Monthly news magazine for Roatan,
Utila & Guanaja
August 2006 Vol.4 No.8
 
Calendar Style
Bay Islands Voice Updates:
feature story / editorial / local news / business

by Thomas Tomczyk and Emily Dulcan

The 'Bay of Palmetto' Landing
16 Cubans on a raft ignite the redrawing of the Honduran-Cuban relation

 


 

The refugees disembark their boar at Palmetto Bay Plantation. The 19 foot 'El Titano' was welded in on one of the refugees homes that launched in the middle of the night.

As Cubans see their immigration routes close one after the other, Honduras offers one of the last, indirect, ways of reaching the US. Honduras is the only country in the region that doesn't have an agreement with Cuba about immediate repatriation of Cuban nationals arriving in the country illegally. Despite all Cubans needing valid passports and consulted visas upon arrival, Honduran authorities have been closing their eyes for years to the growing tide of Cuban economic immigrants. The Honduran government counters the US "wet-foot, dry foot" policy with its own "see no evil, hear no evil policy," that has doubled the number of Cubans every year for the last five years. In 2006, more Cubans landed on the Honduran beaches than in the US.
The Honduran government policy has produced a growing number of Cubans braving the 400 mile long passage along with flourishing support and smuggling networks, allowing the Cubans to not only cross the borders to Guatemala and Mexico, but even to land in Honduras itself.
The timing of the Cuban Palmetto Bay crisis is auspicious because of the Honduran and US government stand off over moratorium on issuing of tourist visas to the US and Honduras working towards allowing for cheap Venezuelan oil imports and ending a four company oil import monopoly.
American vacationers at Palmetto Bay Plantation were surprised to see 16 Cuban refugees land at their resort. On July 6, after a 10-day journey, the refugees beached their 19-foot, metal boat propelled by a tractor motor and a sail made from a tarp.
After leaving Manzanillo, Gramma state Cuba, on June 27 and a brief stop at Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands, 14 of the original 30 refugees decided to disembark. Nine days later, twelve men, three women and an 11-year-old girl landed on Roatan.
None of the refugees had a passport, let alone a necessary consulted visa. Bay Islands chief Mario Pacheco arrived on the scene within an hour and after consulting with Tegucigalpa took the refugees ID cards and asked them to repair the vessel to leave the island. So a 12 day long standoff begun.
In the first week of July, 22 Cubans were found by fisherman off the coast of Puerto Cortés and allowed to continue their US bound journey via land. On Guanaja, as late as May, Cuban refugee groups were allowed to land and continue their US bound journey via land. The Roatan case was treated differently and a few people were beginning to ask why.
Local government officials, including Mayor Jackson, applied pressure to have the refugees fed and put up at a hotel. "Let's offer them what we would hope they would give to us if we landed in Cuba." Mayor Jackson, whose municipality took care of and paid for the refugees room and board during their stay on Roatan.
This is the second time the Pacheco's intervention has ignited a national stand off, after the March incident with five foreign tourists who came for a Henry Morgan vacation remained under police surveillance during their week long stay. Since then little has changed and as Honduras hasn't regulated its conditional visa procedures, nor signed any agreements with Cuba.
Although the choice to brave the ocean route to Honduras at the beginning of hurricane season was a risky one, the 16 Cubans who landed on Roatan soon faced another obstacle. Within three days, the Honduran government begun negotiations with Cuba to formalize Honduras' policy toward refugees and possible repatriations.
When the Cubans landed on the beach at Palmetto Bay Plantation, their 19-foot vessel was in a dismal state. The motor had broken and a leak caused by a collision with a reef eight days earlier required regular bailing of water from the hull. Six inches of water stood in the bottom of the boat and the old tractor motor sat useless after conking out on the refugees' final push toward the island. Planted in the bow was a makeshift mast and sail, cobbled together from a tree branch, wooden planks and a tarp. A small space in the bow covered by another tarp gave the weary travelers protection from the elements.
After ten days at sea, the deck was littered with soaked and soiled articles of clothing: pairs of jeans and collared shirts, empty plastic drums that used to carry the water that sustained the refugees as they plowed through the ocean, half-eaten tins of pork luncheon meat, metal knives used to poke and pry at the tins, and chunks of soap.
The Cubans' last glimpse of land before then was of Cayman Brac, the island where they had let off 14 additional passengers who decided not to make the voyage. According to Cayman Net News, theirs was the most crowded boat of Cubans to arrive in the Cayman Islands this year.
As long as they do not land on shore, Cuban refugees who arrive in the Cayman Islands are given food, fuel and time to make repairs to their boats. The Cayman Islands' official policy requires Cuban refugees to sail from the islands in their own or another Cuban vessel or face repatriation. The 16 who stayed in the boat chose to brave the sun and storms at sea because they did not want to go back to Cuba.
As she stood on Palmetto Bay beach clutching her Bible and thanking God for their arrival on dry land, Anna Corona's blue eyes are alight, imploring. She said she decided to leave Cuba with her husband, Miguel Lahera Pérez, and their 11-year-old daughter, Carmen, because she earned only $15 a month working as a hospital administrator. Although she holds a bachelor's degree in economics, she could not afford to buy basic supplies, such as soap, for her family. With their ration cards they would receive, "a small piece of bread every day … meat was 'unavailable.'"
The 16 refugees - 12 men, 3 women, a 16-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl, were friends and neighbors in a town Ciudad de Pescadores in Manzanillo. The group built their boat inside Anna and Miguel's house and at 3am, the night of their departure, tore the walls down to get it out onto a street and into the sea.
Ten days later, when they saw the north shore of Roatan on the night of July 5, their battle with the ocean had come to an end, but their plight as illegal immigrants in Central America was just beginning.
Cubans may not enter Honduras without a passport, and a consulted visa but Honduras is the only Central American nation that does not automatically repatriate Cubans. Honduran immigration authorities have been handling a growing number of refugees during the past couple years. Growing number of Cubans consider it easier to sail to Honduras and then head northward to cross the U.S. border with Mexico, instead of traversing the 90 miles between their island and Florida, where they will likely be intercepted by the US Coast Guard and sent back to Cuba.

In August 2005, Boston Globe estimated that between 8,000 and 9,000 Cubans had attempted to sail to Honduras in the past three years. Between 80 and 100 were never heard from again.
To date, Honduran immigration officials' approach to Cuban refugees has been arbitrary. Approximately 350 Cubans have arrived on the shores of Honduras this year, more than two times the number from 2005. Only three people have been deported to Cuba during the last four years and until now the Honduran government has given Cuban refugees permission to stay in the country for 15 or 30 days, enough time for most of them to proceed north to Guatemala, Mexico and US.
Honduras' Ministry of Immigration identified smuggling as one explanation for the recent increase in refugees during its July 10 meeting. Similar to the method used to smuggle Cubans into Mexico, Honduran immigration authorities believe smugglers transport refugees in speed boats to points close to the Honduran shore, then drop them off on run-down boats with the supplies necessary to reach the mainland.
There is no evidence that the 16 Cubans who landed on Roatan were smuggled here. A Cayman Net News report confirms that the boat that landed on Roatan landed on Cayman Brac on June 29 with 30 passengers. Net News received unconfirmed reports that 14 people jumped off the boat and swam ashore, where they were to begin the repatriation process back to Cuba. The boat was last seen on the north side of Cayman Brac at approximately 1 a.m. on Friday, June 30.
The Mexican and Cuban governments believe that smuggling rings are responsible for transporting Cubans the 180 miles to the Yucatan coast. Cubans pay between $3,000 and $5,000 to make the journey to Mexico. Although 61 Cubans were detained in Mexico during the first quarter of 2006, this may not accurately reflect the number of Cubans entering the country if smugglers are being protected by Mexican officials. U.S. Customs and Border counted 6,744 Cubans who entered the U.S. through Mexico between September 2004 and September 2005.
The week after the 16 Cubans landed on Roatan, the Honduran government began negotiations with Cuba to craft official policy for dealing with refugees, but nothing concrete was agreed upon. After 10 days of waiting in a hotel in Coxen Hole, the Cubans began to get restless. They were allowed to leave the hotel to collect money from family members living in the US, but they still didn't have the identification cards.
"It's like we're prisoners," said Anna. "I'm mortified," she said blankly, over and over again. But humane treatment plays a part in the Honduran governments' rhetoric in regard to Cuban refugees. Though Espinal ordered the Cubans to leave Honduras as soon as possible, he told La Prensa, "Meanwhile, they will receive humane treatment."
There are worse prisons than Coxen Hole's Los Cumbres Hotel, its garden densely planted with tropical shrubs and views of the ocean from the white tiled balconies. The refugees also received board and two meals a day, courtesy of the Roatan municipality.
Miguel thought the island immigration authorities wanted money. "I know what they want," he said with lowered eyebrows, rubbing his thumb across the pads of his index and middle fingers. As a former state employee, a delegate to Manzanillo's Municipal Assembly, Miguel can be charged with treason if he returns to Cuba. His wife thinks his position gives the group leverage with Cubans in the U.S. who want to criticize Castro. She believes that some Florida politicians would be pleased to help a government official who chose to leave the communist state in order to further delegitimize Castro.
Finally after 12 days of a bureaucratic limbo, the 16 were issued a 30 day immigration permit to remain in Honduras for 'Humanitarian reasons' by Honduras' director general of immigration. On July 17 the group boarded the Galaxy boat bound for La Ceiba. With money from family in the US and some friends they made on Roatan, the group continued their journey to Guatemala and the US. Roatan's Catholic community gathered Lps. 7,000 for their journey and gave them a letter of recommendation to Guatemalan and Mexican parishes.

ABOVE: Mounted US tourists snap photos of one of the Cubans washing at the edge of the water.
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Photos by Thomas Tomczyk

Italians may have won the 2006 World Cup, but who cares. What everyone wants to know is what Italian defender Marco Materazzi said to anger Zinedine Zidane so much. It is ironic that the most remembered thing of the world cup is not its poor refereeing or second lowest ever goal scoring, but an event that took place in the last 10 minutes of the regular play in its final match.
Zidane's action was vicious and meant to harm. In fact, Zidane's tantrum might have cost the French the now all but forgotten World Cup as their team was left without three top strikers needed for the penalty shoot off.
The black art of provocation is certainly legal and often seen as a fundamental and legitimate way of gaining an advantage over the other side. Call me old fashion, but taunting is as old as sports, and if done one on one, should remain an issue between two players.
Muhammad Ali taunted his opponents in the ring with referrers to hear it. In 1999 one of the great taunters of all time, Mike Tyson, promised to "eat Hollyfield's children" and when his opponents failed to lose his calm, Iron Mike bit his ear off.
During contact sport matches there is always conversation between players. It is part of the 'contact.' Sometimes the things said are just a way of communicating or they express frustration. Still other times it is meant to confuse or provoke the opposite side. If it is done one on one, it should remain in the realm of the two players.
The Zidane case is different and within hours of the game newspapers hired lip readers and sound experts to analyze what Materazzi actually told Zidane at the field. Maybe he told Zidane that he is a 'bolding, insecure man,' or maybe he said that 'he is a son of a terrorist whore.' The thing is it doesn't matter, as the statement was made in private. Zidane and thousands of sportsmen are submitted to taunts every day, and if after 16 years of playing professional ball Zidane can't handle it, that is his problem.
Zidane, son of Algerian immigrants from the suburbs/banlieu of Marseille's, has suffered taunts about ethnicity, religion, etc, through his career. Zidane has attacked and head butted his opponents like this before. His final 2000 season at the Italian club Juventus was soured by a five-match ban for head butting a Hamburg player. It is not known what the German player has said to 'provoke' Zidane.
What the incident displayed was a clash of cultures on the football field. While European press stayed clear of trying to relate Zidane's behavior as coming from his Berber, or Muslim roots, Muslim leaders didn't hesitate to congratulate Zidane. "I herewith declare my gratitude and respect to you for the defense of your private and Islamic pride against the unjust insult during the World Cup final," wrote Iranian Prime Minister Alaeddin Boroujerdi. Zidane's mother Malika praised her son for defending "the family's honor."
Even French president Jacques Chirac embraced Zidane's dark side as possessing the "greatest human qualities one can imagine." As much as the French would love Zidane to be the symbol of the integrated North African in their society, he is a symbol of an alienated man-boy of the French suburbs/banlieu. Making 10s of million of Euros doesn't take away his insecurities, alienations and anger, that amongst others expresses itself through burning cars, schools and churches.
A couple weeks later Zidane issued a non-apology apology, "I regret, but would do it again," and collected his best player Golden Ball award.

 

TOP: Zidane gets a red card after head butting a Hanburg player in 2000. ABOVE: The head butt of Marco Materazzi

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The suspense is Over by Thomas Tomczyk

After six months of waiting and speculations, Bay Islanders have a new, Liberal party governor

Reporting for Duty
At the presidential palace in Tegucigalpa a swearing in ceremony of Arlie Thompson, Bay Islands Governor took place on July 7. The governor receives Lps. 18,000 monthly salary, has three paid secretaries and assistants, paid office expenses and accidental budget of Lps. 25,000 per six months.

In a ceremony at the Coxen Hole's governor's office on July 13, ex-governor Janice Johnson passed on the office keys and governor's stamp to the newly appointed governor Arlie Thompson. "I hope to have fulfilled my post with dignity," said the departing governor Johnson. Governor Thompson will be available in his office Monday to Friday, between 2pm and 4pm. Janice Johnson, Governor Arlie Thompson, Mayor Dale Jackson, Lorna Bodden, Mayor Alton Cooper, Mayor Perry Bodden.

Utila Airstrip Takeover

As over a dozen AK-47 armed men take over Utila airstrip, local police find
themselves outnumbered, outgunned
and running for cover.

Around 10:30pm, on May 24 at least one plane suspected of carrying drugs landed at the Utila airport. Alerted by locals, two municipal and two Preventiva police officers arrived at the scene to investigate. The unlit Utila landing strip has no airport building or guard and is located three kilometers from town on a secluded road.
At the entrance to the landing strip the four police officers were confronted by five of as many as 15 masked and armed with AK-47 men. Three police officers ran into the bushes and one returned to Utila town on a motorcycle.
According to Utila's chief of police, Lieutenant Nelson Murillo, 32, Chief of Bay Islands police Mejia was alerted of the accidents and he in turn contacted the Honduran air force, who declined to intervene as "no suspicious air activity was detected."
Locals heard noises of boats running late at night in the Utila Harbour, but it is unclear weather the armed men only refueled the plane, or transferred its cargo onto boats. The following day, two 25 gallon fuel canisters were found on the scene.
"Some of the people involved in this live here," said a Utila resident afraid to reveal his identity. According to local sources Utila airport is sometimes used for similar suspicious activity two-three times a month, usually around 2-3am. "This is a case where the state needs to get involved," said Murillo. "We are just not equipped to handle this."

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Built for Fitness by Thomas Tomczyk
Need exercise? Three new island gyms help you work it out.

Inspired by the desire to sustain their own healthy lifestyles, two entrepreneurial couples have opened modern gyms on Roatan in the past ten months.
First it was Island's Gym in Sandy Bay that started out as a private workout space for owners Drew and Mary Lynn Long, certified personal trainers and owners of three fitness centers in Southern California. When the couple arrived on the island in November 2004, they couldn't find anything comparable to the fitness scene they left in Los Angeles. "If we're going to have a place to exercise, we're going to have to build a place," Drew said.
The air-conditioned space is reminiscent of upscale, boutique gyms in the U.S. Its top of the line exercise machines and Drew's personal training sessions for $50 to $75 per hour, has attracted a following amongst the islands upper economic bracket.
Drew describes Island's as a self-service gym. There is rarely a person at the front desk, so members sign themselves in and account for any food and drinks they take from behind the counter. "Even though it's culturally not been the norm down here, as the stresses of every day life and diet are creeping in, people realize there is an antidote, which is physical exercise," said Drew Long.
Not long after another gym, this time in French Harbour opened its doors. Located in Jackson Plaza, Get Fit Roatan was opened by Gary and Ollie Thomas. Staying fit has always been an essential part of maintaining their family of seven.
This gym has more affordable membership rates and attracts a variety of local professionals. Guadalupe Bustamante of French Harbor has been exercising for years and became a member of Get Fit Roatan the day it opened. She used to walk for exercise, but now she takes advantage of the gym's machines, especially the ellipticals. "It's safer to work out here than walking on the roads," she said, referring to erratic main-road traffic.


Eventually, Get Fit Roatán will include a classroom for yoga, pilates and kickboxing, a juice bar and full service spa. "Right now it's just a box with exercise equipment," said Ollie Thomas. Two or three local trainers are always available for a consultation. The first few training sessions are free and afterward cost Lmp. 100.The four televisions recently mounted on the gym walls are just the beginning of the Thomas' wellness vision. In August they plan to spruce up the environment with new artwork, a classroom and a yoga library. Upon completion of the spa, which will offer manicures, pedicures, massage and skin treatments, in March 2007, the gym will start to charge full membership rates.
Still another alternative is open to health conscious Roatanians. For only $30 a month, West Bay's Henry Morgan Resort offers a monthly access to its gym and pool.
On Utila, Ocean Fitness, owned by Barbara Kempf, opened its doors on May 22. The 1,100 sq. ft. gym is located just below Gunter's Eco Marine Dive Center on the Sandy Bay Road. It has AC, fans, and offers eight cardio machines, five weight machines, three weight benches, and ample free weights to turn your flab into muscle or tune up your physique.
While working out on a stationary bike, or stair master, you can watch the boats in the harbor. There is also a juice bar, where you can replenish your electrolytes and satisfy your protein needs with one of Barbara's health and fitness shakes. In addition to monthly memberships, Ocean Fitness offers aerobic classes, yoga classes, personal training and dance aerobics.

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No. 4
May 8
2003

Vol2 No. 2
Jan.29
2004

Vol2 No. 3
Feb.12
2004

Vol4 No. 6
June
2006

Vol4 No. 7
July
2006