“You don’t bring a knife to a gunfight,” goes the old saying. But that is exactly what the incumbent Bay Islands Chamber of Commerce president, Ana Svoboda, did. The founder of the Chamber, Rita Morris, wanted her position back and was leaving nothing to chance inviting not one, not four, but eight lawyers to the event. Svoboda brought none.
On the day of the elections, February 18, hours before the 9 a.m. scheduled election, full buses brought Rita supporters in from around the island.
“Last year there were 10 people here,” said Marco Galindo, about last year’s Chamber of Commerce elections at his Compa Galindo Church. “They even wanted me as a vocal as there weren’t enough people.” What a difference two years make.
Karl Stanley, one of the businesspeople present at the event who had also been given proxies from two other West End businesses (Waves of Art and Tyll’s Dive Shop), felt that he was disenfranchised. Stanley said that he was not allowed to register his two proxies to vote. He left before the voting began, not even casting his own vote for Stanley Submarines.
“These are shenanigans,” said Mary Monterroso, a business owner and vocal number three who was not up for re-election. “I had three people come up to me with proxies from businesses I already had.” Businesses that had not paid their dues for three to four years caught up and were allowed to vote. Dozens of businesses were denied the vote because they had not paid for the entire 2012 year.
The fiscal responsible for making sure that statues are followed during the elections wasn’t happy either: “It’s unfortunate that the general assembly showed no respect for the opines and council of FEDECAMERA [National Chamber of Commerce],” said Charles George. “These were dirty elections,” commented Dr. Noel Brito.
One of Morris’ lawyers heckled Ana Svoboda’s speech, arousing screams and clapping from Morris camp supporters. At a certain point all control was lost. “I am still the president, and you need to give respect to the government officials present here today,” Svoboda appealed to the unruly Morris supporters. Governor Shawn Hyde and Congressman Romeo Silvestri rolled their eyes and covered their faces with their hands, witnessing the pre-vote rigmarole. “It’s the most contentious elections I’ve ever seen,” said Morris’ supporter Clinton Everett.
“People can’t agree on how to vote so they will do whatsoever they want. It’s a bit like the APESCA elections,” commented Ron McNab about the Chamber’s elections, representing Safeway Maritime and standing in as Vocal number one.
The elections were a bit reminiscent of a “bare knuckles” election for high school class president. The announcer called only the first name of the winner of each vote cast: “Rita, Rita, Rita, Ana, Rita, Rita…”
“They [Svoboda’s supporters] made a mistake. They didn’t update the ‘legal representative’ list of businesses, which can be done up to five days before the deadline,” said lawyer Edith Diaz about the Svoboda camp’s strategy. But it is questionable whether all the firepower was necessary for Rita Morris to win. When the dust settled it was 117 votes cast for Rita (Morris), 26 votes cast for Ana (Svoboda), and one blank vote.
Unlike in the US and on Mainland Honduras where the organization is apolitical and represents the interests of local businesses, the Bay Islands Chamber of Commerce became a political institution four years ago with the creation of ZOLITUR-Bay Islands tax-free zone. The president of the Chamber of Commerce has voting rights equal to those of the minister of finance and eight others at ZOLITUR, an organization with a growing million dollar budget that approves million-dollar security and infrastructure projects around the Bay Islands. Being able to decide which projects are chosen and who will be awarded the bids is a powerful and political position indeed. [/private]