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Presumed Guilty or, how to destroy a company in a weekend by Thomas Tomczyk

 

 

From West Bay Village to Helena Island… Migration and few options to buy affordable land create growing unrest

In the middle of the afternoon on February 5 about a hundred people, many with machetes, stood on a fence line within a mile from Anthony's Key Resort. The tri-colonia of Balfate, Montifresco and Policarpo Galindo, the Los Fuertes of Sandy Bay, has become a boiling pot ready to explode. Over the last three months confrontations with the neighboring colonias' landowners spilled into open conflicts. Dozens of people ended up in jail, machetes were dawn and fences built to defend what some say is theirs.
Despite land invasion being a felony crime in Honduras, the burden of proof that the often undocumented land grabber has no claim to the property, lies with the land owner. Investigation Police (DGIC), district attorney and Roatan departmental judge all have to get involved. If a group of invaders is acting in unison, while some of them are being arrested, others fence off the property. It is a war of attrition: who will last the longest.

Sleepless in Balfate
Neighbors from surrounding the colonia houses called to Bay Islands Voice with concern. "They are shouting and are very angry. We are afraid what could happen next," one American property owner via telephone.
Two years ago everything looked fine. "I walked the fence line with them and no one lived on the property," said Phil Weir, owner of Roatan Life real estate company, who in 2004, sold the 14.7 acre property to the Israeli investors. In 2004 Isac Bar and Elai Levy, two US and Israeli investors, bought the property for $75,000.
"I called them several times saying 'guys get down here, take care of your property'," says Weir. "This colonia is an accident waiting to happen."
According to Gabriel Arad, US-Israeli co owner of the property, when his representative checked on the property in January 2006, there were no squatters. "Nine months later when I came to the island, there were 46 houses," says Arad. "This is very far from the Caribbean here. The people here don't respect investors that provide jobs," says Arad who plans on putting 100 condominiums on the site.
Owning land as a Honduran and islander doesn't make things any easier. Roda Grant, a native Roatanian, whose three acre property is adjacent to Arad's, also has an invasion problem. "In two weeks they built three houses," says Grant.
When Grant and Arad tried to visit their property on February 21 they were confronted with an angry mob. "They chased me away from my property with machetes," says Arad.
Listening to the people who built the shacks and houses on the property in question, it sounds like very different story. "He is not even Honduran and comes in to evict us," say a protester that didn't want to disclose his name. "We are tired and we are ready to do what ever comes," said Acucena Reyes, 29, patronato representative of Policarpo Galindo.
Fence Builders of Policarpo Galindo
The story of colonia Policarpo Galindo date back to 1967, when foreigners could not own land in the Bay Islands and occasionally would buy land in the name of respectable local individuals.
The 180 acre Sandy Bay property, just south-east of AKR was purchased by Charlie Stewart. As a foreigner, Stewart couldn't own land in the Bay Islands and asked Doc Polo Galindo, a respected local, to hold the title in his name. Stewart along with Americans John Henry and Paul Adams held land all over the island and after Stewart's death the property pastsed to his family in the US. "His daughter who inherited the land just threw her arms in the air and left," said Bill Etches, a longtime Roatan resident from Canada.
Documents filed with the Roatan Municipal stated that Polin Galindo, Doc Polo's son, has attempted to sell parts of the Stewart's land. "Poor Doc Galindo is probably turning in his grave," said Irma Brady, Sandy Bay resident and BICA president.
Brady got involved in the land dispute because of the watershed damage caused by the chaotic development and construction on steep slopes of the valley. "I counted over 1,000 of cut down trees and surveyed only half the property," said Brady, whose parcel she purchased for a home for her daughter, was also invaded and fenced off.
The development is prone to mudslides, erosion and vulnerable to earthquakes. "High, steep areas need to be developed with proper planning," said Brady, for whom the process of trying to protect the watershed areas has been a learning experience. She met with the mayor, congressman and Governor and according to Brady they all said one thing "We can't really help you." Brady realized that the laws are weak and property owners, despite paying property taxes and land transfer fees, have to count on their own resources, not the government.
As land prices keep on escalating, so are the rental fees. The slow boiling of discontent amongst the island's poor has spilled into people taking action into their own hands. "They were organized and held meetings. There was hammering all night long. They were working in shifts and fencing in at night," said Brady. "The men would chop and women would plant plantains and beans." Roatan chief of police, Joe Solomon agrees: "there are organized groups that deal with taking peoples' property away."
People with no documents to prove their identity, let alone land claims have put Brady in a legal battle that took four months. "If you have no document to prove the ownership of the property, owners still need to hire a lawyer to get their land back," says Brady.
In the colonia case there is a group mentality to the actions: you don't want to miss out on the opportunities. The invasions situation went from serious to comical. "While they were invading land they were also invading each other," says Brady. "They are not bad people. There was an opportunity and they took it," said Brady
FAR LEFT: Determined and boisterous Balfate land protesters show off their machetes.
A squatter in an unfinished Brick Bay house.

Squatters
In a concrete shell of an unfinished American built house, a Ladino family of nine has made its home over the last year. Their kitchen is an outdoor mud stove, heated with wood. A blue tarp serves as a roof between the gray, cement blocks of nine foot walls.
The family's bathroom is in the bushes and twice a day the two women bring in buckets of water from the nearby construction plant. They store it in a steel barrel and use it for cooking, washing. One of the children, an eight year old girl, with dirty hair takes care of the other five children while the grown-up s are away working.
"When I have work, I buy food for my family. I haven't worked in a month," says Marcelino, the father of his wife's three children, who sometimes works as a painter, other times as an ice cream seller making Lps. 900 a week. Three months ago Marcelino's sister came to Roatan from Colon. "This is less dangerous then going to United States," says Marcelino. Now, there are nine of them.
A year ago they were asked to leave their last Lps. 1,000 apartment in Coxen Hole. "We stayed under a tree in Coxen Hole for two days," says Marcelino. "Then we came here." Their arrival and taking over an unfinished concrete structure didn't go unnoticed. They have several neighbors and are close to a busy road. According to Marcelino, Mayor Dale Jackson personally asked the family to leave the property in May 2006. They did, but a week later they were back. "We are not invading the property. We just have nowhere to go," says Marcelino. "If the American comes back we will leave. Maybe he'll offer us to stay and take care of the property."
The family is staying on the property of Mark Howell, an American who inherited the land from his father. Howell contacted the Roatan Municipal officials about the situation who assured him all is fine.


Caretakers?
The family of eight is poor. Dirt poor. They all live on a little hill in a wood shack covered with corrugated metal sheets and plywood. The only quality element about their living conditions is the view: a 360 degree panorama of nearby inland peaks and the south shore Caribbean. They are high enough to see the Sierra de Cangrejal coastal mountains.
While the view is breathtaking by anyone's standard, it is difficult to transgress the family's day to day problems. Maria makes tortillas and sends her three oldest children to sell them door to door in Los Fuertes. Three month ago she got sick with dengue and couldn't get the extra income from the sales. As a result Maria Esteban can only afford to send three of her six children to school. She can't afford the Lps. 2,500 to buy them shirts, pants and notebooks.
While her husband works as a driver for one of the islands bigger companies, Maria is left to fend for her six children. She has to bring water by the bucket, sweep the bare dirt floor that surrounds the shack and serves as the family's living room, kitchen and playground for the children.
Even though Maria and her husband claim that they were offered a job of taking care of a property a year ago, she has no documents to prove it. She doesn't even remember the name of the women that asked them to stay at the property.

City of God
The growing numbers of migrants to the Bay Islands have few options where to live, and even fewer where to buy land. The land has become more and more expensive. Pressures to invade and take over disputed land abound. Some of these pressures found an avenue in grass roots lot-making attempts. These attempts are often chaotic and speculative. The individuals involved in them lack developer's experience and understanding of land laws, legal procedure and banking guarantees.
In 2004, a development in Brick Bay hills, on the land part of a 63 acre property claimed by Scott McNab, took off. Antonio Villeda, representing himself as a evangelical pastor, took around 300 deposits from people all over Los Fuertes and disappeared.
In the beginning the 60' by 60' lots sold like hot cakes. Hundreds of Los Fuertes residents put down Lps. 300 each and agreed on paying a monthly administration fee of Lps. 100. Today, according to Suyapa Hernandez, a shop owner from Los Fuertes and a vice-president of the lot-making project, there are three houses and 13 people that already live on the property.
Hernandez, vice president of OIDIH (Organizcion Insular de Desarrollo Integral de Honduras) is developing the Colonia Ciudad de Dioz. Hernandez says that similar development projects are underway on the mainland in Colon, Atlantida and Cortez.
Hernandez says she is going thru Instituto de la Priopriedad in Tegucigalpa in an effort to get the legal papers to the Brick Bay property. "Dale [Mayor Jackson] promised us that he would build us streets for free. As long we get the legal documents," says Hernandez. "Scott McNab never presented us with documents of ownership. If he does the [central] government will pay him for the land."
Not everyone sees the land Ciudad de Dios' issue as simple as that. "This property belongs to Scott McNab and if all else the bank will get it," said Victor Rivera, who is developing another colonia 'Isla Bonita.' "I lost Lps. 17,000 in that deal myself," says Juan Escobar, manager of Isla Bonita development.

Disputes in Context
Another troublesome issue and a source of constant land disputes and opportunities for extortion is the inadequate and weak surveying of properties and documenting land sales. Especially in the Bay Islands, due to a longtime presence of foreigner investors here, the sealed and filed legal land surveys often overlap one another. "Property owners and patronatos have to develop a process an efficient process in getting land invaders out," said Brady.
If and when the government finally gets involved it is often heavy handed. In 1992 in Oak Ridge, a land invader community of dozens of houses was razed to the ground by police. "The police didn't even check if anyone was still in a house, they poured gasoline and lit the fire," said Escobar.
In 2006 a land dispute in Dixon Cove, that began as a caretaker payment dispute was settled by a court ruling and with Police removing the Aceituno family that lived there for 16 years. According to Hernandez, City of God's Villeda, was also involved in the Dixon Cove - Aceituno land dispute. Villeda organized the raising of funds for the family in exchange for rights to lot rights.

Affordable Solutions?
Despite controversy surrounding Ciudad de Dios other developments for the poor soon followed. The 40 by 40 foot lots in Spring Garden's 'Colonia Isla Bonita' began selling in September 2006 for Lps. 40,000. With Lps. 3,500 down and Lps. 1,700 monthly payments for two years, the lot-making project was aimed at the working class poor. According to Victor Rivera, president of Isla Bonita, all 177 lots in the development have sold. "We work for communities who can't afford their own land," says Rivera.
Isla Bonita's 26 acre development lies sever hundred meters away from the island's main road. Rivera says that he 'negotiated' a purchase of the property, but has not purchased the property outright. The issue of right of way is unclear and the developers don't operate with escrow accounts. "We learn as we go along," says Rivera, who before deciding to become a Roatan developer was a pearl seller. "We are looking into doing a development with bigger lots for foreigners," said Rivera, inspired by all the developments targeting the wealthier US market.

Opportunities Lost
Doing real estate business on the Bay Islands has taught many people how to make sure the properties they buy don't fall into a costly and not always certain legal battle. "You have to make sure that whoever works for you on the property gets a receipt for their job," says Henrik Jensen, owner of Re/Max Bay Islands. "Possession rights are very important in Honduras. The moment you buy a property get it marked, re-surveyed, and fenced in."
While Roatan Municipal collects a 1% buyer fee, it offers little in return to property owners. "If you pay your taxes, the [local] government should do a periodical check on squatters living on your property. Maybe there should be a full time person at the Municipal responsible for that," says Jensen.
It is surprising and worrisome that Roatan Municipal doesn't get more involved in the Sandy Bay land invasions. Roatan Municipal is party to the conflict as it has interests in protecting the environment and watershed. While no descendants of Charlie Stewart has stepped foreword, the 180 Acre property has over 20 years of back paid taxes numbering into millions of Lempiras.
This is an opportunity for Roatan Municipal to acquire equity and begin public areas projects, something almost non-existent on the island up to now. The land troubles in Sandy Bay could be not a headache but a source of revenue and a way of protecting the island's disappearing green areas. The Roatan Municipal could gain control of the property and turn it into either public playground, or a park.

More to Come
For many immigrants to Roatan and Bay Islands the archipelago has become "New America," a place far closer than the US, where they can earn good wages, speak Spanish and invite their family to visit, or move down to. The environmental, social and economical impact of this migration will affect the long term development of the Bay Islands.
The safeguard of these pressures lies in legal and enforcement structure of the land ownership. Any society that wants to remain a democracy and attract investment, growth, has to guarantee long term land ownership. If the Honduran central and local Bay Islands governments are unwilling, or unable to protect property rights of people then there is nothing but anarchy.
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by Alfonso Ebanks
The Magic of Money
Money per se has not been around for more that a few thousand years but it is one of those things that always make me wonder how mankind got along without it before it was invented. Money has become a commodity against which all other commodities are measured and valued. The history of the evolution of money is fascinating.
Before money came into existence the ancient had to resort to the barter system in which a person with something to trade had to find someone that wanted it and that would have something needed by the first trader to exchange it for. This system worked fine for very small communities where each person knew the needs of the others and one could trade food items for firewood or small tools for hides and so on. As human settlements grew the barter system failed because it was very difficult to find someone with whom to make a mutually agreeable trade. The first money used could perhaps be called traditional money and it came in many and varied forms which included salt, rice, dog teeth, pieces of quartz and cowry shells, certain beads, animal skins and many other items.
When metals first appeared as money it was usually in the form of articles made from gold, silver, copper and even iron and bronze. Money as we know it came first in the form of coins with the likeness of a ruler or other important person stamped on it. There are basically three kinds of money in existence today and they are: commodity money, credit money and fiat money. Commodity money is money whose value is usually determined by the value of the material contained in it. Credit money is usually paper money with promises to be paid in a standard monetary metal; governments normally issue this paper money and the same government guarantees payment.
Fiat money is paper money that is not redeemable in any other form of money and its value is determined by government edicts. Most all money in circulation today, both paper and coins are fiat money because the material from which they are made has no intrinsic value or at least its worth is much less that its face value. Many years ago the Honduran silver lempira was commodity money with a value in silver that exceeded its face value by approximately thirty percent. Some astute politician got wind of this and those coins were sold by the boat loads.
Naturally the national treasury only received the amount corresponding to the face value of the coins. So much for some history of money so let's get to the magic of it. A few years ago I received a phone call form a nurse that worked in a prestigious hospital on the mainland. The nurse had called to inform me that a kinfolk of mine was in danger of dying from an internal hemorrhage and needed an emergency operation to save their life. At first I did not understand what I could do to help, but upon questioning the nurse I was informed that the person would surely die unless she could come up with a goodly amount of lempiras required as down payment by the hospital. I could not believe that the hospital would condemn a person to death because of the lack of a few thousand lempiras, but that is exactly what was happening.
I knew a doctor on the staff of the hospital so I called him and told him I would pay the money, he then arranged it with administration. The person was operated on and was out of danger by the time I arrived the following morning. A little money can work magic.
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Run Into the Ground by Thomas Tomczyk

Amongst chaos and RECO blackouts asks for government intervention

RECO, a company that begun in 1992 found itself in dire straits. RECO had no cash, no credit with its fuel suppliers, no diesel in its storage tanks and one of its two biggest generators, a 2.2 Wartsilla was damaged and in need of expensive and time consuming repairs. On January 29 and 30 the island found itself again without power and in the dark for 17 hours straight.
Faced with the meltdown, RECO board of directors had few options. On February 2 a RECO board of director's letter was hand delivered to the president Zelaya, asking him to deliver emergency fuel supplies and take over the management of the company on an emergency basis. The image of self sufficient, entrepreneurial Bay Islands ended in a cry for help to the mainland.
Within 24 hours, since RECO had no more credit with its fuel suppliers, 80,000 gallons of fuel was quickly sent by the government. ENE, Honduras' national energy company sent its technical staff to asses the technical state of the company.
On February 5, president Zelaya flew in to a meeting with RECO representatives, local government officials and patronatos. "The state will intervene to give a chance to find a solution to this," president Zelaya. "This is a calamity for the country and it affects negatively on its image."
While some were thankful for the government's intervention and concerned about the island's future there was plenty of anger and finger pointing. "We protest against the group that disintegrated the company economically and technically," said Rosa Hendrix, president of Bay Islands patronaotos. "We want immediately to remove the board of directors because they are the only ones responsible for what have happened."

While the President promised to bring the fiscal in to look at RECO books, there was little that showed his willingness to manage Roatan's power problems long term. ."The state is not in the business of acquiring enterprises," said president Zelaya. "We need to find solutions for the short, medium and long term." Hopes amongst some users for the government coming in with subsidies to the energy prices disappeared quickly. ENE, the state Honduran power company is in financial dire straits itself and is unwilling to take on the responsibility of running another, money loosing company
On February 12, the president visited Roatan again and for four hours met with the RECO board discussing the situation and the future of RECO. A company with Lps. 140 million, or $7.3 million debt and outstanding
After discussions, the president met with two thousands RECO shareholders at the Los Fuertes stadium. "The boat was going down and we would have drowned if it wasn't for you Mr. President," said John Nelson a patronato president from Flowers Bay.
RECO is far from being in the clear. As the technical staff struggles to repair a damaged generator and set up a new Watsilla generator, Roatan continues to go through periodical, unannounced black outs. Changes at management continue. Within 10 days RECO had four general managers. As Clint Bodden resigned, Ing. Leonardo Casco was the RECO acting general manager for several days before Umberto Mesa took over. Now Elmer Bustillo is RECO's boss.

A Tragedy at Sea
Five people drown in a passage to Roatan
A 35 foot wood boat with one engine left Río Coco, Balfate in the evening of January 31. Along with a cargo of oranges destined for Oak Ridge, the boat carried five people: captain Jaime Posas Díaz, deck hand Amilcar Santamaría, and three passengers- an elderly couple Herminio Aguilar and Angélica Paz, and their six-year-old grand daughter Cintia Paz.
By 2am on Thursday, February 1 a distress cellular phone call was made by captain Jaime Posas Díaz to his family in Balfate. Diaz reported having problems with the propeller and shaft.
By 7am, Javier Aguilar, a mechanic from Oak Ridge, launched a boat rescue attempt to locate the distressed vessel. Javier Aguilar's parents and niece were passengers on the boat. Another rescue attempt was made from Rio Coco. Javier Aguilar looked for two days, but the weather turned for the worse.
On February 3 oranges and boat parts began washing out all over Roatan's south-eastern shores. The same day three bodies of the passengers were found. One body was found on Conch Cay, another on Lion Cay in Port Royal. The body of the girl, Cintia, washed out in Las Palmas.
"It is like Hurricane Mitch. Then too we were finding bodies washed out all over the shore," said Terry Bodden, Santos Guardiola Mayor, who coordinated a four municipal boat search for the bodies.
The tragedy was the greatest loss of life at sea in waters around Bay Islands since Hurricane Mitch in 1998. The bodies of captain Díaz or Amilcar Santamaría were yet to be found.
"The bank had no problem with keeping the clinic open as long as it was free," said Bloom. The only money collected from the patients was voluntary.
The board disputed whether donations of medications and equipment at the clinic were made to nurse Bloom, or the clinic. In November 2006, Coxen Hole judge ruled in Bloom's favor and Bloom donated all the medications to the Pandy Town Clinic and stored the clinic's equipment for future use.
The bitter end to nurse Carol's involvement in the clinic not only divided the community, but was traumatic to Carol herself. On the morning of December 12 she suffered a minor heart attack and was hospitalized for three days. "Her entire life was focused on the clinic," says about Bloom McNab.
Almost two months after Blooms left, tempers have finally come down. "We are not concerned about that anymore," said Pastor Rudolph Abbott, treasurer of the Oak Ridge Clinic. "The bickering is over," said Ben Rosenthal one of the clinic founders.
Nurse bloom took more then the medications and medical equipment, she took her fundraising supporters in the United States who sent as much as $27,000 a year for the clinic to operate. Her experience in gathering funds, professional expertise and full time commitment will be hard to replace.
Bloom already received offers of working at Pandy Town Clinic, another clinic soon to open in French Cay and was promised land for a new clinic in Oak Ridge by Roy Dilbert, a Pandy Town businessman.
While the board members plan to ask the government for a doctor practitioner and consider adding a nurse to help him, the plans and funding remain vague. Likely the clinic will no longer be free, but similarly structured to the nearby Polo Galindo and Pandy Town Clinics.
Fortunately for Santos Guardiolans at least one tradition started at the clinic is continued. The yearly, third in a row visit of eye specialist doctor took place as scheduled. On January 9 and 10, Dr. Darin Bowers and his team of ten volunteers treated over a dozen of patients removing their cataracts.
Honduran Divers

With fazing out of diving for lobster and conch thous-ands of La Mosquitia divers face unemployment

Even though the current plan would initially employ only 200 divers, Guillen sees the project as only a beginning of a shift from industrial to artesian diving for lobster and conch.
"I would build a warehouse on the cays myself and buy the product from the divers," says Jimmy Thompson, owner of two dive boats based in Jonesville. The lobster and conch dive industry could soon transform from industrial fishing fleet to artesian fishing. "This will give the divers a way out," says Thompson. "They deserve to be given a chance." Not everyone agrees. According to Granoel owners of around 15 dive boats are opposing the proposal.
Skeptical about the proposal is Toño Bonilla, La Ceiba based dive boats owners' association president. "We have been making the living of dive boats and if anything is done it should be done in the name of all divers," said Bonilla.
Before any consensus, or plan of action is created, things might get more desperate. In 2006 divers were paid Lps. 60 per pound of caught lobster. For the same lobster the boat captain receives Lps. 335 per pound from the packing plant. The APESCA plan is to make the Mosquitia divers self sufficient and give them an opportunity of selling lobster directly to packing plants.
Even though traps should only be used at a depth of over 60' and dive boats should stay in the banks' shallows that form 70% of the fishing grounds, the competition over disappearing lobster is fierce as ever. Divers often destroy lobster and conch traps and cutting them to threads.
The situation is further complicated by Honduras' prolonged maritime dispute with Nicaragua and ever-changing relation with Jamaican fishermen. Jamaican boats trapping fish have became a problem in the last couple of seasons. According to Jones "they overfish the banks and don't pay any taxes to the Honduran government." The understaffed and under-funded Honduran navy is unable to monitor, let alone control the fishing banks of Honduras' Atlantic coast.
Since 1986, 315 Honduran lobster and conch divers lost their lives in work related accidents and 1,500 were injured. In 2006 there were two deaths. "Guanaja and La Ceiba registered boats are the worst," says Erazmo Granoel, representative of 1,500 Honduran Injured Divers organization.
As signatory to Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Honduras is compelled to shut down its seafood diving industry. Thousands of jobs and family incomes are at risk. While the Honduran government has few ideas how to help the La Mosquitia diver community, the divers are taking steps to help themselves.
Granoel, along with Osvaldo Echevarria, representative of active and retired divers, and Dave Jones, president of Caribbean Fishing Association (APESCA), propose that five fishing areas in the Honduras' eastern banks with under 60' depth be given for exclusive use of Mosquitia divers for free dive harvesting of lobster and conch. The proposal, soon to be submitted to the department of labor, would be funded from the budget of the Agriculture Ministry. Rixi Moncada, Minister of Labor, was given the proposal for review.
The proposal envisions a fleet of open water under 40' boats that would be based in the coastal villages and daily travel to fishing banks with four free divers each. No more diving with tanks and risk of getting the bends. The purchase of the boats and engines would come out of the Ministry of Agriculture budget.
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Taking Pangas by Thomas Tomczyk

Fiscalia seizes hulls that 'lack proper documentation'

At the time of VOICE going to print Notton and her business partner Patrik Zigg were in La Ceiba attempting to at least retrieve the boat's engine.
Two weeks before, on February 8, 11 confiscated hulls, three of them with engines, were towed away to La Ceiba Harbour. Within the next three days the fiscalia confiscated another three. "We have a list of 30," said Campos, who is looking for boats in Utila, Guanaja and La Mosquitia as well.
On February 9, fiscales acted in 'repo men' style and took one of "Diving with Sharks" boats from the dive shop dock in Las Palmas and leaving no documents, explaining, or announcing their actions. "I am so angry. We first thought that the boat was stolen," says Sergio Tritto, one of the diveshop's owners.
More and more people are worried their boat could be confiscated next. Fantasy Island, Native Sons and Pura Vida all have slim Edwardoño hulls, powerful motors and use them for their dive operations.
Alvin Jackson, owner of West End dive shop Native Sons, is worried. Two of three boats were made on Roatan from a Edwardoño mold. "I like the proportions of the boat. It is economical on fuel, handles well in waves and is strong," said Jackson. Ever since November the fiscalia took photographs of one of his boats and Jackson began being concerned that his boats could be next to be confiscated.
Darcy Martinez and Linton in Las Palmas, are two Roatan boat builders who have made molds of the Edwardoño hull that allows them to build their own boats similar to that of the Colombian boat maker. "My boats are different than the Edwardoño. We don't put as much reinforciment in them," says Martinez, who files documents and seals them with the port captain for each vessel he makes. "Some people asked me to give papers that I built some of these [Edwardoño] boats, but I could never do that," says Martinez.
One problem with following registration procedure with the found Edwardoño boats, is that the vessels don't have anything identifying them, individual numbers. If they did, the drug traffickers made sure they were removed, to make the tracking of their purchasers impossible.
Between 2002-2005 there were several boats, Edwardoño pangas, in Santos Guardiola Municipal that were accepted from the Preventiva and frontier police as payment for the financial support that Municipal has given to the police. Even though a Roatan judge has approved some of these sales, a Tegucigalpa and AOBI (Ceased Goods Office) never had a chance to go through an auction process and receive payment for them. As far as the fiscalia is concerned, these boats don't have a proper owner. Now many people that paid Municipal money for the pangas, just had to abandon them, since they had no 'proper' papers to prove their ownership.
"If they had a problem, why couldn't they [fiscalia] have a grace period like with gun registrations? If you have a paperwork problem, you would have two months to pay fines and register you boat properly," asks Sergio Tritto. It is a good question.
What is concerning and surprising is that not a single person whose Edwardoño boat was confiscated by the fiscal has properly registered the boat. According to Campos either the owners did not know how to follow the procedure, or just didn't want to. "We found boats hidden in mangroves, being repainted in peoples' yards," said Campos.
These fiberglass pangas are a boat of choice for Columbian drug runners, who routinely transport around 1,000 kilos of cocaine in its watertight compartments, then transfer it to land, to continue their journey up north. The abandoned hulls of the pangas dot the mangroves of the east side of Roatan.
The Honduran government never got paid for the boats. Still, the question remains if the government should get paid for any boat that is salvaged at all? They don't have to if a proper procedure is followed.

On the heels of the December TTI equipment seizures, the government has begun another, much wider confiscation operation. Every business and individual with hulls similar to Eduardono is a potential target of fiscalia confiscations. Several dive shops and many individuals boats were confiscated without giving their owners a chance to prove the origin of the boat, pay fines, or straighten out the boat's paperwork. The confiscations continue and members of the local dive community are concerned. Businesses are disrupted and could potentially go out of business. Who will be next?
On January 29, fiscales waited for Subway Watersport's boat at the Barefoot Cay landing. According to Gillian Notton, co owner of Subway Watersports, the officials refused to show any papers, even when asked and pointed to their holstered guns. "If they would have spoken to me civilly it would be hard, but I would live with [the seizure of the boat] it," says Notton. Isai Campos Rodriguez, director of Bay Islands fiscales who is in charge of the seizures, says that the officials presented documents and followed proper procedure.
Subway's two dive shop clients were asked to step off and the fiscales drove the boat to the impound in Coxen Hole. "This is an easy way for them to show to the US that they are combating drug running," said Notton. Subway Watersports operates from three locations with four boats and ccording to Notton, it will likely have to close its most popular Barefoot Cay facility.
According to Campos, the fiscalia is focusing its seizures on Edwardoño made boats, a Columbian manufacturer of boat hulls and a preferred boat used by drug traffickers that transit through Honduran waters. According to Campos, the Edwardoño boats began to appear in the Bay Islands in 1999, but only now the government has the resources to recover the boats and funds owed. According to Campos all seized boats were found abandoned by drug traffickers and never properly registered.
Subway Watersports purchased the panga's bare hull in 2003 from Olson, an Oak Ridge Islander in Oak Ridge who salvaged the boat. An Oak Ridge judge signed the paper and the boat, christened 'Voyager' was registered with the Roatan Port Captain. For the Bay Islands fiscal that just wasn't enough. "The simple buy-sell document to transfer the ownership of this boat is not enough," said Campos. "If they prove ownership of engines and other equipment it will be returned to them."
Subway Watersports has a lot at stake. The dive shop invested in reshaping the interior of the boat to fit its dive operation, fit it with two 200 HP Mercury Engines, built an aluminum bimini top, and added an anchor. The boat's value is now around $50,000. "There will be an auction of the boats in La Ceiba in May and the owners will have a preferential buy rights," said Campos.
Not all boats had a chance to be auctioned off. On February 23, Subway Watersport's 'Voyager' was donated to Cayos Cochinos foundation by the fiscalia.
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