila.
of safety mechanisms in the construction of artificial beaches
and structures close to shore proves to be another big factor
in the disappearance of the mangroves. To avoid public scrutiny,
much of the mangrove destruction/construction is done under cover
of night and on weekends. The mangroves are cut, then compacted
and filled, sometimes burned, or removed from the site. "Pure
greed. Everybody that has two cents wants to buy land and put
a hotel on there," said Brady.
The increase in mangrove cutting in the first months of 2006 could
be attributed to the change of the local government. Many feel
some people are taking advantage of the inexperience of the new
Roatan Municipal government and testing how far they can push
the laws protecting the environment. "Whether we like it
or not, the economic aspects dominate [the government's priorities],"
said Brady. "They're loving it to death."
Joe Solomon, Municipal Judge, says that many local people build
high expectations in foreign investors without disclosing the
restrictions on developing local properties. Still, there are
plenty of people who well understand environmental laws and choose
to ignore them. One of the more typical cases of the destruction
of mangroves comes from West End's Mangrove Bight where in the
last decade a dozen cases of mangrove destruction took place.
Marine Park ranger inspects the mangrove destruction at a
Mangrove Bight property belonging to Anthony Grayson and managed
by Carlos Montoya.
a recent case in February, Marine Park rangers witnessed the cutting
of thick mangroves on property belonging to Anthony Grayson, a
US businessman. Even though Grayson, who comes to Roatan sporadically,
declined to talk to Bay Islands VOICE about the matter it is actually
Carlos Montoya, his property manager, who is responsible for coordinating
cutting the mangroves and bringing in truckloads of gravel to
create fill for an artificial beach. "He knew exactly what
he was doing," said Salomon about Montoya. While Grayson
and Montoya have avoided appearing at the DGIC regarding the mangrove
cutting case, Marine Park has filed a case against them in the
fiscalia. "We look at this as a criminal case," says
In fact, destruction of mangroves is by definition considered
a criminal act and the majority of cases have been forwarded to
the fiscalia. But developers are taking advantage of the failing
system. Many property owners feel that their seafront property
is worth more without mangroves and with a beach. "They want
the law to apply to everyone but themselves,' said Brady.
Mangroves are protected by a number of legal documents: international,
national and specific to Bay Islands. The superseding document
is an international law, a RAMSAR Convention, to which Honduras
is a signatory. The Honduran constitution protects mangroves as
a "national asset" and acts against them are considered
criminal. Forestry and fishing laws both protect the mangroves
in their regulations as well.
'Acuerdo Municipal No. 2' from 1991 controlled all development
done on the Bay Islands. In 2005 another, even more stringent,
law controlling development in the Bay Islands was passed. Each
Bay Islands Municipal protects the mangroves, and the municipal
environmental unit is responsible for protecting the plants. Honduras
may have one of the toughest environmental laws on the books,
but the history of applying it is negligible. Although
each governmental entity down the ladder can make mangrove protection
more stringent, they cannot erase the protection that is assured
to the trees. Environmental permits issued by a Municipal are
often not enough on their own to ensure a project is legal. Many
projects, dependent on their size and scope, require Ministry
of the Environment (SERNA) approval. Brady says that she never
heard of any project that SERNA did not approve, nor does she
know of any fines or legal judgments that were passed against
an environmental case on Roatan.
Mangroves are not the only shore type entity protected by law
in the Bay Islands. The iron shore, or exposed coral, is also
protected, yet several West Bay and West End developers took advantage
of the lax enforcement of environmental laws. "People can
get away with murder. You should take TJ [Lynch] on the plane
and have him deported," said Julio Galindo, a West Bay Development
Association president and municipal council member, about the
destruction of iron shore by a Canadian developer and realtor
at the Costa Tesoro project in West Bay.
While deportation in such cases remains unlikely, a first time
environmental violator is more likely to get a slap on the wrist
and buy himself out. According to Fatima Ullao, Bay Islands DGIC
chief, the Roatan Fiscalia has worked out "a substitute penalty
plan." for first time environmental offenders. For cutting
mangroves, the offenders buy the fiscalia a computer, and DGIC
ends up with an occasional printer-scanner.
Not everyone is pessimistic about the reduction of mangroves in
the Bay Islands. According to Gerardo Salgado, sub-secretary of
SERNA, barring a natural disaster, the number of mangroves on
the Bay Islands 10 years from now should be no fewer than there
are here today. "If we follow, implement and enforce the
results of the PMAIB technical findings we are going to improve
the overall environment of the Bay Islands," said Salgado.
resorts like AKR, Palmetto Bay Plantation and Barefoot Cay
see mangroves as an asset in attracting tourists. An AKR bungalow
most Bay Islands developers focus on run of the mill tourists
looking for a sandy patch of sand, others focus on attracting
more educated and wealthy tourists looking for an unique experience.
"The challenge is to be creative enough not to destroy the
nature around you," said Gary Chamer, owner of eco-friendly
Palmetto Bay Plantation. Also AKR, Mango Creek Lodge, Barefoot
Cay developed trails through mangroves and built buildings without
Bay Islands will be getting more nature reserves and parks. Astrid
Mejia from PMAIB says that within two to three years the Bay Islands
will have 12 designated marine and land protection areas. At least
the three land parks will all have a ranger staff, a ranger station
and marked borders.
story / editorial
/ local news
______________back to top
The Collusion of the Willing by
I hear of a Honduran government program, I assume it will
contain an element of self interest for people that manage
it. I assume that there will be corruption and unethical behavior.
I can be proven wrong, but it is safer to assume the worst.
Honduras has a history of selling out to the high bidder,
if the bid goes out at all. Honduras' politicians have sold
their railways to banana companies, they have sold out the
public's right to a decent road infrastructure, and just recently,
they attempted to benefit from another asset that belongs
to all Hondurans: a cruise ship dock.
For the last four years Hondurans and Bay Islanders have allowed
Honduras Institute of Tourism (IHT) to go into the business
of competing against private business. IHT created a myriad
schemes to promote Honduran tourism and make money. The "make
money" part seemed to have been the priority of the top
IHT brass who now find themselves in key and exclusive positions
to rake in the benefits of the booming tourism industry.
It all started with the IHT's letsgoHonduras.com website that
was expensive to create, inefficient and competing with already
existing, privately owned reservation sites. The Tela Bay
land purchase scheme rubbed mainland Hondurans the wrong way,
but Roatanians, led by the CANATURH-BI president, remained
unquestioningly and blindly supportive of all IHT projects.
The Roatan business community has no one to blame but themselves
as they have followed its business leaders like lemmings.
There was the country wide tourism map that barely acknowledged
the presence of the Bay Islands. Then in 2005, Caribfest showed
how a government can compete against West End and West Bay
businesses for El Salvadorian tourists who would be on the
island anyway. The idea of a festival is great, but the organizers
never attempted to bid it out to the private sector.
In 2004, without raising much scrutiny in the press or amongst
local business owners, the IHT managed to gain control of
the Roatan cruise ship dock, paid for by taxpayers through
the Empresa National Portuaria. From that point on, looking
at the cruise ship dock lease was like looking at a train
wreck in slow motion.
After a non-transparent year-long bidding process, in the
eleventh hour of Maduro's presidency, a 30-year lease deal
was signed with Royal Caribbean. Bay Islanders, Royal Caribbean
and their competitors deserve better. While there is a need
for some confidentiality in such a cruise line deal, the culture
of obscuring the bid process and its content created uncertainty
in Royal Caribbean and among other cruise ship companies.
Local tourist businesses got sideswiped by a contract clause
that would give Grayline, a tour operator company in part
owned by an ex-tourism minister, a 40% cut of all Roatan's
shore excursions and a monopoly on all cruise ship passenger
transport. With a stroke of a pen, dozens of small island
businesses would be destroyed.
The deal that would allow government officials: an ex-minister
and an ex-vice-minister of tourism, to move from awarding
a multimillion dollar contract, to working for the winning
company is not only immoral, in some places, it is illegal.
With everyone ready to sign, it was the current minister of
tourism who walked out on signing the deal. The ex-mayor was
ready to sign as well, but stated that he didn't know of the
contract clause referring to Grayline.
Many local tour operators and people working in the tourism
industry feel disappointed and betrayed by the individuals
involved in the dock deal and the elected officials and representatives
who are supposed to look after their interests.
We all have to learn from this experience. While the Roatan
dock contract may have been corrected, the manner in which
the cruise ship deal got passed leaves doubts as to how a
much bigger matter, a Bay Islands Free Zone, will affect the
Caribbean master plan for the development of Coxen Hole
cruise ship dock.
story / editorial
/ local news
split over who should control the "Lance Bodden Community
Health Center" while the Clinic's Committee members - who
for four years helped to create, build and pay for the clinic
and doctors' salaries - find themselves less relevant in a changing
reality. Many Utilans accuse National and Liberal party activists
of politicizing the clinic issue and while fighting amongst themselves,
the community has managed to lose a clear voice about the Clinic's
future in front of the central government.
The controversy surfaced in early January, during a meeting called
by newly arrived clinic director: Dr. Matilda Medina. The meeting
was held despite objections from Mayor Alton Cooper and another
"Clinic Internal Help Committee" was chosen. Julia Keller,
34, a local businessperson was chosen as its president.
The situation escalated further on January 25, when after the
swearing in ceremony, Mayor Alton Cooper and several Liberal Party
activists marched to the clinic and persuaded Dr. Medina to leave
the premises of the clinic, where she practiced and lived. "I
understand their frustration and I don't feel angry," said
Dr. Medina who moved to a Country Side apartment where for three-and-half
weeks she continued to see patients while the clinic remained
A few days later, during a town meeting, a new Clinic Committee
was chosen and Lance Bodden was reelected as the Clinic's president.
to Bodden, whose name the clinic bears, the worst case scenario
is if central government keeps full control of the clinic, and
fails at efficiently providing healthcare to Utila citizens. Bodden
says that many potential clinic donors will not donate to a clinic
completely under government control.
three-and-half weeks Utila's Community Health Center remained
2005 FHIS (Fondo Hondureño de Inversion Social), along with
smaller private donations, paid for the construction of the clinic.
Now the salaries of clinic staff are paid by Honduras' Ministry
Many Utilans, including Clinic Committee member Patrick Flynn, believe
that an initial agreement about the clinic guaranteed a cooperation
of central government and the Clinic Committee to be overseen by
Utila's Mayor. What they found out during a meeting with the Vice-minister
of Health, Bay Islands health director and Congressman Jerry Hynds,
is that the government has almost full control of the clinic. "If
I knew then what I found out at the Roatan meeting, I would have
never donated the land," said Patrick Flynn who in 2002 donated
land that the clinic was built on.
The big question however, is who in the Maduro Health Ministry changed
the rules of the Utila Health Center administration, or who on Utila,
if anyone, knew about the change, and didn't inform the community
While the clinic will remain open for a 60 day "transitional
period" until May 30, consultation fees were set to match those
on the mainland: Lps. 2 for a visit and Lps. 6 for emergency visit.
The fees are expected to be increased on June 1.
A. Ford began his duties as US Ambassador to Honduras in November,
2005. He joined the U.S. Department of Commerce in 1982 after
working for eight years in the private sector and has extensive
experience in Latin America. He served as Commercial Attaché
at the US Embassy in Guatemala, a Commercial Consul at the
US Consulate in Barcelona, Spain and Commercial Attaché
at the US Embassy in Argentina.
Ambassador Ford was born in Dayton, Ohio. He received his
undergraduate degree in Economics from the College of William
and Mary in 1972. At George Washington University he received
his Masters Degree in Latin American Studies in 1975. Mr.
Ford has been the recipient of the Department of Commerce's
two highest awards: the Gold and Silver Medals, for his work
on Europe and Russia.
Islands VOICE: This is your first ambassadorship. Why did you
Ambassador Charles Ford: President Bush chose me for Honduras
more than [it was] me choosing Honduras. The President, the Secretary
of State, Secretary of Commerce were looking at the Central American
Free Trade Agreement. I've also worked in Honduras 30 years ago
in the Inter American Development Bank and I have a background
in Central America.
I. VOICE: The residency procedure in Honduras has frustrated hundreds
of foreigners and Americans. Many US citizens living in Honduras
spent thousands of dollars trying in vain to get it, or they remain
in limbo corrupting immigration officials with bribes to remain
in the country more than 90 days. Some have left Honduras altogether.
Can the US government put pressure to simplify and regulate the
Honduran residency requirement?
Ambassador C.F.: There is no more important goal at the embassy
then supporting the interests of American citizens and businesses.
) We'd like to sit down with the new authorities and see
how we could work through some of these issues. (
Zelaya made it clear that he wants a smaller, more efficient state.
He wants it to be an attractive place for tourists to come, live
and spend money. So I think the good will is there.
B. I. VOICE: What is the US government doing to protect Honduran
children from the US child molesters? Can a list of convicted child
molesters be made available to Honduran immigration authorities for
checking against US citizens who enter the country?
Ambassador C.F.: Whether it's trafficking persons, child molesters,
the whole range of trans national issues, we have a close cooperation
with Honduras. Honduras has improved, it still has a lot to do in
terms of these areas. [Consul Ian Browne: US is a party to a convention
within the Organization of American States and we've urged the government
of Honduras to sign on to the same convention. That would greatly
expedite the sharing of information on criminal cases]
B. I. VOICE: There were 13 US citizens killed in the last 15 months
in Honduras. Your own embassy staff is often afraid to travel around
Tegucigalpa on public transport or in taxis. Has Honduras become a
country too dangerous to move to?
Ambassador C.F.: Honduran government has developed a special unit
to look into investigation and prosecution of crimes against Americans.
[The crime problem] is not unique to Honduras. Neighboring countries
have similar issues. Embassy staff has guidance from the embassy [as
to] what areas are better, what times of day and how to travel around.
There is a recognized public security issue however.
B. I. VOICE: Hundreds of Honduran citizens that were involved in
gang activity in the US were returned to Honduras where they turned
to organizing the 'maras.' Does the US government have any responsibility
towards creating this problem in Honduras, Guatemala or El Salvador?
Ambassador C.F.: I don't know about responsibility. Returning
many people may have started some gangs. Some people returned to the
US and started gangs on their own. When we return someone that has
been caught involved in criminal activity we coordinate that closely
with the Honduran authorities.
B. I. VOICE: How do you feel about the Cuban government helping
Honduran health services with doctor volunteers? How come Cuba has
done more for Honduran healthcare then the US has?
Ambassador C.F.: We treat about 30 thousand patients a year in
Honduras just with our military. When you add on volunteer organizations:
there is an enormous amount of American governmental, military and
volunteer effort here in the health care area, which is just impressive.
The fact that there 200 Cuban doctors here is a decision that the
government of Honduras and Cuba have made and is up to them to make.
I. VOICE: With Honduras' left leaning government coming to power,
could there be a scenario where president Mel Zelaya joins the US
bashers like pres. Evo Morales, pres. Hugo Chavez and pres. Fidel
Castro? Even though Honduras has no oil, coca plants or the strategic
location, what would be the worst thing that could happen?
Ambassador C.F.: I don't have a scenario like that. Honduras is
a country at historic crossroads. [Even though it will take] a lot
of hard work and high costs, it's a unique opportunity that Honduras
faces. With debt pardoning and a strong macro economic picture [Honduras
can] make some huge investments in education and healthcare and attract
investment under the free trade area. Despite problems, Honduras needs
to work at a faster pace to strengthen security and justice system
B. I. VOICE: Would you not agree that the infrastructure of Honduras:
its roads, electric grid, sewers are perhaps the worst built and maintained
in all of Central America? Why do you think Honduras keeps being the
last in this already poor region?
Ambassador C.F.: I don't want to be getting into who is last and
. Honduras or Nicaragua. On the road issue there has been
progress as far as designing. We, through the Millennium Challenge
Account, are going to be funding the "dry canal" from Salvador
to Puerto Cortez. Puerto Cortez is only the second port in Latin America
that has received a container security initiative from us, so our
customs has people in Puerto Cortez inspecting and facilitating shipments.
Panama is growing, but has constraints as far as building expansion
of the canal. With the volumes going between Asia and US and Europe
it is not as much taking business away from Panama, but offering another
way of moving [goods]. (
) Monopoly of Hondutel expired in December,
and the cost of international calls went down 50 percent. (
I don't think there is a country in the region that has managed its
macroeconomics better in the last three, four years. The discipline,
the debt relief, the lack of inflation, [and the] relatively stable
exchange rate are all great indicators to attract investment. To make
that happen you need to have physical and legal security.
B. I. VOICE: That was done during the four years under president
Maduro's administration. Do you feel Maduro is not appreciated for
these accomplishments very much?
Ambassador C.F.: I hope he is appreciated. You don't get anywhere
without having a stable economic program. With theses indicators in
place and debt relief, the government of president Zelaya has an extraordinary
opportunity to put all that to a use that serves better the good of
all the people.
Ship Tourist Dies in Scooter Accident
Valentines Day and his forty-first birthday, a Norwegian Dream
cruise ship visitor George Puris, 41, lost control of his rented
scooter and fell on the side of Roatan's West Bay road. While
his girlfriend suffered an elbow injury, Puris, along with other
injuries, suffered a severe head trauma and drifted in and out
of a coma. Murray Russ, owner of Captain Van's that rented Puris
the scooter, explained that "there was high speed and drinking
Since Norwegian Dream had no adequate facilities to treat Puris'
injuries the victims were taken by ambulance to Woods Medical
Center (WMC). According to WMC staff, Puris needed specialized
medical attention available only in La Ceiba or San Pedro Sula
and due to swelling of the brain, the charter of an air ambulance
service to Miami was not an option. Around 1am, he was flown at
low altitude in a charter flight to La Ceiba and admitted to Clinica
D'Antoni. Puris died around 3am.
Municipal charged Puris $100 for ambulance service from West Bay
to WMC and another $100 for ambulance service to the airport. In
addition to the WMC medical bill, Puris paid $2,500 for an Atlantic
charter flight to La Ceiba.
to Ingra Lisa, an owner of Miami-based Trinity Air Ambulance International,
the ambulance regularly evacuates patients from Roatan and could
have been ready to fly within two hours of notification. Trinity
Air Ambulance also has the capacity for low altitude flight necessary
for patients with brain or lung injuries. The Puris family is pursuing
legal action against Norwegian Cruise Lines.
While road conditions on Roatan are constantly deteriorating, some
scooter rental companies fail to replace older bikes and neglect
to offer safe helmets. Traffic police officials do not enforce helmet-
or shirt-wearing laws on tourists. This is the first death of a
cruise ship tourist on a scooter, but according to WMC staff, in
2005 there were dozens of tourists admitted for scooter related
story / editorial
/ local news
in Paradise by
foreign tourists remain under police watch during their
holiday on Roatan.
February 25 Roatan became a spark for the biggest scandal so far
to trouble the barely week-old Zelaya presidency. An Albanian,
two Bosnians and two Lebanese nationals who came in on a "Las
Mobili" furniture award vacation at Henry Morgan, were told
by Roatan immigration officials that they lacked proper visa documentations.
From the 250 passengers who landed on Roatan, only five came from
countries that need conditional visas - all had "visa problems."
The five had visas issued by three different consulates and none
of the consulates had followed the visa with an "authorization
cable" to Honduras' Ministry of Interior.
Roatan immigration tried placing the five tourists on the flight
back to Italy, but the flight had only three open seats. The tourists
had their passports temporarily confiscated and were allowed to
stay at Henry Morgan Resort and take part in island excursions
- all under police escort.
Mario Pacheco, Bay Islands Immigration Chief, explained that during
his 20 months of serving as an immigration official in San Pedro
Sula International Airport there were around five cases of foreign
tourists who were sent back to their home countries for lack of
an adequate visa.
authorities should be more flexible and analyze each case by case.
They could contact the councils to receive the documents the following
day," said Arianna Polenghi, director of MCTours, a tour
operator that also works with Italian tourists. Albania,
Bosnia-Herzegovina and Lebanon are three of 43 countries that,
along with a "conditional visa," require a telex to
the ministry of interior: a procedural matter, and not related
to potential terrorist threat. Ricardo Martinez, Minister of Tourism,
said that within three months the "conditional visas"
will be eliminated.
the consuls that issued the visas in Rome and Milan are being scrutinized
by the Honduran foreign ministry. Charles Abou Adal, ex-honorary
consul of Honduras in Lebanon is reported to not have been working
in that position since 1999.
Blue Panorama, the charter airline that brought the five to Roatan,
is responsible for verifying all travel documents at the time of
departure. Their reservation system told the airline agent booking
the five passengers that they needed not only a visa but an "authorization
cable" and that "non compliance with entry regulations
may result in refusal of passenger and a fine of $1,600 - for carrier."
The citizens of these countries are also required to report to "Departemento
de Seguridad Publica" within 48 hours of arrival.
Also responsible for verifying the travel documents of the five
tourists was ALPI tour, the tour operator handling the group. "ALPI
Tour should have understood better the visa requirements,"
said Pacheco. It is perhaps why Alessia Santora, ALPI Tour operator,
tried to mislead Bay Islands VOICE about the departure time of the
The incident was an unfortunate example of the conflicts within
the Honduran government structure and revealed the basic lack of
communication and respect between Immigration, Honduran Ministry
of Foreign Affairs and Honduran diplomatic representatives abroad.
It became apparent that Roatan and Honduran authorities are not
ready for the rising number and diversity of tourists coming to
the island. "If it happened again in the future, the incident
could damage the image of the entire country," said Piero Dibattista,
majority owner and manager of Henry Morgan resort. "There was
an exceeding of responsibility of all parties." And, at least
for now, little has changed in how a tourist coming to Honduras
with a conditional visa would be dealt with. They would be put on
a plane and returned to their country of departure.