story / editorial
By Thomas Tomczyk
islanders comply with a census and face some hard questions
the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day the taking of Bay Islands
census begins. How many people live on Roatan and who are they?
On December 13, 2006, Bay Islands department received a presidential
signature putting it on the path towards of a Freeport status.
Some of the conditions for this were that the ZOLITUR commission
write bylaws of the investment zone and conduct a census of
its population. This was to be done within 120 days of publishing
the ZOLITUR law in La Gazeta, Honduras' government publication.
On January 28, the 120 day hourglass began its count. Still
106 days passed before anyone began the process of counting
the archipelagos residents, let alone sending the bylaws for
approval to many Tegucigalpa ministries and governing bodies.
The CURLA, Centro Universitario Regional del Litoral Atlantico,
designed and administered the Roatan census. The over 100
census takers, who were divided into ten groups, 10-12 people
each, went door to door counting each dwelling and person
living there. The census takers were divided into four sub-groups,
focusing on different types of dwellings: rural, business
and urban. A chalk sign was written on the walls or door of
each structure that was surveyed.
The census teams worked with the idea of Roatan Municipal
having around 60,000 and 80,000 inhabitants and around 20,000
households. The groups worked every day, from 8 am to 12 pm
and from 2 pm to 4 pm, allowing for some Santos Guardiola
high school students working on the census to attend classes.
"We want to give the students a chance to attend classes
at 6pm," said Ing. Manuel Canelas, executive director
of the project who teaches logistics at CURLA.
Since the census asked each participant about a household,
some family members were shown on the census twice. If the
mother, father and adult children answered the census at their
respective place of work, then again at home a day later,
the census takers would take the entire family several times.
On the other hand, other families, living in the bush away
from the beaten tracks were not canvassed.
Twenty-four professors, staff and several students from CURLA
University in La Ceiba worked side by side with around 100
Roatan surveyors. A dozen people entered data into a computer
database and four field directors oversaw the entire process.
"CURLA is guaranteeing the accuracy of the census data,"
said Julio Emilio Lino, regional coordinator for CURLA and
Roatan census director.
The 11 day Roatan Municipal Census was an eye-opening experience
for over a hundred surveyors and Roatanians alike. "I
love asking them: 'Do you own a gun?' and they tell me: 'Yes,
a bible,'" said Artina Forbes, 50, a schoolteacher from
Coxen Hole. From the 180 or so people Forbes interviewed,
three admitted to serving time in prison and four said that
they owned a firearm.
While Forbes collected around 20 surveys a day, other surveyors
topped at over 40. The census takers ranged from 16-year-old
high school students to a 50-year-old teacher born in Santa
Helena. The number of surveyors varied between 80 and 120,
depending on a day. "The hardest thing is doing all that
walking," said Forbes who looked at the work as an opportunity
to "get more involved in social work as a teacher."
The work paid for by Roatan Municipal was coordinated by Vice-Mayor
Delcie Rosales, Logistics coordinator Carlos Santos and Environmental
director Lidia Medina. On May 10, Roatan Municipal asked for
help in funding the work in a Municipal meeting with some
of the island's business owners. Governor Arlie Thompson and
Vice- Mayor Delcie Rosales appealed for the assistance to
the business community.
While several businesses volunteered some of their employees
for the 10-day census, the Roatan Municipal and several businesses
paid the census takers Lps. 200 per day, provided 150 daily
lunches, water and four buses for transportation.
The cost of the census should be recuperated over time as
each canvassed person will have to pay a one time Lps. 50
fee. With early estimates showing 50,000 souls canvassed,
this should bring over $130,000 into Roatan Municipal coffers.
Some business owners who volunteered employees for the census
raised issues of concern. "I need to be honest with my
employees-who is going to have their information?" asked
Andy Arcaya, American-Chilean owner of Inn of Last Resort,
who ended up contributing Lps. 7,000 towards the census.
As people tried to figure out the implications of the census,
rumors ran amuck.
There were people who abandoned their work place and even
left the island afraid of consequences if their criminal records
were revealed. "We had two people leave our workplace,"
said Delcie Rosales, owner of West End Rentals and a Roatan
Vice-Mayor, who later found out that one of her workers had
a rape charge on the mainland.
After a shaky first day of census taking in Flowers Bay, the
ratio of people who refused to be canvassed settled at around
5%. The highest rate of people refusing to take part in the
census took place in Coxen Hole's El Swampo. "It was
also difficult in Flowers Bay, but not too bad in Los Fuertes,"
said Lino. The 15% refusal rate in one of the Roatan Municipal's
poorest neighborhoods was triple that of the overall average.
One of the people who refused to be canvassed was Kevin Wesley,
a boat captain and builder from West End. "I was working
all day and I was tired. I told them that if they wanted to
census me they would need to bring policemen," said Wesley.
According to Lino, the media exposure and megaphone announcements
undertaken by patronatos helped in raising awareness of the
goals of the census and in dispensing with misconceptions
as to the goals of the census.
While the census was promoted and advertised as confidential,
it was far from being so. The information gathered about each
participant was to be limited access, but not confidential.
The personal data gathered in the census-person's names, ID
and passport numbers, fingerprints, gun ownership and criminal
records-is planned to be distributed to each municipal, ZOLITUR,
DGIC, Preventiva Police, Interpol and to be available to air
and sea carriers.
One of the most important goals of the census is to identify
areas ZOLITUR can focus on for development. The census should
provide a base for distribution of income for projects and
show where those projects are most needed.
One of the more startling realizations of the census takers
was the lack of sanitary facilities throughout the island.
"We have areas, urban areas, where people don't even
have latrines here. They do their business in bags,"
Another idea ZOLITUR is looking into is giving preference
to locally available labor before bringing in workers from
outside. At this point it is unclear if Bay Islands resident
IDs, or Bay Islands census IDs would be issued. Still, the
database will provide a snapshot of not only how many people
live in each municipal, but who they are and what they could
offer as far as skills.
The task of controlling migration to Bay Islands runs into
a basic conundrum: the Honduran constitution guarantees all
Hondurans freedom to move freely about the country and settle
wherever they wish. The Bay Islands authorities cannot hamper
access to the archipelago to any Honduran; they can only indirectly
affect the attitude of potential migrants.
The ZOLITUR commission hopes that the database will in some
form control the desire of mainlanders to come and move to
the archipelago en mass. According to Governor Thompson, vice-president
of ZOLITUR commission, a framework is being worked out to
implement the security and control elements for coming and
going to the Bay Islands. This framework is far from being
complete, but a list of all canvassed people will become a
database file available for cross reference at the points
of entry to the islands.
Each thumbprint taken during the census was to be scanned
in and placed in a database. The information was to be available
to Interpol, Honduran Preventiva and DGIC police, Municipal
and transportation companies. "The island needs to fund
a super efficient mechanism at security control," said
There is a lot of work to be done to just begin improving
the security issue on the archipelago. For example, Hedman
Alas Bus Company has for several years been following the
technique of ID number verification to ensure security for
their passengers. Sea and air travelers to the Bay Islands
ID's are not cross checked before they are allowed to travel.
Two questions in the census focused on security issues: gun
ownership and incarceration. According to Lino, only around
5%-6% of people admitted to owning firearms and around 3%
disclosed their prior incarceration.
"One man told me he was a rapist, but he served his time,"
said Forbes about one of her interviews. Since the questionnaire
was not using a blind method it is expected that only a small
percentage of people admitted to owning a weapon or having
been incarcerated. "If this was true Roatan would be
one of the safest places to live," said Lino.
Gunaja, Santos Guardiola & what about Cayos Cochinos?
On Utila the census taking began on May 21, a week after Roatan.
The Utila municipal used the same forms, designed by CURLA
University, as used in the Roatan census. Michelle Fernandez,
coordinator of the Utila census, spent several days on Roatan
learning the technique of the data collection. The relative
small size of the Utila municipal allowed 20 Utila survey
takers, paid Lps. 400 a day, to go house to house and avoid
the potential pitfall of also surveying people at their place
Preliminary estimates show that the island's population might
not be as big as the 2001 government census showed-7,607.
According to Mayor Alton Cooper the Municipal, divided into
two "aldeas" of Eastern Harbour and the Cays, should
show around 3,500 and 4,000 people.
The census on Guanaja was expected to begin on May 28, and
Santos Guardiola soon thereafter.
The 11-day census covered almost the entire Roatan Municipal.
According to Lino the experience in conducting the Roatan
census will allow CURLA to make a better questionnaire for
the remaining three municipals. The Santos Guardiola Municipal
census should cost, according to Lino, around $20,000.
"We have gathered vital social and environmental statistics
important to the island," said Lino. While there was
a feeling that Bay Islands have had one of the more economically
developed departments in the country, the census began exposing
the high illiteracy rate and low education rates of the Bay
Islanders. These ratios could be similar to the national average,
rather than what some considered to be one of the more developed
departments in the country.
An average Honduran receives 4.8 years of schooling. The average
rates shown in the census could be little higher. The majority
of people with college degrees on Roatan are either foreigners,
or come as hired, technical and managerial help from Honduras'
mainland. "All the people here have focused themselves
on the economical sustenance," said Lino. "Few people
focus on the environmental existence of the island."
Mayor Dale Jackson is interviewed for the census by Julio
Emilio Lino, regional coordinator for CURLA and Roatan census
story / editorial
/ local news
Roatan Customs has been in transition mode for the
past five months. While businesses and individuals are frustrated
by lack of flexibility and always-changing officials, the transition
to custom's duty-free structure might take just as long.
The recent hard-line attitude of the Roatan customs officers came
from their inexperience in dealing with situations in an international
seaport and tourist destination and from not knowing the nature
of the businesses clearing customs. "They didn't know everyone
here like I did. They had to do everything by the book," says
Larry McLaughlin, who was a Maduro presidency appointment and served
as the Customs Chief for four-and-a-half years.
In Honduras customs and immigration work closely together; the appointments
to customs offices are political and the immigration posts are not.
A competent immigration appointment can stay through different political
With the expected entry of the department into the Freeport status,
the changes at the customs offices are not over. According to Bu,
the ZOLITUR commission has to submit the proposal of the bylaws
affecting the customs for review and approval by the Armando Sarmiento,
Honduran chief of customs. The back and forth process could take
weeks if not longer; but without approved guidelines Roatan customs
office will not change its procedures or fee structures. Everyone
anxious to take advantage of their business' duty free import status
will just have to wait.
Bu expects that the amount of paperwork associated with importing
goods will stay the same while the amount of work for aduana will
increase. "We will have to be more vigilant to look for those
trying to abuse the system," said Bu.
There are currently 11 customs employees on Roatan, and the customs
office on Guanaja, with two officers, was recently closed. There
are four international shipping agents in the Bay Islands: Island
Shipping, Naviera Hybur, Jackson Shipping and Caribbean. To handle
the paperwork associated with importing high value goods, the island
has five customs brokers. For the time being only a 'dispensa letter'
will exclude an organization from bringing in goods tax free. The
customs fees begin at 12% of the value of goods shipped and, depending
on the type of goods and the recipient, go up to 15%, 27% and 37%.
Colon Avila (secreatary with 15 years veteran), Gabriela Bu (Roatan
Customs Administrador), Karla Lainez (Roatan Customs sub-adminstrator).
Gabriela Bu and Karla Lainez are two new faces at the Roatan customs,
which has seen a lot of changes in the past five months. After Larry
McLaughlin was replaced at his post in November 2006, Roatan customs
saw four interim customs chiefs. None of them took the appropriate
exams specific for Bay Islands, and none expected to stay there very
long. This is about to change, as Roatan Customs Administrator Bu
is qualified and expected to stay on the island for at least one year.
The last four months were a rude awakening to island businesses and
individuals who ended up paying through their noses for items they
used to import duty-free or at minimal costs. "I had to pay $1,100
duty on a set of solar batteries that cost me $3,000," said Karl
Stanley, owner of Deep Water Submarine in West End. "A year ago
I was told that Honduras supports solar energy and there are no duties
for these items."
Even though boats in transit typically receive a waiver from customs
fees, recently this policy seemed to have been ignored, resulting
in the Honduran treasury receiving extra income. In one such case
in April, Mola-Mola, a 35-foot German registered catamaran ended up
paying $600 to get their $3,000 worth of boat parts. Mola-Mola was
required to set up an RTN number in La Ceiba, pay for a broker and
pay 12% duty on solar panels and compressor parts imported from the
US during her three-month stay in Brick Bay and Honduras. "We
actually ended up paying duty not only on the parts but also on the
US sales taxes and shipping," said Ursula Becker, owner of the
boat. This was in sharp contrast to the last time Becker imported
boat engine parts to Roatan in 2005 and didn't have to pay any fees.
The Milton Bight Affair
property marred in dispute is back for sale, while a 75-year-old
American retiree flees from La Ceiba prison
Bight affair has had several more chapters rewritten when Don Davis,
an American retiree from Roatan who was convicted of a 2004 murder
and sentenced to 20 years in prison, fled a La Ceiba prison.
The entire conflict began in 1999 when Arnold Morris, an American
investor, sold a 38-acre Milton Bight property to Davis. After having
it surveyed, Davis realized the sale included only 35 acres and refused
to continue payments on the property unless the sale price was adjusted.
After several months Morris foreclosed on the property and eventually
ended up controlling the property that he then sold to Tom Matulas.
Davis tried to get his money, around $250,000, back from Matulas.
At one point Matulas had handwritten an agreement promising to pay
Davis $250,000 from the first proceeds of the sale of the property.
The Canadian real estate couple of Matt and Margot Halliday were involved
in selling the property as lots. Instead of paying Davis first, they
decided to pay him at a later date. Davis was upset by this development
but had little legal recourse at his disposal. The origin of the dispute
between Davis and Morris spilled over to Matulas, his lawyer Roberto
Bogran and the Hallidays.
October 2004, Davis went over to the house of Matulas and shot him
in the back of the head. Davis was then placed under house arrest
awaiting trial, less than a mile from the Halliday's home. The real
estate couple decided to remain off the island ever since and only
periodically visit their real estate business here.
Sentenced to 20 years in prison in fall of 2006, Davis was transferred
to a prison in La Ceiba. But while Roatan Preventiva Police managed
to keep Davis from escaping from the island for two years, the La
Ceiba prison authority couldn't do that for longer than a couple weeks.
In October 2006, Davis faked a heart attack and was transferred under
escort to a medical clinic outside the prison. Davis the fled the
clinic and was not seen since. "Someone took money for this,"
Rubben Barrahona, Roatan Preventiva Chief, commented on the escape.
DGIC and Preventiva are again looking for Davis.
During his house arrest Davis married a Pandy Town woman, but it is
the Church of God pastor and builder Leonard Dilbert who is managing
Davis' old house and adjacent property. According to Dilbert, Davis
sold off these properties before being sent to La Ceiba. Matulas'
lawyer and corporation partner Roberto Bogran is now in control and
is trying to sell the Milton Bight property.
top of the World
2007 Division II trophy belongs to Arsenal. Is division I next?
week later the Coxen Hole stadium was filled beyond capacity. Around
three thousand people were waiving Arsenal's red and white flags,
blowing horns, drumming. There were screaming voices in the stands,
behind the chain link fence, in the trees and in the hills surrounding
the stadium. The crowd came ready for a win and they were taking nothing
Despite consistent pressure from Arsenal players, the first half went
scoreless. Arsenal team wasn't able to put out its best 11- two of
its best players, Chanel Forbes and Steven Martinez, were sitting
the game out due to yellow and red cards. This made little difference
as Angel Mejilla multiplied his efforts and after a corner kick it
was Mejilla's header that put Arsenal ahead 1:0. It was minute five
of the second half.
Cruz Azul didn't give up and 10 minutes later after a quick counter
attack, Marco Tulio Diego placed a strong low shot right past Arsenal's
goalkeeper. The score 1:1 matched the result from that a week before
and set up a possible overtime.
The end came like a heart attack: quickly and mercilessly. The patient-
Cruz Azul, was down and dead in under a minute. Barely a few moments
after Angel Mejilla scored his second goal of the match the referee
whistled the end. The entire stadium erupted and hundreds of fans
spilled onto the playing field and fought for the "Arsenal Champion
2007" t-shirts. "Arsenal! Arsenal!" shouted hundreds
of fans while Francisco Javier Martinez, president of II Division,
gave a two-foot trophy to Arsenal players.
On May 27 Roatan faced Deportes Savio at Santa Rosa losing 1:0 in
a tense game that had to be stopped twice due to fan behavior. On
June 3 the final match deciding entry to Division I will be played
at Roatan's Coxen Hole stadium.
with their division II trophy
waited six months, fans four years and the entire team worked hard
for nine years to find itself at the doorstep of Division I. But,
it wasn't always that joyful. Four months before, on December 23,
2007, Arsenal was within a heartbeat of winning the Apertura tournament.
Sadly for the islanders, it was Santa Rosa's Deportes Savio who took
the Christmas gift home.
In the 2007 clausura semifinals Deportes Savio was eliminated by Cruz
Azul who faced Arsenal at home on May 13. In the first match at Santa
Barbara, Arsenal's Georgie Wellcome scored the first match of the
game. Cruz Azul's Henry Suazo was able to equalize, but that was about
it. The Santa Barbara team was heading to Roatan with a tough task
of trying to win in the islanders' backyard.
Map for Underwater Roatan
2d example of an underwater sonar map.
geography here is hard to survey because of the steepness. Especially
the north side," says Karl Stanley, owner of Deep Water Submarine
and coordinator of the project. At an Underwater Intervention Conference
in New Orleans, Stanley met Jeff Snyder from Sea Vision Marine,
who volunteered to do the mapping work at cost. While the cost of
a similar mapping project would cost $70-$100,000, the work will
be done here in seven days, leasing the equipment for $1,300 a day.
Reson 1340, an underwater acoustic sonar weighing 1,000 pounds and
leased from Ashtead Technologies will be towed behind a boat. A
two-beam sonar will scan the underwater terrain up to 3,000 feet
down and to the side. "The closer you get to the surface the
more accurate it gets," said Stanley, who plans to focus on
the Sandy Bay-West End Marine Park.
While many of the Roatan dive sites have been schematically mapped
already, the sonar mapping project should add accuracy and scope
to the understanding of the Roatan underwater geography. "Most
developed countries have maps like these of their coast already,"
Three of the project's sponsors: Barefoot Cay will provide a boat
to tow the sonar; Palmetto Bay Plantation and AKR will pay for some
of the day surveys.
the Bay Islands are getting an accurate picture of who lives where
through the 2007 census, soon its underwater terrain should also be
mapped in high resolution.
The Cayman Trough, also known as Bartlett Deep, runs just 20 miles
north of the Bay Islands archipelago and descends to 7,686 meters
(25,216 ft)- the deepest point in the Caribbean. The Cayman Trough
forms the border between two tectonic plates, the Caribbean and North
American, which has created Bonacca Ridge. Bay Islands are just the
above-water peaks of this ridge.