story / editorial
The Islands of the Swan
By Donald E. Keith
Islands Sister Archipelago
to Great Swan Island showing the U.S. Weather Service compound
as it was in 1973
Swan Islands, with their rocky shores, cliffs, sandy beaches,
coral reefs, marine biota, and islanders like the late Spencer
Bennett, hold a prominent place in the hearts of many individuals
who have spent time there.
Consisting of a chain of three small islands--Great Swan,
Little Swan, and Booby Cay-the Swan Islands are located in
the northwestern Caribbean about 95 miles off the coast of
mainland Honduras. Great Swan is just under two miles long
and a little more than a half-mile wide with a maximum elevation
of only about 68 feet. While Little Swan is only slightly
smaller than Great Swan, Booby Cay is about the size of a
football field and accessible at low tide by wading from Great
Swan. Coral reefs fringe the margins of the islands with the
best reef development occurring along the northern shores.
Though their name suggests it, no swans inhabit the islands.
It is reported that Captain Swan was sent to the Caribbean
by London merchants with a cargo to sell in 1680, but his
ship was attacked by pirates. The story goes that he was forced
to join the pirates and may have been one of the buccaneers
who roamed the islands. The islands were originally called
Islas de las Pozas by Columbus who visited them in 1502 but
were renamed after Captain Swan.
I was first introduced to the Swan Islands in 1972 by one
of my marine biology students who had been stationed on Great
Swan with the U.S. Weather Service and who thought the islands
would be a good place to take students to study marine biology.
Intrigued, two other professors and I hopped a ride on the
Cayman Airways DC-3 that made a bi-monthly trip from Grand
Cayman to Great Swan to bring mail and supplies to the weather
station personnel. After we touched down with hardly a bump
and disembarked, the sea air was warm and aromatic but humid.
A truck-load of islanders and the weather station operations
chief greeted us and helped transport our gear to the barracks--a
screened-in front porch with several tables. On the tables
were treasures collected by weather station personnel--queen
conchs, pieces of coral, and a number of large, green glass
balls with netting on them. These balls are used as floats
for fishing nets and apparently get detached and drift onto
A friendly islander, Spencer Bennett, showed us around the
compound. He was a long-time resident employed by the weather
service, knew every inch of the island and had a wealth of
knowledge about the biota. Mr. Bennett maintained the large
diesel generator which supplied the island's electricity.
The weather station had good facilities which included an
air-conditioned building with a galley, tables, and lounge,
along with a Chinese cook to prepare meals. A large concrete
building contained instrumentation and radio equipment used
for tracking hurricanes. The remains of this structure are
currently used by the Honduran military personnel who stay
on the island. Radar was housed in a tall dome near a facility
where weather balloons were launched. Other small buildings
housed diving equipment, desks used by faculty or students
and a ham radio.
In 1973, the Swan Islands' population consisted of five weather
station personnel and five islander families of Honduran and
Caymanian descent who lived in frame houses outside the compound
in a settlement they called Gliddentown. One evening, Spencer
invited the three professors to join the islanders at the
"Iggy Bar" for a lobster dinner which definitely
sounded more interesting than the station's mess-hall. When
we arrived, enormous lobsters were pulled out of large boiling
cans and placed on platters with bowls of melted butter and
piles of fried bananas.
Great Swan had lush pockets of coconut palms and fruit trees,
probably the last remains of the fruit plantations, as well
as an area of banana and mango trees. Bennett, who had an
orchard and a herd of cattle that roamed the island, taught
us much about the flora on the island, pointing out a Manchineel
tree, one of the most poisonous trees in the world. We were
warned to not stand under the tree during a rainstorm because
the milky-colored sap would raise blisters on your skin. I
spent much of my time studying the coral reefs and the abundant
shallow-water invertebrates and was able to identify 32 species
of crabs from the Swan Islands.
As for the original inhabitants of the islands, several Cayman
Islanders apparently occupied the islands in the middle 1800s.
According to Greg Robins, who has compiled historical tidbits
on the Swan Islands, Cayman Islander Samuel Parsons attempted
to claim the islands by putting goats on them. In his absence,
however, an American phosphate company moved in with miners
who ate the goats. In 1857, John White discovered that the
islands were rich in guano deposits (due to the brown boobie
bird population) and filed a claim with the U.S. State Department.
The islands then changed hands several times as rights were
transferred to several different American guano mining companies,
who left behind guano pits.
By around 1900 Alonzo Adams had claimed the Swan Islands and
conveyed his rights to the Swan Island Commercial Company,
who then leased part of Great Swan to the United Fruit Company
which planted but later abandoned thousands of coconut palms.
Hurricane Janet devastated the islands in 1955, wiping out
most of the coconut palms. A stone marker still existed during
my 1970's visit that read "Boundary of property leased
to United Fruit Company, Dec. 10, 1912."
The Swan Island Commercial Company provided weather information
for hurricanes from 1928 until 1932. Six years later in 1938,
the U.S. Weather Bureau established a part-time weather station
on Great Swan manned only during hurricane seasons until the
1940s when it became a year-round operation. Then in 1946
an aircraft radio-navigation beacon was installed and operated
by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) until 1971.
Clyde Hall, a weather service employee, was stationed on Great
Swan in the early 1960s, the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey
Ship Explorer came to take a census of the island occupants.
There were 28 people living on the island including 19 Caymanians,
3 Hondurans, and 6 U.S. citizens attached either to the Weather
Service or the FAA radio station. A 50,000 watt radio station
built at this time became known as "Radio Swan"
and broadcasted anti-Castro propaganda in Spanish. The station
was reported to be owned by a New York Firm, the Gibraltar
Steamship Company, which apparently did not operate steamships.
Most indications are that this was a CIA operation. The station
changed to Radio Americas near the end of 1961 with headquarters
in Miami, and continued broadcasting from Swan until 1968.
of the Swan Islands (Weigel, 1973)
after Radio Swan was built a group of university students
from Honduras came to protest the census. This event grew
into an annual affair for many years which protested the possession
of the islands by the U.S. In his entertaining article, "Swan
Island, Visitors Unwelcome," J. Craig, the highest-ranking
federal employee on the island in the 1960s, tells of a student
invasion while he was there. Being new to the islands and
"in charge," he was about to call Miami for advice
about a supposed "impending invasion" when he learned
that each year the students would get drunk, invade the island,
and after a big party on the dock would leave the next morning.
He put the word out that no one was to go near the dock for
24 hours. He heard small arms fire from the dock all night,
but no one was hurt and the students sailed home the next
morning. In one invasion the students raised a Honduran flag
on the island; in other cases invasions ended up in a big
party with the island personnel.
The dispute over the Swan Islands had been ongoing since Honduras
laid claim to them in the 1920s, but the issue was not pressed
until the 1960s. Honduras said that when Columbus stopped
to gather wood from the islands in 1502, that made the islands
part of the Spanish Colonial Empire, so Honduras was the rightful
heir. The U.S had claimed the islands based on the Guano Act
of 1856, which allowed U.S. citizens to apply for certificates
to collect guano on unclaimed islands to sell for fertilizer.
The U.S. said that American George White, who began commercially
exporting guano in 1858, had landed on Great Swan and claimed
the islands for the U.S. in 1857. This allowed Secretary of
State William Seward to claim the Swan Islands for the U.S.
1970 the federal judge ruled in favor of the U.S., which cleared
the way for the U.S. to transfer sovereignty of the islands
to Honduras as a gesture of goodwill. The treaty was signed
in 1971 and ratified by the U.S. Congress in 1972. A flag-transfer
ceremony was held on Great Swan on September 1 of that year.
The U.S. National Weather Service station on Great Swan, which
played a key role in forecasting and tracking hurricanes potentially
affecting Central America and the Gulf Coast, was allowed
to continue operating the weather station. Subsequent development
of weather satellites lessened the importance of the Swan
Island weather facility.
During a storm December 10, 1974, a Honduran fishing vessel
with 19 crewmen 20 miles off the coast of Great Swan received
damage to the hull of their vessel and started to sink. They
radioed the weather facility on Swan for help and two permanent
inhabitants of the island, Spencer Bennett and Randolph Moore,
took two outboard motor-boats, found the men floating in dugout
canoes, towed them to Great Swan. They were given the Gold
Metal Award from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
(NOAA) for risking their lives to save the 19 crewmen.
In 1980 things apparently changed on Great Swan. Reports are
that the CIA used the island as a training facility for Nicaraguan
contras. This must have been about the time that the National
Weather Service left. When Don Wilson, a weather service employee,
spent a four-week stay on Swan in 1993, he knew of only one
semi-permanent occupant at that time who came to look after
the cattle. There were 12 Honduran soldiers and a detachment
of about 35 U.S. Air National Guard. Mr. Wilson said a C-131
made regular trips to the island to rotate and provide support
for the personnel.
On the evening of October 26, 1998, the eye of Hurricane Mitch,
a category five hurricane with 180 mph winds, moved over the
Swan Islands. It devastated almost everything, destroying
the old Weather Service and Radio Americas facilities, except
a few cement structure left standing.
The most recent visit to Great Swan other than by the Honduran
military seems to have been a Radio Club stay in 2008. The
group spent five days on the island to transmit but did not
leave a permanent station. From their reports, the islands'
fruit trees have all disappeared. Also decimated were the
islands' population of white-banded hutias and a population
of unidentified large rodents resembling thin guinea pigs,
which were of great interest to mammalogists. These mammals
were wiped out by both Hurricane Janet and housecats which
escaped and became wild.
These feral cats, along with soldiers, are also thought to
have caused the disappearance of Swan Islands' abundant iguana
population. During my stay in the 1970s, iguanas between 4
and 5 feet were not an uncommon sight, though wounds from
the feral cats on those iguanas were also not uncommon. Craig
tells of a Scottish gentleman who visited the island in the
early 1960s representing National Geographic who was especially
interested in the large iguanas on the Swan Island. Though
iguanas had been reported to be 5 feet or more in length in
the Swan Islands, he had come to prove that iguanas did not
grow that large. When some of the personnel showed him pictures,
the National Geographic journalist accused them of trick photography.
As it turns out, when he came back from Little Swan he had
16 mm movies of iguanas estimated to be around 7 feet in length,
including a movie caught by Craig of the Scotsman running
from an iguana when he fell into a hole in the coral that
had been covered with vegetation. He broke his leg in two
places and was flown out the next day.
I am glad I did not see iguanas that large during my hikes
on Little Swan. But I'm saddened to know that the opportunity
to see Swan Islands' large iguanas has apparently vanished.
I had rather remember the island as it was when I walked its
shorelines. On one of those walks, I spotted the neck of a
green glass bottle partially protruding from the sand. As
I leaned down to pull it out of the sand, I could see that
it was a wine bottle with a piece of paper folded lengthwise
inside. I removed the cork and shook out the paper to see
a note written in Russian on a radiogram. Penned by a radio
operator on the fishing ship Robert Ache, it was basically
a "Happy New Year" greeting which wished the best
to all his comrades.
iguana on the rocks between Flowers Bay and Blowing Rock
story / editorial
/ local new s
______________back to top
Roatan Blame Game
by Thomas Tomczyk
Years of Nonexistent Social Policies and Rising Tensions
"Chickens Come Home to Roost"
burn fires at Coxen Hole's 'Triangulo'
islanders and foreigners have looked at Ladino migrants
with growing contempt, the Ladinos living on Roatan have
developed a growing sense of victimhood--a feeling that
both foreigners and rich islanders are exploiting them.
response to 2006 protests against an all islander-controlled
RECO board, the board broke down and gave in to mostly Spanish
patronato demands of keeping the fuel surcharge intact.
For over two years the inability to confront the issues
of RECO sustainability and to protect the company's rights
set a precedent and exposed the inability of islanders to
deal with pressing issues that were bound to hit a crisis
In the first October riots, local government officials empowered
and legitimized the mob by swearing practically randomly
chosen representatives in and treating them as a legitimately
representative group of citizens. The authorities should
have required the community to conduct emergency elections
for new patronato presidents and only then deal with such
The disturbances have brought to the surface and united
several groups: leftist teachers unable to pay their RECO
bill; poor, aspiring politicians looking to show their leadership
skills; aggressive youths and plain thugs. Images and sound
bytes of Mel Zelaya standing arm-in-arm with Hugo Chavez
and Daniel Ortega have resonated with people around Honduras.
The confrontation with "oppressors who exploit the
poor" message has struck a cord with a majority of
Hondurans. For those seeking to find an example of class
struggle and struggle against worker exploitation in Honduras,
Roatan offers the best example.
Amongst the island's 70,000 residents and investors there
are one billionaire, several dozen of millionaires and tens
of thousands of people living at or below poverty line.
All that on an island only 40 miles long and a mile-and-a-half
The disturbances on Roatan have received little or no coverage
from the mainland Honduras press. Thus, most mainland Hondurans
and many government officials do not fully understand the
gravity of the situation that the Bay Islands are facing.
The protesters feel that they are victorious and are already
speaking of other "targets" for future protests.
At this point in time, what is most sad and dangerous is
that no one has come out with a viable solution from this
crisis. There is no plan of action, other than pie in the
sky ideas of bringing private, armed security forces to
the island. Band-aid solutions, a piece of paper signed
by the president and not RECO, is delaying the inevitable-another
the blame game following the two October and November
riots, there has been plenty of finger pointing but little
understanding of the root causes of the civil discontent.
Let me clarify who are not the biggest culprits: it is
not the central government, not Punta Cana energy company,
not Hugo Chaves, not the world financial crisis. For riots,
social tensions and endangering the cruise ship season,
Roatanians have no one to blame, but themselves. It is
they who have created what the island is today and hold
a key to its future.
As long as everyone was making money, everything was great.
Only a few months ago pats on the backs of government
officials and dreams of a semi-autonomous Bay Islands
abounded. Simultaneously, however, cracks in the foundations
of the increasingly polarized island society were growing
wider and wider.
The roots of today's problems lie in greed and shortsightedness.
Greed of the developers bringing cheap, unskilled, uneducated
labor from Honduras' mainland and expecting them to disappear
once they finish their job or are fired. The shortsighted
of some government officials and developers who throw
their hands in the air lamenting the uncontrolled migration
from the mainland are maximizing their profits by causing
this migration themselves.
For years, blaming Spanish migrant workers has become
a favorite pastime in meetings of local government, business
community and foreigners. Many Ladinos have been portrayed
as the chief trash throwers, as resistant to speaking
English, and as uneducated robbers and thieves. The hard
to swallow fact is that a fair percentage of the island-born
population doesn't behave much different. For islanders
and many Americans, it has always been easier to scapegoat
the mainlanders than to look inside at one's own faults.
story / editorial
/ local news
Caceres Creates a Model for Coordinating Help to Undeveloped Countries.
Will Anyone follow suit?
Caceres is a rocket scientist who invented a new model for helping
and networking NGO help in countries in need. His "Project Honduras"
website serves as a model in coordinating private and individual help
in small, undeveloped countries. Born in Tegucigalpa, when he was
four he moved to the US. He studied history and political science
at University of Richmond. Marco has worked for the past 20 years
as an aerospace analyst for NASA, Lockheed, and Boeing, then worked
in Washington DC's Capitol Hill for seven years. "If I can do
it for satellites, I can do it for oranges in a poor country like
Honduras," says Marco. Whenever back in Honduras he was always
told that Honduran politics were "too complicated for him to
understand." To prove them wrong Marco launched a Project Honduras
website in 1998 and in 2000 launched a networking conference.
Do you see that part of these nonprofits are scams, or ego-driven,
money-making enterprises for their founders?
M.C.: You always will have a portion of people like that.
The network is one way of spreading information about someone that
is a problem. Brad Warren case [Roatan's Sandy Bay Orphanage] was
the only obvious case of this in the ten years I've been doing this.
You don't see a lot of people like that at the conference.
B.I.V.: Can you make a difference with limited resources?
M.C.: Financial capital is a great tool, but it shouldn't
be emphasized as the solution to problems of poor countries. Money
from World Bank, or IDB [International Development Bank] in tens
of millions of dollars, is funneled through a broken system called
the government. There are some things that the government does well,
but development isn't one of them. The trickle down approach where
you spend money up here and it eventually ends up with the poor
doesn't really work. We [USA] spent over three trillion dollars
worldwide in the last 50 years in development and it hasn't really
worked. Most of this money goes towards band-aid solutions, but
in terms of really empowering people it doesn't work very well.
Honduras still has 70-75% poverty, people living on a $1, $1.50
a day. 50% of Hondurans live as indigent poor; they live selling
Chicklets on a street corner, but they live barely. There have been
reductions in infant mortality, there have been some highways built,
businesses like Pizza Hut have come in. But the poor are still very
poor. So the idea I had was that there has to be something else
besides money to do development.
B.I.V.: With dozens of orphanage, water and healthcare projects,
are there project areas that are overlooked?
M.C.: There are problems like trade, immigration and sex
tourism that the government needs to address. A lot of these problems
are symptoms of other problems; and a lot of these problems would
not exist if there were more stable homes and stable communities.
People like to focus on the violence, the drugs, the sex. Nobody
seems to be willing to write about what we talk about at the conference:
education, water ... this is hard work.
B.I.V.: Is there interest in spreading the "Project
Honduras" model to other countries?
M.C.: I introduced this concept to the World Bank, but they
think differently out there. World Bank isn't necessarily a development
organization, it is a bank. The World Bank executives get promotions
based not on how successful their lending project is, but on how
much money they lend out. This makes me believe that this money
is being lent for the wrong purposes and it sometimes does more
harm than good. I've seen examples where money was introduced in
a community which had peace and stability and it created infighting.
The money destroyed a spirit of a community.
B.I.V.: Is there an example of this in Honduras?
M.C.: Back in the 1960s and 70s World Bank started lending
to cattle farmers so they could increase exports of meat to US.
That produced more pressure on the campesinos to give up their land.
That created a problem of urbanizations [campesinos moving to cities]
and deforestation. The campesinos started arming and talking about
taking their land back. There were problems and violence.
Islands VOICE: How does Project Honduras work?
Marco Caceres: Project Honduras is HC x ICT
capital times information and communication technology. You take
your human not financial capital, like energy, experience, enthusiasm,
contacts, talents, and you find a way to channel all that using
the beauty of the internet. It's a simple concept and we have
all the pieces together. The key is human interaction. There are
a lot of great websites with great esthetics that have a lot of
good information, but what they lack is a constant interaction
of people who are helping. (
) Education, healthcare and
community building are the three themes of the conference. If
you take care of this, everything else will solve itself. It sounds
simple, but it is actually true. Every year we take a slightly
different angle with these themes. One year we focused on clean
water, another year we focused on social tourism--what and how
we can attract more social tourism to Honduras?
B.I.V.: Why is it important to also have a conference each
M.C.: So people can share information. We have examples
of medical brigades doing vaccinations. They all think they are
doing a great work and they may be; but they also may be doing
more harm than good. You go to a village that has a road and you
vaccinate everyone against measles and mumps. There is no record
of that visit. The government doesn't track it, but we track it
as much as we can. Two weeks later another team comes to the same
village, and they'll give the same vaccines to the same kids.
Team members don't speak Spanish and the mothers think that more
medicine is better. If you give MMR (Mumps, Measles, Rubella)
vaccine more than once to a kid who is malnourished and with a
poor immune system, you are going to kill them. That's why Project
Honduras is important.
B.I.V.: Is there a growing trend in volunteer, social tourism
M.C.: Hurricane Mitch was a blessing in disguise for that.
It put Honduras on the map. People started coming here with their
churches, university groups. The word got around. Bigger missions
send 20-30-40 mission teams to Honduras a year. We're talking
thousands of mission teams coming to Honduras every year and you
see some of them here. Americans are very practical and they like
to solve problems. They think they can fix everything.
Why does Honduras attract such a stream of help groups?
M.C.: Honduras is a perfect model. It's not that big and
has a good proximity to US. It's like development 101, you want
to go to a really poor country really fast--Honduras is your place.
You can go to Mexico, Haiti is too scary, but what you want is
somewhere where you can go to a really nice restaurant and hotel
room. You've got to be hardcore to go to Haiti.
Resident Killed on East End
Tollefson, 58, a restaurant owner and six-year-resident American
of Roatan's Punta Blanca community has been killed. On November
13, an employee of the Windsong Café, a home based
restaurant owned by Tollefson, found the victim's home and
business ransacked. Tollefson's vehicle was found abandoned
in Diamond Rock on November 14 and two days later Tollefson's
body was found floating in Oak Ridge reef. The body showed
numerous gunshot wounds and knife cuts, showing brutality
unusual with robbery crimes. "Everybody is heartbroken.
He was a good friend to everyone," Carmen Byrd, 5-year
American of Roatan. Four men have been arrested as suspects
in the case.
the middle of the day, on Saturday, November 8, during a busiest
day-of-the-week at Roatan international airport day a private
plane landed on the runway. Its two pilots cleared customs
and the plane, a two-prop plane Swearingen SA226TN with a
US registration, was abandoned. In 2007 two planes of similar
size and in similar circumstances have been abandoned in Tegucigalpa
and San Pedro Sula International Airports. DGIC officials
suspect that the plane was used in transporting drugs and
case is being investigated.
story / editorial
for a Cause
Annual Conference in Copan Brings together Nonprofits from around
things looked like Roatan residents would have to spend another
night in the dark with middle-of-the-street bonfires providing the
only entertainment and illumination, good fortune smiled on the
islanders. As luck would have it, President Mel Zelaya was visiting
nearby Guanaja opening an airport terminal there. Congressman Hynds
and Governor Arlie Thompson sailed to Guanaja to lobby the president
to come to Roatan to resolve the crisis. President Zelaya stopped
by Roatan airport, met with the protesters and signed a five point
"Proposal for negotiation committee for the people of Roatan."
At 4:30pm, around 2-3 thousand people came to the rally where a
letter from the president was read out by Leonel Amaya, a teacher
and one of the protest leaders. Mayor Dale Jackson spoke to the
crowd expressing his support. At 5:15pm on November 6, 36 hours
after placing a chain around RECO gate the protesters removed the
chain. As RECO repairmen left to restore power to the island, a
carnival party in Los Fuertes celebrated the end of the strikes.
Because of the protests, three cruise ships had to be cancelled.
On November 5, Carnival Glory didn't disembark at Roatan and on
November 6, Veendam, a Holland America cruise ship, was turned away.
Even a day following the protests, Norwegian Jewel cruise ship decided
not to come to the island. In total five cruise ships were cancelled
this fall because of civil unrest on the island.
On November 6, a representative of Carnival Cruises met with business
leaders at Henry Morgan Resort in West Bay. The message from the
meeting was that if Roatan becomes blockaded by protesters and unsafe
to the cruise ships one more time, the cruise ships companies will
suspend visits to the island for the entire season.
The protests also resonated negatively with the real estate environment
of the island. Arnold Morris, an American landowner on Roatan called
Bay Islands Voice to say that two investors decided not to do business
with him because of the riots they found out about in Bay Islands
Voice. "You need to promote the island," said Morris,
who was extradited from Roatan to the US and convicted of fraud,
and who has been selling and buying real estate on Roatan since
At least 12 Roatan seamen missed their flights back to work in the
US, the Persian Gulf and Africa. Unable to cross the barricades,
they had to postpone their flights and risked losing their jobs.
"They tried to explain that they needed to leave but were turned
back by the protesters," said Faith Bodden about her husband
Rudolph Bodden, who works on a ship in the Gulf of Mexico.
In an effort to conduct a public dialogue, on November 13, a meeting
between protesters, government officials and islanders opposing
the strikes at Coral Cay. On one side of the room mostly Ladino
protesters sat, while other side of the room was occupied by islanders
Tempers flew. "I am for peace, but I am not agreeing with repression,"
said Mario Madrid, one of protest leaders and Colonia Santa Maria
patronato president. "The fact that 4,000 jobs are being lost
[on Roatan] is your fault," told the protesters at the meeting
Congressman Hynds. While many, likely 1,000-1,500 mostly construction
jobs were lost on the island in October and November, they were
lost due to drying end of Honduran bank credit lines and world financial
crisis. The protesters endd up walking out of the meting room.
Bay Islands Voice leaves this developing story at the time of going
to print on November 17.
riot police arrive at Roatan aiport
burn the doll at the end of the protests.
After arriving at an understanding with RECO and government officials,
Roatan protesters were discontent with how slow the promised financial
aid for low energy consumers from ZOLITUR funds and Honduran Congress
was going to arrive on the island. They wanted results now, not
sometime in the future.
Protesters didn't accept advice about legitimacy of RECO raising
rates given to them by patronato presidents, National Energy commission
nor local government officials. Protesters demanded that fuel
adjustment stay where it was for the past two-and-a-half years
- at Lps. 0.88 a kilowatt. Protest leaders see affordable energy
as a right of consumers guaranteed by their government.
On the evening of November 4, a growing group of protesters grew
to an angry crowd that a second time this fall closed the main
island road in Los Fuertes and placed a chain and lock around
the gate leading to the power plant.
Due to a technical problem on RECO's main line and the inability
of RECO repair crews to leave the facilities blocked by protesters,
at 11 am on November 5, the entire island found itself without
The number of protesters varied, but it was generally fewer barricades
and fewer people than during the October street protests. Instead
of around 500-600 people in front of RECO as in the October protests,
there were typically no more than 100-200 protesters. Powered
by a portable generator, protesters played a CD of "protest
music" by Los Guaraguao, a Venezuelan music group.
"This is only the beginning of our struggle. We will win
this fight, then we will fight other battles," said Roberto
Galvez, a construction manager who was paid $18 in Cayman Islands
and says that no construction company on Roatan will offer him
a decent salary. Statements that the protests would in the future
target Galaxy marine terminal and ZOLITUR offices were made. "The
streets are our congress," said Galvez.
Reactions from central government officials were mixed. Eighty
Cobra police officers, dressed in riot gear, arrived on the island
on the evening on November 5, then spent the night at the airport.
Minister Arcadia Gomez flew in from Tegucigalpa and assisted the
demonstrators in the dialogue with local authorities. Ricardo
Martinez, Honduras Tourism Minister made a statement on the radio
that the Roatan disturbances are an "internal matter of the
Bay Islanders." "That statement is embarrassing,"
commented Julio Galindo, CANATURH-BI president and ZOLITUR board
member,on the minister's statement.
In fact, mainland Honduras knew very little of the gravity of
the situation and threats to the country's tourist revenue. Not
a single Honduran media outlet sent photographers or reporters
to the island during either riot. La Prensa, published photos
of the 2006 street disturbances as current, that paled in scale
and comparison to what was happening on the streets.
"It's not even my responsibility, but the mayors. I shouldn't
even be here. I should be fishing," Congressman Hynds told
Bay Islands Voice during one of the discussions that government
officials held with the protest committee. "That's not my
responsibility," said Mayor Jackson as to why he did not
anticipate or prepare for the two Roatan riots.
The protesters were mad enough to make a life-size doll with letters
"Jerry Hynds" written on it, than hang it on the RECO
main gate. "He [Jerry Hynds] pays us Lps. 150 per day then
fires us without prestaciones," said Candida Reyes, a protester.
"Jerry Hynds has betrayed us. Dale Jackson told us that he
was confused by RECO, but that he is now with us," said Julio
Calix, one of the protesters and a Los Fuertes resident.