story / editorial
how to destroy a company in a weekend
West Bay Village to Helena Island
Migration and few
options to buy affordable land create growing unrest
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
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,"
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.
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,"
LEFT: Determined and boisterous Balfate land protesters
show off their machetes.
A squatter in an unfinished Brick Bay house.
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
"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.
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,"
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
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,"
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
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.
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.
story / editorial
/ local news
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The Magic of 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
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.
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.
story / editorial
/ local news
Into the Ground by Thomas Tomczyk
Amongst chaos and RECO blackouts asks for government
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
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
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
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
people drown in a passage to Roatan
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.
bank had no problem with keeping the clinic open as long as it was
free," said Bloom. The only money collected from the patients
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.
fazing out of diving for lobster and conch thous-ands of La Mosquitia
divers face unemployment
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.
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.