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2006 in Review by Thomas Tomczyk

It's been a busy year for the Bay Islands. The pace of events, development, migtration and everything else seemed to have sped up.

Arsenal- Roatan's Team
It took a long time for Roatanians to accept Arsenal as 'their team.' 2006 was a breakthrough season in this transition. The Arsenal tee shirts and taunts at bad calls by referees have become almost standard. In December 2006 Arsenal stood at wining one of the season's two classifying tournaments "La Apertura." The team came a heartbeat away from winning the trophy against the other much more experienced finalists- Deportes Savio. Arsenal almost won, almost. Well, there is still the tournament of the 'La Clausura' in the summer.

BI Baseball Championship- Almost
Still an unfulfilled dream, Bay Islands- considered one of four Honduran baseball divisions, never hosted a national championship and never won it- not in 12 years since it joined FEHBA (Federacion Hondureña de Baseball Afficionado). As island baseballers complained about bad referees at mainland tournaments, things almost looked like 2006 could be different. For a while it seemed that in September entire Honduras baseball community would finally come to Roatan for a championship tournament. Unfortunately in the months preceding the deal, it fell through-due to a money matter. Like many times before, Roatan's champions, this time the Kool and the Gang , disintegrated on a field in Tegucigalpa.
Traffickers Without Bordersh
Utila and Guanaja have their usual middle of the night dark landings and few people even bother to wake up to witness the event. On Roatan things are a bit different. When a tourist police took a stroll around his Coxen Hole tourist police station, he was buzzed by a plane landing on an unlit runway. With a fellow officer, he rode on a motorcycle to investigate and asked airport security if a plane had landed. The security said 'No,' and the police looked anyway and the rest is history. Two tons of cocaine in a stripped down and filled to the brim plane became national news overnight.
Freeport Calling
Ambitions for creating a Freeport out of the Bay Islands have been here for a while. It was 2006 that all the stars aligned and all the political powerhouses agreed and the plan was pushed full force from proposal to committees, congress and the president. After many back and forth changes, the document was voted in by congress and in December signed by the President. Fast track to change.
Historic Displacement
Land invasions and land conflicts run deep in Bay Island history. 2006 provided a historical case where, after several court rulings, a family accused of illegally occupying a 27 acre Dixon Cove property was forced to leave. After a legal and entrenched battle of attrition, police moved in the early hours of the morning and after four hours dismantled structures where the family lived for 16 years.
2006 Month by Month
January: Three new Bay Island mayors and a new congressman start their terms. Utilans re-elect their mayor.
March: After years of resisting a family of 13 is evicted from a land Dixon Cove land
April: Royal Caribbean and President Zelaya sign a 30 year lease of a Coxen Hole cruise ship dock.
May: US destroyer USS Stout comes to Roatan port on a publicity mission
June: Roatan roads and business are shut down as Protestors confront RECO
12,000 people attend Roatan Internationa Shrimp Festival
July: 16 Cuban refugees land on a Roatan Beach
August: Utila throws a Carnival
September: Years biggest fire destroys 15 houses in La Loma district of French Harbour
November: First Congress Session takes place on Roatan
December: President Mael Zelaya signs Freeport Law
Cubans are Landing
Anything can happen in Palmetto Bay and usually does: from visits of Hollywood stars like Richard Gere, to reality shows like Temptation Island, to Columbians vs. Americans boat chases. 2006, again, brought a bit of everything to this usually laid back location. With the news of Honduras looking the other way, as 350 Cubans made a landfall to pursue their journey to US, more and more 'balseros' braved the voyage south. 40 days into the hurricane season a welded metal boat, a blue tarp for a sail, an eight horse power engine and a Russian surplus compass drifted into Palmetto Bay. After a week on the island and much immigration shuffles, the 16 refugees- 12 men, 3 women, a 16-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl, continued on their way to Guatemala, Mexico and US.
People Power
Roatan looked a bit like Woodstock as thousands of islanders took to the streets to protest their high energy costs. There was even country music, courtesy of the patronatos, blasted from rigged-up speakers in front of the RECO gate. The merry atmosphere took a turn for the worse when protesters began burning tires and confronting American realtors trying to go about their business. Protesters got their way and fuel surcharge was reduced. (PHOTO: Protester's barricade in Brick Bay)
Make Way, Development Ahead
Building of condos and houses on Roatan and parts of Utila has moved into full speed. As a result, within the next two years Roatan will be getting 500 condos priced between $130,000 and $900,000. Take your pick. Alongside housing, a whole array of businesses are being developed: mid income housing, malls, storage places, movie theaters, stores, you name it.
Political Transitions
It was musical chair night as Blue party politicians took over Municipal offices in Santos Guardiola and Guanaja. Utilans reelected their Mayor and Roatanians voted red to give a congress seat to a liberal party candidate. The Bay Island Congress seat, like for the last eight years, matched the color of the presidency.
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by Thomas Tomczyk
Airaq vs. Iraq Or, what happens when you find yourself fighting for your life in a country whose name you can't pronounce
Before the first Iraq war in 1991 the percentage of women representatives in Iraqi parliament was greater that in the US congress. Today, after the second Iraq war, women are being covered-up as Muslim fundamentalism takes hold of Iraqi reality. Welcome to US imposed democracy- it will bite you back when you least expect it.
Unlike what America would like to think, democracy is not a top priority for all peoples around the world. In Iraq for example the priorities are: Muslim faith, family ties, tribal loyalty, pride, security and just maybe then… democracy. You can't force someone to take democracy while depriving them of other priorities.
What looks like more and more like a realistic option is scrapping "democracy at all costs plan" and bringing in an Iraqi strongman to halt the violence with an iron fist. Saddam Hussein is still available and probably willing. I doubt he would be asked, but the fact is Iraqis might have hated their dictator, but he was at least one of them. Nobody wants a foreign oppressor.
Almost all Middle East leaders are dictators, but at least their countries are kept under control. Saddam Hussein as a leader was no more ruthless then Libya's Khadaffi, Syria's Assad, or Tunisia's Ben Ali. As long as these dictators are satisfied with oppressing small portions of their own populations, this has been just fine with US.
Today's America, an out of equilibrium superpower, lacks self restraint and its moral standing in the world has greatly eroded. The US military personnel in Iraq is confused about their purpose, which changed twice, and is desperately trying to justify their risking their lives. US soldiers need to believe in something and the one sacre santum remains the president and the good will of its government.
For the last three years Americans found themselves dying for reasons they don't understand in a country whose name they can't pronounce. GIs and their families are in denial and America will for generations have to deal and recover from the trauma of the second Iraq war. In December 2006 there were 140,000 US troops are in Iraq and President Bush is resolute to bring another 50,000 into the quagmire.
As US has spent more time in Iraq than it did in World War II and World War I, a comparison with Vietnam becomes more and more appropriate. In that comparison Vietnam begins to look like a 'bearable' conflict. Here is why.
The US troops, journalists and volunteers are at risk anywhere outside US military bases. In Vietnam, from 1955 to 1975, 66 journalists lost their lives. In Iraq, in only three years, 78 journalists were killed.
In the 1959-1973 Vietnam conflict US had as many as 300,000 troops there. 58,209 American soldiers died there and for every dead there were three wounded. In Iraq the number of dead US soldiers stands at 2,932 with 22,032 wounded- a ratio of 7.5 wounded per every dead. There were 247 UK and coalition soldiers killed and if you include in these statistics the killing of 647 US contractors working in Iraq, whose work in Vietnam were carried out by US military, that number goes up to 3,826 killed.
The only reason why more Americans don't die in the Iraq conflict are the advances in medical sciences and efficient helicopter med evacs that have allowed people who would typically be dead in Vietnam, to live, no matter how horrific the wounds.
Ironically the war is not all bad. There have been several positive events that the Iraq war has created. America and the world have become more educated about the dangers of militant Islam, world terrorism, and have been taught a lesson that simplistic answers to complex political situations don't work.
The oil price crisis that resulted from the war has woken America from a 30-year malaise and already begun to stimulate American ingenuity in coming out of its addiction to oil. The US energy and automobile industry has begun a process of transformation, only due to high oil prices.

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Road to the Free Zone by Thomas Tomczyk

President Visits Roatan, signs ZOLITUR law

Laying the first brick at Coxen Hole cruise ship dock: Mayor Jackson, president of Congress Micheleti, Congressman Hynds, John Tercek- Royar Caribbean VP, President Zelaya, Minister of Torism Ricardo Martinez, Michael Ronan- Royal Caribbean VP. (PHOTO: Averyl Muller)

Back in Teggucigalpa, COHEP (Honduran Council of Private Enterprise), presided by Mario Canahuati, declared that the free zone strategy is an excellent alternative for development and should be extended to all 18 departments in the country. Bridge and Garbage dump for Santos Guardiola
Ricardo Martinez, Tourism Minister, traveled to Oak Ridge to inaugurate a Pandy Town bridge and lay a foundation stone for the Santos Guardiola garbage dump. The Lps. 32 million sanitation project is located on a six acre SG Municipal owned site in Diamond Rock. "We are working on similar projects on Guanaja and Utila," said Martinez.

Phase One of RC Dock
President Mel Zelaya and Michael Ronan, Royal Caribbean Regional Vice president broke ground at the Coxen Hole cruise ship dock on December 13. After a delay in getting SERNA environmental permits and Phase I of the project, work on the $15 million project has begun. The work will begin with filling in the ground for the site, building shops, restaurants and a reception center.
"This was a hardship not to have even bathroom infrastructure at the cruise ship dock," said congressman Jerry Hynds. "Its not an easy job to transfer something owned by the government into private hands."
Phase II, costing another $15 million, will include construction of a second pier and expansion of reception center for tourists and Roatan residents. Ronan announced Celebrity's Cruises Voyager to begin its bi-weekly visit to Roatan starting in 2008.
F Few other times Bay Islanders sang the Honduran national anthem as loud and committed as on December 13, when ZOLITUR (Bay Islands Tourist Freezone) law was signed by president Zelaya. "I've never heard Roatanians sing the anthem so enthusiastically," said Roberto Micheleti, president of Congress. Even the officials who didn't know the anthem's words tried to do the best job they could lip singing along.
It was a double duty as Zelaya took part in the ground braking ceremony for phase I of the Royal Caribbean Coxen Hole cruise ship dock, then traveled to Coral Cay to sign Bay Islands Free Zone Law (ZOLITUR) that passed by Congress on November 28.
The president was given gifts: a plaque from pastor Joe Solomon, a conch engraved lamp from Mayor Dale Jackson and half dozen commemorative diplomas from island organizations. To honor the importance of the day, Governor Arlie Thompson declared December 13, a day fee of work in the department calendar.
"Finally someone came to the presidential house that made this [Freeport] a reality. Please don't forget Guanaja like others done in the past," said Guanaja's Mayor, Richard Hurlston.
The Shrimp Crisis- Again

The dependency on the US shrimp market only complicates the Bay Islander shrimp industry situation. With mainland Honduras sales still being insignificant, the only licensed EU packing plant is in the south of the country and shipping the product from the Atlantic is not cost effective.
Europeans pay more for shrimp and they require a 'near perfect' shrimp with its head still intact. A few packing plants attempted to diversify and sell their product to Europe, but the switch requires better quality shrimp and an expensive accreditation process of a packing plant. One local fisherman did try to export shrimp to Europe in 2006, but with around 70% of the shrimp being rejected this ended up a losing proposition.
At Lps. 49 a gallon, the Honduran government official diesel price, the fishermen are actually paying two Lempiras less than in 2005. The abundance of the farmed shrimp has led to a drop in demand for wild shrimp.
Another reason for the crisis is excessive competition dating back to 2005, According to Dave Jones, director of APESCA, the 40-50 boat fishing licenses granted during the last year of the Maduro presidency flooded the market. "Too many boats were competing in too small of an area," said Jones. "We [APESCA] opposed granting any new licenses."
Using between $500 and $750 of fuel a day the shrimp industry's operating costs have skyrocketed in the past three years. A shrimp boat that only fishes at night uses 200 gallons of fuel. If it also works in the day time then that's another 100 gallons.
"For every pound of shrimp I caught I would need to spend one gallon of fuel. With the fuel prices up and shrimp prices at Lps. 40-45 we can't make any money," says Jones. It is surprising that anyone in Honduras is still even fishing for shrimp. With only three out of 10 packing plants even buying fishing product. Waiting for better times, some packing plants only buy enough product to pay their electric bill and salaries of indispensable employees.
If the trend continues, and all signs point that it will, 2007 will be another disastrous season for Bay Island Fishermen. The number of loan defaults is likely to increase leading to bankruptcies, unemployment and half the fleet not even leaving port..

High Fuel costs, abundance of farmed shrimp, over fishing and inability to develop new sales markets has made the 2006 shrimp season one of the worst ones in History
The current shrimp season is hurting Bay Islands businessmen particularly hard. Out of the 56 registered shrimp boats, a third has not left port and the crisis, affecting also packing plants, is likely to get worse, before it will get better at all.
The 2006 shrimp crisis is affecting the entire eastern Caribbean. As much as a third of Honduras, Nicaragua and Columbian shrimp boats are standing idle. To avoid the high competition and high fuel prices some Bay Island fishermen took their boats to San Andres and now fish there. The situation isn't much better there either. Columbian fishing banks, estimated to support 10-15 vessels now support 30 licensed boats.
Shrimp crisis has hit US as well. A 70' shrimp boat that a few years ago cost $300,000 can still be picked up for $50,000. It is a buyers market and a few Bay Islanders have bought boats hoping for the shrimp prices to go north.
APESCA estimates that 80% of boat owners have defaulted on their bank loans. "We are paying one of the highest interests on business loans in the country - 19 percent," said Steven Guillen, APESCA secretary. APESCA officials believe the government needs to step in and ease the financial stress that the fishermen are feeling. "We need a two year grace period, 10% loans and 10 years to repay," says Dave Jones, president of APESCA.
Swamped in West Bay Text by Tamy Emma Pepin
Landowners and municipality look for solutions to rainy season flooding
West Bay used to be a natural marshland periodically flooded during the rainy season and with a natural drainage to the sea through a small estuary at the lowest lying point- the North portion of Foster Diaz's property. Over time West Bay was subdivided into dozens of individual lots with owners often filling their lots with red clay.
With the rainy season at full swing properties are flooded and owners are running out of ideas as to where to put their water. "The water is just being shuffled from one property to another," says Murray Russ, owner of Captain Van's Rental in West Bay. The drainage problem aggravates the mosquito breeding problem and possibility of malaria outbreak.
At the back of Paradise Beach Club, the view resembles a lake. "We've been pumping to Henry Morgan but it's not working," said Nicole Schneider, daughter and commercial manager of father-owned Paradise Beach Club. West Bay land owners are currently responsible for their individual draining and pumping system, sending the water wherever they can, in most cases to Henry Morgan.
"The drain is clogged," said Ron Smith, vice-president of the West Bay Community Association. The West Bay community is pointing the finger towards Sea Vue owners James and Karma Howell, whose repeated absence from the West Bay Community Association meetings has upset many. When it rains the water mixed with the earth and come down from the h
ill of the Howell's property. It created a muddy flow which overflowed onto the main road, clogged up the main road's ditch, and flooded adjacent properties.
On Sunday, December 10, Mayor Dale Jackson issued a 48 hour order for the Howells to clean up the drain, which they did not respect. During the same day Mayor Jackson spent five hours with the West Bay community. "We walked to every single property to evaluate everyone's situation," said Smith.
Four days later, the Association met with Mayor Jackson at the municipal to find a solution.West Bay association members agreed that the community needs a south-north running gravity main pipe with smaller pipes connecting to it along the existing beach access streets.
Top: Inundated lot of Paradise Beach Club. Below: Plans for draining West Bay
Diagram of proposed rainwater drainage system.
The main pipe would then be pumped across to Henry Morgan owned vacant lot and water would naturally follow its course to Foster's.
Pierro Di Bautista, owner of Henry Morgan, offered to pay for the study of the new drainage system on condition that the community would do its best to implement it. There were several studies made for draining West Bay funded by Henry Morgan and PMAIB, but none were ever implemented.
Sea Vue owners were issued a 48 Municipal order to clear the clogged-up drain. "We will make sure those who don't respect the new law get reprehended," said Mayor Jackson. And things might get tougher still as talk of imposing fines, revocations of building permits and even demolishing were discussed.
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Renting Movies Everywhere Text and Photos by Tamy Emma Pepin.

A small boom in Bay Islands video rental.

Just two years ago, there were only two video stores on the island: Los Fuertes' Video Picks and Coxen Hole's Island Video Store. This year there are around nine. With new locations opening in West End, West Bay, Coxen Hole and French Harbour, Roatan has seen a sudden increase of video rental shops.
"People see you are successful and they want to [imitate] you," says Mauren Ramos, owner of Video Picks, the first video rental store on the island. The rental shops are opening up in strategic geographical locations, serving specific clienteles in different areas of the island. "There is no need to be opening next to another shop when the market is still untapped," says Murray Russ, owner of Captain Van's Rental in West Bay. Russ, whose clients are mostly expatriates living on Roatan charges Lps. 75 per rental. At Los Fuertes' Video Picks the cost of a rental is Lps. 45. "The clientele dictates the price," says Russ.
Owners agree that the hunt-game for new-releases is crucial to the success of their businesses. With distributors in San Pedro Sula and in the United States, video store owners all strive to be the first to put their hands on the latest DVDs, a task that is not always easy. "Every week there are new releases. You need to buy ahead of time and then organize all the logistics for transportation," says Miguel Montoya, owner of Island Video. At M&M entertainment in French Harbour, owner Lars Michelem says he always gets movies days in advance to stay on top and be competitive. "Miami Vice came out today in the United States but I got it here yesterday," says Michelem.
For Ramos the new competition is not an issue. "It's no big deal, people go see the other shops, but they always come back," she says. What hurts video store owners the most are the street vendors who come to Roatan with backpacks full of pirated copies of DVDs. "Other stores have to pay so I'm not that concerned with them, but these people don't pay taxes, don't pay rent, and often don't need to hire employees" says Montoya.
Mauren Ramos, owner of French Harbour's Video Picks, with a customer.
The copied DVDs are sold on the streets and in road-side shops for an average price of Lps.100 and as cheap as Lps. 100. The movies are often filmed in theatres with hand-held cameras and only available in Spanish. "People of the island don't want to listen to shaky films in Spanish, and the tourists either. They want the original version in English," says Michelem.
Even in West Bay where the clientele differs from the rest of the island, DVD street vendors have an impact on Russ' business. "Overall it affects the business. Everyone is going to buy one or two before realizing they got [cheated], it's a really bad viewing experience," says Russ. "I have customers who bought DVDs from the street vendors and who come back to rent it so they can see it properly," he says.
While Municipal government remains inactive to control the influx of DVD street vendors movie rental shops focus on the race for new releases. "In the end, great quality, a wide variety and good service will matter," says Montoya.

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