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Roatan in a Pill by Thomas Tomczyk

Several Theme Parks Provide a Way to Learn about the Archipelagos' Culture, History and Nature

The air is filled with the sweet smell from the white flowers of Spiral Ginger. Pale pink brats of Mussaenda Philippica -Lady Flowers surround the tree's miniscule yellow flowers. Overhead a pair of soaring Scarlet Macaws land in the branches of a 300-year old La Ceiba tree. This is Gumbalimba, the biggest of the "Bay Islands in a pill" parks which has been marketed and likely, according to most definitions, has become an eco-tourist park.
Located on the western slopes of West Bay's Cohoon Ridge, the park's main attractions are the free flying birds and free roaming monkeys that interact with the visitors. Still, the reptiles are the quiet kings of the park: Green Iguanas, Spiny-Tailed Iguanas and Whiptail lizards bask in the sun amongst the thorns of cactus and in the foliage of trumpet trees.
A major element of the park is water conservation, water recycling and responsible water usage that contributes to recharging of the aquifers. "One thing I knew is that you can't have a park without water," said Marco Galindo, Gumalimba's founder, who drilled five deep water wells, then dammed a gully and created a three acre pond for thousands of tilapias and painted turtles. Each year the water pond reservoir serves as a resting place for migrating birds.
The entire idea of a nature reserve and park began for Galindo over 20 years ago. A National Geographic team working on Roatan mentioned how funds could be brought in to support a wildlife habitat on the island. This planted an idea in Galindo's mind, but he didn't act on it until 2003. "I regret not starting this 20 years ago," says Galindo, who purchased the 50 acres from Edrick Smith. The park, set in a 50 percent old-growth forest, has created several completely new habitats: a pond, a river creek and a cactus garden. A mature 300-year-old and 150 feet tall La Ceiba tree is its own habitat for hundreds of creatures. "We need to take advantage of what nature offers us on the island," says Galindo.
While for independent tourists the best times to visit are the quiet non-cruise ship days, on some cruise ship days the park's employee ranks swell from 100 to 150, making Gumbalimba the biggest tourist attraction in the Bay Islands. Most of the guides work on a Lps. 2,000 monthly retainer and, depending on the day, make $50 to $150 in tips.
The guides are constantly updating their knowledge of the island and environment, listening to lectures by visiting nature specialists or to old islanders reminiscing of days gone by. "We are here to teach locals how to appreciate nature," says Galindo. "They are starting to find out about and understand the animals and trees … humans tend to kill something that they don't understand."
The park's guides often end up showing not only birds and monkeys but sometimes things that most islanders take for granted, things that many tourists have never seen, such as cutting ants, termite or wee-wee nests and a banana plantation.
"People have heard about Jamaica and Caymans but not about Roatan. We need to maintain our edge, maintain our natural resources," said Galindo, who along with his six sons and daughters look after different elements of running the park.
While the park has grown based on the growth of Roatan as a cruise ship destination, it adds diversity to its attractions. The park's guided tour offers the opportunity to experience a vast variety of Roatan flora and fauna. Its 50 acre park site is home to over 200 species of orchids, 20 species of heliconias, dozens of different ferns and tropical flowers. There is a cactus garden and a palm tree nursery. The cable bridge overlooks a pond and a man-made 50 foot waterfall.

Tourists interact with a spider monkey.

"Its great to have such an intimate contact with monkeys," said April Larow, a tourist from New York who took a half day break from diving at a West Bay resort to come to the park. She poses for photographs with a spider monkey resting comfortably on her shoulders. While the couple decided to visit the park based on tripadvisor.com reviews, Gumbalimba has also received some great reviews in the American press, from mentions in New York Times to CNN.
The park serves as an animal refuge accepting animals that can still lead lives without being caged or endangering other animals. The "no caging" philosophy created a small "Noah's Ark" phenomenon where visitors constantly notice free-roaming animals living in fair harmony. "We are much more than a tourist attraction; we are a sanctuary trying to preserve species native to the island for future generations," said Galindo.
The island's biggest snakes, boas, live on and around the park but don't attack the birds and monkeys as often as they used to a few years ago. The introduction and proliferation of iguanas and agoutis to the park have likely created a better, more ample food source for the boas.
"People stealing the animals is my biggest problem," admits Galindo who only this year lost three macaws, three monkeys and a sloth to the poachers. "They also come and steal iguanas, shoot the agoutis and deer. […] I let my animals loose and their friendliness becomes their biggest enemy."
Every year Galindo likes to add a new attraction to the park. In 2008 it was "monkey town" and "monkey island"-habitats created exclusively for the Black Howlers, White Faced Cappuccino and Spider monkeys. The majority of these primates were brought to Gumbalimba as rescued animals. They roam freely, jump on shoulders of caretakers and visitors and spend nights high in the branches of oaks and magic-cow trees.
The plan for 2009 is to create thermal pools and mud baths. Galindo plans on bringing in Costa Rican volcanic mud and creating an environment where visitors could en masse cover themselves in mud, then soak in pools overlooking the entire park.

An islander tourist with two birds at the Gumbalimba park.
Coral Cay, Gumbalimba and Yubu Garifuna Experience all offer a way of spending an entire day learning about Bay Islands and taking part in more active tours.
The Yubu Garifuna Village was an idea of Susan Jensen, a South African business woman who has lived on Utila, Cayos Cochinos and Roatan since 1994. Inspired by Zulu theme villages in South Africa, Jensen envisioned Yubu as a living museum where Garifuna culture could be promoted and kept alive. "It's original, but not authentic," says Jensen.
With three partners: Averyl Morris, Barbara Perillo and Mike Sheppard, Jensen opened Yubu in October 2004 and focused on attracting the growing the cruise ship clientele. Three years later Yubu is in the black and tries to give back to the Garifuna community. Yubu has begun to give 10% of the business's profits [around $500] to the Punta Gorda's patronato. "We wanted to help the Garifuna to promote themselves," said Jensen who explained that around 20 Garifuna are able to support themselves from working at Yubu. According to Jensen the initial criticism about the project being outside of Punta Gorda and foreign owned has subsided. Jensen hopes that down the road more resorts will book the Garifuna Experience tours at the park, providing a more varied type of tourist visitor and better
Yubu has begun to give 10% of the businesses profits [around $500] to the Punta Gorda's patronato. "We wanted to help the Garifuna to promote themselves," said Jensen who explained that around 20 Garifuna are able to support themselves from working at Yubu. According to Jensen the initial criticism about the project being outside of Punta Gorda and foreign owned has subsided. Jensen hopes that down the road more resorts will book the Garifuna Experience tours, providing a more varied and informed type of tourist visitor.
While Gumbalimba struggled to fill its craftsman center, the Yubu was successful at attracting authentic Garifuna artisans: a jeweler, carver, basket weaver, a cassava bread cook and bracelet maker. The key is the proximity to Punta Gorda and the fact that Yubu doesn't charge them rent to display their craft.
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Speaking Freely in Honduras by Thomas Tomczyk
Freedom of Speech is only as Strong as People Prepared to Exercise it

Reporters Without Borders in its annual 2007 survey of freedom of the press ranks Honduras "satisfactory" and 87th out of 169 nations ranked. "Media freedom in Honduras is restricted by punitive defamation laws. These require journalists to reveal sources in certain cases. Journalists tend to exercise self-censorship to avoid offending the political or economic interests of media owners and there have been cases of journalists accepting bribes from officials. The level of violence against journalists is alarmingly high," reads the 2007 Reporters Without Borders country report.
What my mainland colleague failed to understand is that all these laws protecting free and journalistic expression don't actually ensure there will be a free expression of thoughts and ideas. Freedom of the press legal protection is a necessary but not necessarily sufficient condition to the existence of free press. While I am exercising my journalistic free expression on a monthly basis, my mainland colleagues may feel differently about their work.
I believe that "freedom of expression" is a self-evident, human right that stands above a legislating apparatus. The laws protecting free speech are not even necessary for free speech to exist in a society. For example, in the 1980s communist Poland I lived in, a small but vibrant underground press and underground radio existed which allowed for expression of thoughts and ideas not allowed in the country's laws. Today the internet circumvents borders and makes journalistic expression even less dependent on any given country's laws. If you want to write, video or photo document what is going on in Burma, Darfur, Cuba or La Mosquitia, you can easily do so online for the entire world to learn about.
Laws of countries can protect free, journalistic expression, but it is the publishers and working journalists who have to make it a reality. If there is no will on their part, no ability to practice their profession ethically or to follow reporting standards, then there will be no free press.

Recently I was discussing with a La Prensa reporter of 30 plus years the existence of freedom of the press in Honduras. She said there was no freedom. I told her there was. What I believe was happening was that we were defining "freedom of the press" differently. She defined it as a "reality of working on the Honduras mainland." I defined freedom as a "legal protection for journalists and publishers prepared to exercise their right."
The La Prensa journalist began to tell me about how the mainland press is dominated by three publishers fighting one another and looking after their own interest. While that may be accurate and sad, I believe it is only a result of society not holding the press accountable for the topics it covers and the manner in which it covers them.
Freedom of expression is not always comfortable, or easily achieved. On the pages of Bay Islands Voice, I have published letters to editor which I don't agree with. I have also published editorials by our editorial writers which I don't agree with and find personally hurtful. Even though I have the right not to publish them, I believe by exercising that right I would limit the ability of my writers and their free speech. In addition, by doing so I would lessen the value of the Bay Islands Voice as a vehicle of free speech.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) reads: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."
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Redefining Honduras

A Branding Company Produces a New Image and Catch Phrase Campaign to promote the Country

As far as Central America, Honduras came into the tourism branding market late, over a decade after Costa Rican and Belize had fully developed their identity and were pounding the tourists with images of toucans and snorkeling holidaymakers. Honduras began its branding efforts with a logo of a colorful rooster in 1999, and in 2003 President Maduro launched the "Honduras-one small country, three great worlds," branding campaign.
The current campaign claims to be different. "This is the first time we have had such developed research and studies," said Karla Malidonio, chief of purchasing at the Tourism Ministry, who has spent the past 11 years at the ministry. The "Honduras - Everything is here" campaign aims at reintroducing and growing Honduras as a tourist destination to the US and Canadian market. In English, the new campaign slogan sounds a bit different: "Honduras-the Central America you know, the country you'll love."
Contracted for the campaign is "Ypartnership," a marketing company based in Orlando which conducted polling of tourists and their perception about Honduras before producing images, slogans and photo shoots. Ypartnership has produced branding campaigns for Disney, Universal Studios, Mexico, and received $170,000 for the project originating from International Development Bank funds.

The three Honduran logos.

The familiar three squares of the "three different worlds," Honduras brand has been replaced by a logo of a parrot, a parrot-fish and a flower followed by a phrase: "Honduras- Everything is here." On June 18 at Coral Cay a new Honduran branding campaign was introduced to the public in the Bay Islands. "Its good to change the slogan from time to time," said Nerdo Bonilla, a Coxen Hole businessman. "We had a few campaigns before. We should pick one and develop it," said Julio Galindo, president of CANATURH- BI.
The transition from logo to logo has not been smooth. "Honduras Tips," the country's twice-yearly official guide, has continued to print on its cover both the Honduran Rooster logo and the three squares of the "three different worlds," through 2007.

A Clinic that Heals and Teaches
Clinica Esperanza Celebrates a Year of Work in a New Building

One or two doctors and between six to ten medical students are typically on staff. "We have so many volunteers we send them to other places, French Harbour Community clinic," said Stranges, who coordinates the daily workings of the clinic and gives care to its patients. "I feel like a mother hen." In 2007 110 volunteers, staying from seven days to six months, helped at the clinic to the total of 11,500 hours.
The transition to a sustainable medical program hasn't come easy for Clinica Esperanza, and the shadow of an imploded Polo Galindo Clinic in Punta Gorda hangs over privately run medical facilities on the island. "Three of four mission hospitals fail in the first four years," said Dr. Patrick Connell, a long-time clinic supporter. "We want the clinic to be here in 50 years." So before donors tire out, Stranges hopes to create an endowment large enough to support of the operation of the clinic. It costs a monthly $7,000 to sustain the clinic, but once the building is completed it will cost as much as $25,000 a month.
The clinic is expanding and investing in its future. Dr. Ivan Pineda, a podiatrist, is the latest of the specialists to join the clinic's eight paid staff. The 2,200 square foot facility is due to double in size when construction on the second floor birthing center is finished. Every week prenatal classes and diabetic classes are given. A newly acquired ultrasound machine will serve to educate local doctors in a course scheduled for January.
Medical volunteer Lauren Young tends to a eleven-year-old Brittany Lucas, as her mother watches on.
Clinica Esperanza, often called Hospital Nurse Peggy, has completed a year of operating at its own building in Sandy Bay. Other than the much smaller AKR clinic, Clinica Esperanza is the only medical facility west of Coxen Hole. "We have patients coming from Flowers Bay, as far as Oak Ridge," said nurse Peggy Stranges, founder of the clinic.
The facility is bustling with young medical students running room to room tending to patients coming for medical attention that rarely costs more than Lps. 50.
The clinic has become a place of training for dozens of medical students and doctors completing their residencies. Seven US medical schools have sent their students to the clinic and some of them receive a class credit for working at the clinic. "This is the first time I've learn with real patients," said Lauren Young, 23, a first-year medical student from University of Texas, Houston. Young came to Roatan for a five-week period to gain hands, practical medical knowledge.
Festival on the Beach
The Shrimp Festival at Marbella Beach Turns back Time

The logistics of setting up the event on a strip of sand was challenging at the least. Four generators provided electricity to the north shore beach site few islanders realized existed. Palapas were built, booths constructed, parking spaces designated. The Parrot Tree location used on two different occasions of the Shrimp Festival has filled with condominiums and became too small.
After the sun rose on June 16, around 3,120 tickets had been sold, 28 sponsors had participated and 18 exhibition booths had been set up. "This was the best festival so far," said Edwards. The profits from the festival go towards Parrot Tree Educational Fund, a nonprofit foundation whose goal is to raise money for school programs. The event generated $96,000 in revenue and donations and after expenses turned $41,000 in the black.
Elena Lopez, 16, from Punta Gorda received the title of the Beauty Queen of the Festival and $1,250 towards a high school education. Her school, the Primary of Punta Gorda, received $10,000 for building improvements. According to Edwards, $5,000 has to be given out for the best school-organized sports educational project and another $5,000 for the best school art project.
The fifth International Shrimp Festival is planned for June 13, 2009.
Elena Lopez from Punta Gorda, the winner of the beauty contest.
DJ Sambula, Sopa and the Survivors were some of the local bands that took part in the fourth International Shrimp Festival. The Rawstin duo from Dallas, Texas, and Bare Essentials from Jamaica were the international bands that kept the public hopping and rolling … until midnight of June 15.
Sunday is not a typical week day to have a party, but this mid-June day was different and felt more like a Saturday. Thousands of islanders altered their weekend plans and anticipated coming in to work late on Monday so they could attend the fourth International Shrimp Festival. "The idea was to have an event that would last all day and would attract the entire family," said Suyapa Edwards, organizer of the event.
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Out of Control Land Theft

While BI Police Focuses On Violent Crime, White Collar Crime Undermines Confidence in the Islands' Growth

Cartagena defends her work at the SGM cadastral office but also agrees that the Municipal land registration problem is substantial. Cartagena has substantial experience in cadastral work and Roatan land surveys in particular. Prior to her SGM posting Cartagena worked at a 2000 cadastral census with PMAIB for six years. Cartagena says that of the SGM 3,700 plot surveys, 1,200 plots have unresolved problems.
As many as 2,100 plots contained problems when she began working in SGM, but according to Cartagena, she was able to resolve around 900 of these "problem" land parcels. Cartagena believes that her work has not been entered in the cadastral system computer database. "I want for the cadastral office to be audited and my work," said Cartagena.
Cartagena gave particular examples of how the cadastral system is manipulated. "I have found errors, up to 4 acres discrepancy between the two databases. Also, people have realized that the owners of some properties are unknown, and they have taken advantage of it and produced claim for these properties," says Cartagena, who worked at the Santos Guardiola cadastral census in 2000.
In December a new SGM cadastral team, headed by Pedro Melendez, took over from Cartagena. "We are more competent than the previous [Santos Guardiola] cadastral team and we are making efforts at assuring the public that the cadastre in Santos Guardiola is better," said Melendez, SG cadastral director. Melendez, who previously worked 13 months at the Roatan Municipality in their cadastral department estimates that only 3% to 4% of land plats have problems.
Santos Guardiola is not alone in its struggle to assure land ownership. "I think the land problems on the west side [Roatan] are just as severe," said Annie Kulp, an island realtor with Roatan Realty office. An antiquated system of registering land documents is not coordinated with computerized cadastral mapping and vulnerable to tampering and falsification. "Books one through five are crumbling, disintegrating," said Anni Jones, an islander real estate agent with Roatan Realty, about Roatan property registries.
Some property registry books date back to the early 1900s. Lack of book preservation and lack of access to land registries have been a cause of conflict and insecurity. "When you touch them, they become powder," Kulp described the condition of the books. "The white collar crime has become very prevalent, especially the abuse of authority by local officials and real estate offenses," said Jones. "These crimes affect our personal security, mental wellbeing."
You don't have to tell that to a retired American couple, Greg and Cindy, who would not disclose their last name for fear of endangerment their security. The retired couple in their fifties has been in a legal battle over their property in Pollitilly Bight for the past three years. "Our life was threatened and we managed to get one of them [land grabbers] in jail. […] It's about theft, forgery and bad checks," said Cindy. The couple hired a bodyguard, lives in an "undisclosed location," and has reported their legal and criminal problems to the US State Department. "Even our lawyer doesn't know where we live," says Greg.
While the situation of property registration on Bay Islands is chaotic, there are some central government efforts to improve the land registration procedures and resolve conflicts. For several months INIPSA, a consulting agency, had a verification and integration process with property owners all over the island department. The cadastral reform in Honduras has seen most scrutiny in the Bay Islands, but the soaring property values has placed the system under stress.

One of the "problem parcels" on the north shore of SGM

Bay Islands, and especially Roatan and Santos Guardiola (SGM) Municipalities have been plagued with growing land dispute problems, and the crisis has escalated as property values soar. While Bay Islands police and ZOLITUR security commission has focused on keeping in check island's violent criminals, dealing white collar crimes, especially land thievery, has been left for later.
For years island property owners, realtors and investors have been left to their own devices in their struggles to assure their property rights. They are caught in a circle of corrupt officials, failed property registration and cadastral structure and inefficient legal system. Land disputes, land document falsifications, moving of fences and changing property lines, issuing false land titles and land invasions are just some of the ongoing and growing problems with land that islanders, foreign investors and realtors face. The people that benefit from the chaos at the land registry and cadastral offices are land pirates and lawyers.
Fausta Elwin, an island business woman from French Harbour, has been caught in a legal battle trying to keep two of her inherited properties in Santos Guardiola. When she came Oak Ridge to pay property taxes for her Fidler's Bight property she found that the five acre lot was divided amongst five people and registered in their names. "I was trembling when I found this out," says Elwin. "It's a property that was in my family for generations." Elwin's Port Royal property has been tied in another legal battle over land titles for years.
While islander families struggle to keep what is theirs, foreign and mainland investors are at the mercy of competent real estate brokers and lawyers. On Santos Guardiola, Cathy Thompson, a city council member, has pointed a finger at two people: Ernan Acosta, the current SGM vice-mayor, and Carmen Cartagena, a SGM cadastral director who worked at the SGM cadastral office until December 2007. "They took out the cadastral survey program onto their laptop and were changing the land boundaries at home, bringing it later to the municipal office," said Thompson, who believes that over a hundred properties in Santos Guardiola could have a boundary problem.
"There are many more land problems here than at Roatan Municipality," concurs vice-mayor Acosta about the cadastre problems. Due to personal conflicts at the Municipality, Acosta has been sidelined from performing his duties as vice-mayor of the first National Party administration in the SGM's history. Acosta hasn't attended SGM corporation meetings or been in his office for over a year. "I don't want to begin a confrontation," explains Acosta.

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