story / editorial
By Thomas Tomczyk
React to Increase in Energy Prices by Paralyzing the Entire Island
for three days. Two Cruise Ships Cancel their Visit.
prepare their weapons for a confrontation with the police.
greatest damage to Roatan's 2008 Cruise Ship season didn't come
from a meteorological event or a world financial crisis, but
from the island's own residents.
The protests were predictable. Last time RECO tried to pass
a fuel surcharge increase in 2004, rioters took over the streets
as well. There was no reason to expect things would be any different
when RECO hiked the fuel surcharge from Lps. 0.88 Lps/KW to
Lps. 1.92/KW in September and again to Lps. 3.89/KW in October.
The entire energy price hike went from 3.84/KW to 7.01/KW, an
increase of 82%.
Things happened as they usually do: Nobody did their jobs like
they were supposed to. RECO failed to convincingly communicate
the increased fuel surcharge and timed it during the hottest
time of the year; municipal government failed to anticipate
the reaction of the island community to the fuel increase; Patronato
presidents lost control of the community which elected them;
disgruntled masses assumed that authorities wouldn't listen
unless they took over the streets; Municipal police were absent
from key barricades and confrontation points; Preventiva police
let the mob rule the streets of the entire island; businesses
continued to sell alcohol to protesters.
As a consequence of this, two cruise ships were cancelled and
damage to Roatan's economy acquired an international context.
Norwegian Pearl, on its first scheduled visit to the island,
and Carnival Valor were cancelled.
According to Romeo Silvestri, vice-president of the CANATURH-BI,
authorities tried to tell the cruise lines that the unscheduled
cancellation of the Roatan stop was "weather related."
But anybody with internet access knew the gravity of the situation
of an island under siege. The US embassy in Tegucigalpa and
the US State Department posted travel warnings regarding travel
to Roatan and "possible anti-American sentiment."
The warning read: "The Embassy received a report of a threat
of violence directed towards an American trying to pass through
a checkpoint. The Embassy strongly recommends U.S. citizens
to remain in their homes and not try to pass roadblocks, as
there have been incidents of violence in the past. U.S. citizens
should avoid travel in affected areas."
The mixture of drunk and angry youth and lack of police presence
indeed produced confrontations and violence. A vehicle trying
to cross a barricade in Flowers Bay was tipped over. Five tourists
walking the 11 kilometers from West End to Roatan Airport to
make their flight home were assaulted and robbed. Christian
Vogel, a German investor, was attacked by three demonstrators
as he tried to deny them access to use his French Harbour property
for a barricade. "I was hit in the head and kicked,"
said Vogel, who went to police for help but says that he received
Martin Gunterson described an episode in Los Fuertes on a Roatan
chat group: "A crowd of about 50 closed in around us, I
was pushed off the motorcycle, which fell to the ground, and
was tossed around for a bit with my arms pinned behind me. There
was significant anger
" Gunterson remained unfazed
by the confrontation, however, and put it in perspective: "I
do not feel that the island is unsafe for normal visitor activities."
During the three days of disturbances only one arrest was made,
and it wasn't even a demonstrator. Don Goin, an American developer,
was arrested after he tried to go through a barricade with his
vehicle and, according to police officials, injured two demonstrators.
"We hadn't done anything because we hoped that there would
be a peaceful resolution to this conflict," said Hector
Rodriguez, National Chief of Tourist Police sent to the island
by Minister of Tourism. On October 14 a chartered flight brought
in 80 police officers from Tegucigalpa. As Galaxy Wave, Roatan's
only passenger ferry to the mainland, went for repair in La
Ceiba, the only way of getting to the island was via air. A
cold front in the Bay of Honduras dropped buckets of rain during
the three day protests, causing mudslides all over the island.
Authorities knew about the October 13 protest, but failed to
anticipate and prepare for what could happen. Fliers had been
distributed in neighborhoods calling for a demonstration in
front of RECO. "Leaders are elected to be pro-active, not
reactive, to anticipate problems before they happen," said
"Where are the police? We have a lack of enforcement,"
asked Bonnie Jackson, a manager of Texaco gas station in Los
Fuertes. While enforcing might lead to confrontations with the
protestors, at least the presence of police would have reassured
citizens and business owners that someone could intervene if
things got out of hand.
Local government and police authorities seemed to be caught
by surprise. "We've had three groups of Municipal Police:
one at cruise ship dock, one by the triangulo and one by the
airport," said Mayor Jackson. Mayor Jackson stated that
Municipal Police was in Los Fuertes through the riots. The reality,
however, was quite different, as no Municipal police were present
on October 14 and 15, at the height of the protests when mobs
ruled the streets and citizens were left to fend for themselves.
"I'd seen them [Municipal Police] here on Monday, but not
on Tuesday or Wednesday," said Cruz, owner of the Los Fuertes
Sub Brand Boutique, who with another five Los Fuertes families
provided free meals to the protesters.
According to Joe Solomon, Chief of the Roatan Municipal Police,
his force stayed protecting the Municipal building as rumors
of the protesters taking the building spread. Municipal Police
who's motto is "to protect and serve," was busy listening
to rumors and protecting municipal property. "They [protesters]
didn't let us pass," said Chief Solomon, about the police's
efforts to reach Los Fuertes.
Price of bringing Municipal police to areas where confrontations
were taking place would have been politically risky. Roatan's
Mayor Jackson is running for reelection and he cannot afford
to alienate the Spanish voters that he has courted for the past
three years. Conceivably, all the good sentiment Mayor Jackson
has gained through paving of streets in working class neighborhoods
could be erased in one go if he were perceived to be confrontational
with the protesters. "It's a political year and no one
wants to step on any toes," said Bonnie Jackson, a family
relative of Mayor Jackson. Mayor Jackson not only did not anticipate
the disturbances, prepare for them, he left Roatanins to fen
Taking political advantage of the riots were lesser known political
figures running for internal mayoral elections on November 18.
Will Mejilla, a Liberal party candidate, Victor Rivera and Hernan
Acosta, both National party candidates, all took part in agitating
While Tourist Police Chief Rodriguez assured that sales of alcohol
had been suspended by mid day on October 15, no one seemed to
have told the owner of Texaco station. Just a few hundred feet
away from barricades, Texaco in Los Fuertes did little sales
in petrol but made up some of that by selling liters of Rum,
from morning until 5pm. Protesters were drinking alcohol all
day long and smoking marijuana in public. Mob mentality took
over the streets.
barricade in Los Fuertes cut the island in two halves.
Road blocks from Punta Gorda to Flowers Bay paralyzed the
island, creating a problem for everyone trying to make a living
on the island. Los Fuertes had a "Columbus Day party"
that lasted three days and cost the island economy $450,000
a day, an estimate by Honduran Tourism ministry. The island
was cut into two halves and at the barricade in Los Fuertes
it was impossible to even walk through the barricades on foot.
The protesters treated everyone with the same disregard, preventing
movement of government officials, preachers, and employees
on their way to work. Because a majority of the island teachers
were involved and leading the protests, no classes in public
schools were held for two days. School children on their way
to private schools were turned back at the barricades as well.
As the protesters didn't allow the government officials to
move their vehicles across the barricades, many people began
using dories and water transport as an alternative way of
getting from place to place. Even Bay Islands Governor Arlie
Thompson had to use his boat to commute from his Jonesville
home to Brick Bay's Island Shipping where talks with protesters
The most notorious barricade spanned the main road just east
of RECO's entrance. A barbed wire spanned the entire road
and no one was allowed to cross it.
As the island was paralyzed, 19 protest leaders chosen ad-hoc
from amongst the crowd of people gathered in front of RECO
were receiving a three-day intensive seminar on small power
plant operation and energy pricing. Amongst the 19 delegates
there were waiters and workers, such as Erick Minzeth, 34,
a waiter from Pura Vida restaurant, who has seen his bill
jump from Lps. 1,580 to Lps. 2,997. Though movement leadership
came from National Teachers Union, the fact that the delegates
had equal positions and no president, no one with a decisive
voice, only complicated matters further, particularly decision
When asked, none of the delegates were aware of the Lps. 9.5/KW
prices paid by consumers on Utila and the Lps. 9.08/KW paid
on Guanaja. On October 26, Guanajans marched in a peaceful
march of protest at the BELCO's Lps. 4.70/KW fuel adjustment.
While Utilans and Guanjans have taken the increases grudgingly
but without resorting to blockades, Roatanians' reaction was
A power vacuum of leadership at the community level has caused
Patronato leaders to loose control to a group of more radical,
inexperienced-in-talks leaders. "In Honduras this is
the only way that the authorities would talk to us,"
said Mayra Nofio, a schoolteacher and another member of the
committee, attempting to explain why a path of talk first,
demonstrate later was not followed. What became painfully
obvious that the delegates had no experience in leadership,
and even less in energy production or accounting. "The
numbers are confusing to us let alone to the people [we represent].
We need to give them concrete answers," said Idalgo Acosta,
a delegate and vice-president of the AMORSA taxi drivers association.
"We are pacifists," explained Leonel Amaya, a member
of LAFOM (Federacion of Magisterial Organizations), a Honduran
teachers union. Amaya explained that the Patronatos presidents
and Rosa Danelia Hendrix, in particular, failed to communicate
to the people the raising of the fuel surcharge, an increase
she has known about and agreed to. "We feel we were sold
out by the patronatos," said Amaya.
Hendrix, who led the street barricades in 2006, was constantly
mentioned during the discussion and picked as a scapegoat.
Hendrix stayed home during the riots and didn't appear for
the discussions at RECO to defend herself, quoting safety
While a document dated to August 12 states that Patronatos
agreed to the fuel adjustment increase, Hendrix denied agreeing
to a price increase of 7.34, "I only agreed to a just
increase, not so drastic," said Hendrix. Hendrix is careful
not to condemn the committee members, and says that she "doesn't
know what motivated the protesters" in de-facto sidelining
patronatos. The "ideology" was the chief difference
between what the 19 delegates and what patronato leadership
was offering. "I am not a communist. I am a social-democrat,"
"Who represents you is not our problem. It is you who
have to elect good representatives," said Isais Aguillar
of ENEE energy commission, whose presence was demanded by
the 19 delegates to discuss the fuel adjustment. But for three
days the protesters problem became every islanders' problem.
"It is the poorest people that are suffering the most.
They [RECO] should have spread the increase over several months,"
said Samuel Santos, a French Harbour resident. Many protesters
and the Roatan public in general see RECO as an oppressive,
mysterious device responsible for exploitation of the poor,
no matter who is in charge of the company. The protesters
didn't like the old RECO board, didn't like Clint Bodden-a
local RECO manager, didn't like Punta Cana- a Dominican power
company winning the bid for RECO purchase, and now don't like
its new America owner. "The Gringos come here and they
conduct themselves as if they are gods," one of the protesters
screamed over the loudspeaker.
"We knew this was coming," said Richard Warren,
RECO president, who knew that the Roatan energy consumers
would not take the rise in their energy costs sitting down.
While energy consumers on Utila, Guanaja and even La Ceiba
have seen their energy costs rise as high as Lps. 9.4/KW,
Roatan consumers have not seen their prices rise for the past
four years. Fuel adjustment has not increased on Roatan since
2004 and basic cost has not been increased since 1996.
According to Richard Warren, ENEE advised RECO to do the fuel
adjustment increase all at one time. Warren disregarded the
advice thinking that it would be easier for consumers to bear
if the increase was done in two increases. Warren estimates
the delay in increasing prices in one go cost RECO $800,000
and that delaying the increase for another month will cost
Ironically, even when the fuel surcharge will reach its maximum,
Warren doesn't expect RECO to be profitable. "We still
need the government to approve the rate increase," said
Warren. While Warren and Kelcy Warren had experience in energy
supply in US, they had no experience in doing business in
a third world country. Now they do.
August and September proved to be particularly hot months
and usage of electricity drastically increased amongst almost
all consumers. Refrigerators, fans and air conditioning units
worked overtime, but few realized the connection of temperature,
consumption and rise in fuel adjustment. RECO failed to explain
this correlation, let alone avoid it with timing of the adjustment
hikes. "I see few improvements, and management problems
remain the biggest issue. They just have more money to spend,"
said Charles George, owner of a private electrical company.
After the dust of mid October settled, the protesters managed
to get a reduction of one Lempira per kilowatt-hour in their
bill, a cost to RECO, according to its president of $400,000.
The low consumers will receive a one-time subsidy of Lps.
500,000 from the Central Government due to be approved by
Congress. Another Lps. 1 million will come from Zolitur and
yet another $100,000 from the Kelcy Warren fund for the low
consumers. The poor mainland Honduras will be subsidizing
its richest department.
Confrontational behavior between protesters and RECO management
has not come down and only the falling world fuel prices could
potentially control tempers in the next few months. "I
have received death threats. Its getting personal," said
Mathew Harper, a naturalized Honduran citizen and a manager
at RECO. Harper has filed charges with public prosecutor's
office concerned with numerous threatening text messages he
The conflict exposed an underlying conflict between the haves
and the have-nots of the island. The difference in ideology,
not just economics, has caused the discontent with the escalated
energy costs to boil over.
angry protestor walks through the street at Los Fuertes.
story / editorial
/ local new s
______________back to top
by Thomas Tomczyk
in the Bay Islands after the Stock Market Crash
While there are only a couple thousand foreigners living
on the Bay Islands, the archipelago can easily expand its
capacity to accommodate 20-30,000 foreign residents and
tourists. Yet while the islands are big enough and attractive
enough, the infrastructure--road, sewer, legal, environmental--has
been delaying and impeding the "discovery" of
the Bay Islands for last 20-30 years. While Cozumel, Cayman
Islands and Belize boomed, the Bay Islands slept. It may
have been for the better.
For now Bay Islands will have to weather some hard times.
Banks in the Bay Islands--HSBC, BAC, Lafise-all have international
connections and are part of a global lending network which
has been hit hard by "toxic mortgages" and lending
crunch. Lending for construction projects in the Bay Islands
has gotten more difficult and real estate sales have slowed
The fishing industry, another pillar of the Bay Islands
economy, has been hit hard. Due to a decrease in consumption
at US restaurants, prices for lobster in the US have plummeted
from $20 to $14 and are likely to fall still. Bay Islands
fishermen and fish packing plants are in crisis mode.
Still, more dangerous to the Roatan and Bay Islands economy
is not the behavior of US banks, but the behavior of the
island's residents. The damage done to the reputation of
Roatan as a dependable and welcoming place for tourists
has been damaged. Three days of protests which paralyzed
the island and forced cancellation of two cruise ships could
spell disaster greater than any financial crisis.
Over the next season or two, the number of cruise ships,
cruise ship tourists and money spent per person on Roatan
is likely to decrease. With the continual growth of the
cruise ship market, this should be a blessing in disguise.
The island infrastructure is bursting at the seams and 300,000
cruise shippers stepping off on Roatan is plenty.
The perception of Honduras, Central America's least developed
country, has affected the Bay Islands, and rightfully so.
Still Honduras belongs to a more nimble, flexible niche
of economies which can shape their futures more independently
from the overall downturn of the US market. Foreclosures
of the US financed properties held by some Bay Islands banks
have been quickly scooped up by island and mainland investors.
"Real estate is bound to benefit from that sentiment
in the long run. The Bay Islands and much of Central America
should benefit from that, though residential sales may be
slow for a while," writes Alston Boyd, a new liaison
between the President of the National Association of Realtors
last two months have been one of the most turbulent times
since the Great Depression stock market crash of 1929.
But while most people see gloom and doom as their life
savings dwindle, some see opportunities. Opportunities
as far from Wall Street as the Bay Islands.
The adjustments on the retirement dreams for hundreds
of thousands of baby boomers is likely to produce windfall
for places in Mexico and Central America. These baby boomers
who fine-tuned their portfolio to retire on a fixed income
in Florida or somewhere next door to their grand children
now have to adjust their expectations. Some who lost a
big portion of their retirement money might have to delay
retirement or get a part-time job during retirement. Some
might have to adjust their expectations from retiring
in Florida or Texas to retiring in a more affordable third
world destination. Bay Islands could benefit directly
The archipelago has many elements going for it: warm climate,
familiar English language culture, a place to stay active
through volunteering or sports, less expensive housing,
affordable and sometime even free basic healthcare, affordable
dental care. The global recession presents an opportunity
for the Bay Islands, a chance to gain long term from this
short term financial crisis. While US-only recessions
typically end in eight months, world recessions usually
last 18 months; so this crisis is likely to last until
story / editorial
/ local news
Whales Beached on Utilas
of the carcasses have been buried for as long as six months, to
be later brought out and reassembled for Natural History Museum
in Tegucigalpa. Another two were towed out to sea where the carcasses
became loose and drifted off. The other one was sunk near a Haliburton
wreck dive site. "The whale was originally weighted down with
cinder blocks, but would not sink because of all of the expanded
gases in it. Shots were fired into it in an attempt to release the
gases and help it to sink, but it took three days before it fell
to the bottom," wrote Heather Graham, of Utila Centre for Marine
One other theory about the reason for the stranding is that an earthquake
which occurred north of Utila on September 28 may have disoriented
or otherwise hurt the whales. "I am now 100% certain that ambient
pressure changes in the water above the epicenter of certain undersea
earthquakes cause disabling barotrauma in these deep divers,"
wrote Dave Williams, a whale expert who suspects that small air
sacs surrounding the inner ears of the fish were ruptured, disabling
their biosonar. Williams suspects that the rest of the pod is still
moving with currents towards the Gulf of Mexico and other members
of the pod may strand within the next few weeks. DNA samples taken
of the five members could help in verifying that theory.
five pilot whale cadavers at Utila's Airport Beach. (Photo: Alan Greensgill)
Five adult Short Finned Pilot whales washed out on the island's
New Airport beach and were found by locals on October 6. All cadavers,
four female and one male, were facing towards the sea. Large chunks
of what appeared to be regurgitated squid were on the beach around
them. The biggest mammal, a 4.7 meter long male, showed signs
of what could be sickness or injury. His body was filled with
white lesions, possibly a skin infection, virus or disease.
Scientists and volunteers from the Utila Center for Marine Ecology
took pictures of the whale which have since been sent off to some
of the leading marine mammal pathologists in Europe in hopes of
identifying the cause of death.
Other members of the local conservation community were also working
to identify possible reasons for the stranding. DNA and blubber
samples were taken by staff from the Utila Whale Shark Research
Project which will be tested later this month in the US. Staff
from the Iguana Station, the Whale Shark Oceanic Research Center
and the Environmental Office of the Municipality attempted to
complete a necropsy to identify if there had been any plausible
cause of death visible from the stomach contents. They have also
been working hard to ensure that the skeletons will be preserved
for educational purposes.
La Ceiba Rehabilitation Center is Helping Patients to Help
Themselves. Ten Bay Islanders Take advantage of the Treatment
CRILA clinic, located in a well-aged building across from the
Barrio Ingle cemetery, was opened in July 2005. "We began
with only one patient; now we are serving 40-50 a day,"
said Miguel Montoya, a co-founder of the nonprofit. Many of
the CRILA patients are victims of gun or white arms violence
with wounds that are also psychological.
A head nurse, three physical therapists and a psychologist together
with seven others work at the Barrio Ingles clinic. "We
have 16-month-olds and 92-year-olds receiving treatment,"
says Nancy Fleming, who volunteers as CRILA executive director.
Fleming is in charge of the
One of the La Ceiba residents who used to pay up to Lps. 2,000
per trip to rehabilitation centers in San Pedro and Tegucigalpa
is Asmin Cornejo. A single mother of four, working from home
and on a limited income, Asmin had to find treatment for Saida,
her 15-year-old daughter born with cerebral palsy, a brain disorder
that affects her motor and brain development. For the last 3
months Saida has been undergoing twice-a-week physical therapy
at CRILA, and pays Lps. 50 for each therapy session.
As the need is so great and facilities and doctors are limited,
each patient is limited to three sessions a week. With patients
offering between one and 50 Lempiras it is hard for the facility
to keep operating and the bulk cost is borne by donations. On
October 31, Crilaton will attempt to raise money for their new
facility through a third ever Crilaton. In 2006 Crilaton raised
$24,000 and in 2007 $150,000 was raised.
CRILA can be contacted via their website www.crila.org, or by
Cornejo holds the hand of her 15-year-old daughter Saida who
undergoes physical therapy at the CRILA clinic in La Ceiba.
In a society scarred by violence and marred in neglect, CRILA
(Integral Rehabilitation Center on Northern Coast) is a shining
example of how Hondurans help themselves recover from injuries.
"Don't give us your pity. Give us your support," is
the motto of the organization that originally began in 1998.
CRILA offers physical, occupational and psychological therapy,
as well as special education. The center offers something no
one else offers in La Ceiba or the entire northeast coast of
Honduras: a chance of physical and psychological rehabilitation
from diseases and trauma. Patients from as far as La Mosquitia,
Trujillo and even San Pedro Sula come for treatment here, and
ten patients from Bay Islands are currently undergoing therapy.
While Honduran Telethon, which funds nationwide rehabilitation
centers, has been held for 28 years, for the past 10 it has
promised La Ceiba a facility yet failed to deliver. Many Ceibenos
felt forgotten by the national Teleton and acted to create their
own rehabilitation center.
Mayor Candidate Gunned Down
Elkin Woods, internal elections candidate for Roatan Mayor,
was gunned down 50 meters from Royal Caribbean cruise ship
terminal. According to police, Woods died after being brought
to the hospital, suffering from one gunshot wound. The shooting
took place on a street at 4:30pm, on Saturday, October 25.
"We suspect his murder had nothing to do with politics,"
said Julio Benitez, Bay Islands National Police Chief. Woods
was a first time candidate for Mayor on the Liberal Party's
Marco Antonio Ramirez ticket, "Accion Social" movement.
Honduran internal party elections are due to take place on
Police suspect a family dispute as the reason for the murder
and one of the suspects is a family relative of Woods. Donaldo
Hernandez and Aurelio Rodrigez Welcome are suspects in the
murder and remain at large at the time of Bay Islands Voice
going to print.
story / editorial
for a Cause
Annual Conference in Copan Brings together Nonprofits from around
of the nonprofits attending the conference was Farm of the Child,
an orphanage and healthcare center in Trujillo. The program began
in 1993 and is run by Sisters of Saint Francis. "This is a
magic place where an angry, abused boy becomes a caring, big brother,"
said Cameo Schad, a teacher and social worker of the clinic.
attendees used the conference as an opportunity to network, brainstorm
and sometimes just bring to light their accomplishments. The annual
conference has become a fest for spreading the news about what all
the Honduran nonprofits are doing and focuses on three topics: education,
healthcare and community building. "There is no membership
fee. I want people to use Project Honduras as a forum, to come together
, to get ideas and to find contacts," said Marco Caceres, founder
of Project Honduras.
This year Project Honduras' phenomena even attracted a PhD candidate,
Sharon McLennan, working on a doctorate, "Discovering an unconventional
movement for change." Project Honduras' model could spread
to other countries. "People I come across from other [third
world] countries always tell me that they never came across this
type of a system. It's a shame, because it is so easy to emulate,"
It all began in November 1998 following Hurricane Mitch, when Project
Honduras website was launched. In 2000 the first "Conference
on Honduras," an extension of Project Honduras, was organized.
For three years it was held in the Italian Community Center on Capitol
Hill in Washington, DC attracting about 100 people each year. Few
attendees were Honduran and in 2003 the conference moved to Honduran
soil in Copan Ruinas.
Honduras is a growing place for volunteer tourism, a perfect place
for Americans to volunteers: poor, only two hours by flight from
the US, and with enough infrastructure to provide comfort for volunteers
accustomed to first world amenities.
of the conference tables and podium at the Copan Ruinas Municipality.
Medical brigades, church groups, university organizations, and
private individuals all took part in Copan's Conference on Honduras.
Around 120 people attended the sixth annual conference which filled
the mountain town from October 1 through October 4. The conference
was held at the Copan Ruinas Municipal Building in a meeting room
with 20 round tables and a floor covered with pine needles.
Roughly three quarters of the attendees were not Honduran, most
either from the US or Canada. Several nonprofits came to the Honduran
mountain town from the Bay Islands: Clinica Esperanza from Roatan,
Kids Matter International of Roatan and Ahmen from Utila, amongst