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

Words and Photos by Thomas Tomczyk

The Mangrove
How 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 sustainable tourism.

PMAIB 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.

The 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

The 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 member.
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 developers.
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 Medina.
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 cases.
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.

A mangrove area is used as a garbage dump site on Utila.

Lack 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.

A Marine Park ranger inspects the mangrove destruction at a Mangrove Bight property belonging to Anthony Grayson and managed by Carlos Montoya.

In 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 Joe Solomon.
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.

Some resorts like AKR, Palmetto Bay Plantation and Barefoot Cay see mangroves as an asset in attracting tourists. An AKR bungalow amongst mangroves.

While 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 destroying them.
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.

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The Collusion of the Willing by Thomas Tomczyk

When 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 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 Honduran archipelago.

Royal Caribbean master plan for the development of Coxen Hole cruise ship dock.

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Utila Divided by Thomas Tomczyk

Utilans 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 closed.
A few days later, during a town meeting, a new Clinic Committee was chosen and Lance Bodden was reelected as the Clinic's president.
According 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.

For three-and-half weeks Utila's Community Health Center remained closed.

In 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 of Health.
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 about it.
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.

In Negroponte's Footsteps?

Charles 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.

Bay Islands VOICE: This is your first ambassadorship. Why did you choose Honduras?
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.

B. 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. (…) President 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.
B. 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 and democracy.
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 first…. 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.

Cruise Ship Tourist Dies in Scooter Accident

On 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 involved."
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.

Roatan 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.
According 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 injuries.

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Detained in Paradise by Thomas Tomczyk
Five foreign tourists remain under police watch during their holiday on Roatan.

On 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.
"The 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.

Meanwhile, 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 five tourists.
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.


No. 4
May 8

Vol2 No. 2

Vol2 No. 3


Vol4 No. 3

Vol4 No. 4