The Fractured Society
The tension between different groups has spilled onto the street What Can be Done?

June 1st, 2009
by Thomas Tomczyk

[private] v7-6-My Voice-zolitur

A simple, yet often forgotten fact is: “an excuse given by someone isn’t always the reason why they did something.” The posters and speeches of the protesters of May 6 and 7 are not the reasons for their discontent, they are just excuses. Political leaders in the department as well as the business community have failed to realize that, and continue to think that the solution to civil unrest can be done through economics.

While the signs on the protesters’ posters might say one thing, the true objectives are different. The leaders have been fooled into thinking that the true reasons for the unrests were high energy costs, foreign workers taking jobs, etc. In fact these were just excuses, a made-up list produced with no intent of scrutiny or a legal challenge.

While rioters gave their reasons for discontent as RECO, ZOLITUR, Galaxy ticket prices, foreign workers, minimum salary, corrupt politicians… None of these charges were ever brought to Fiscal’s office, no companies were named, much less shut down, for hiring more than 10% foreign workers, not paying minimum wage, etc. The protesters have plenty of access to legal channels, lawyers and Tegucigalpa power players, yet they have never followed a legal procedure to protect the worker rights.

Both sides in the riots accuse each other of conspiracies: rioters accuse RECO of conspiring in making their electric bills escalate higher and that ZOLITUR is a conspiracy of the rich. The other side has theories of conspiracy that “Tegucigalpa and Punta Cana (an unsuccessful bidder from Dominican Republic for RECO) are behind this.”

Unfortunately neither side of the conflict is either sophisticated or competent enough to launch and disguise a conspiracy of any sort. The actions of both sides are not results of conspiracies, but of incompetence of just about everyone involved.

The continually erupting civil unrest and polarization of the Bay Islands’ society has finally surpassed the intellectual capacity of Bay Islands leaders, most of whom have barely high school education and found themselves overwhelmed by what they can not fully understand, much less control.

The challenge of damage control is particularly complex: there is the weakness of the Honduran police and legal system, the political game played by Tegucigalpa in anticipation of the constitutional referendum scheduled for June 28, the finite capacity to understand ideological, cultural, and even religious polarization that has deeply divided people living on Roatan.

What should be understood is that protesters are not a monolithic group. They are in fact composed of several groups who share only some temporary goals and frustrations. While these groups might share the same tactics of building barricades and disturbing the peace, their long term goals are different.

The protests are led by about a dozen or so leaders, mostly schoolteachers, who are left leaning, with Marxist tendencies and strategies. The other group involved in this process is the unemployed or the economically desperate who see little to lose in the cruise ships pulling out or tourists disappearing. A third group is the restless youth. A few dozen ex-cons and ex-gang members form another group that provides a volatile element and can be seen taking drugs, drinking alcohol and generally abusing their power at the barricades. All these groups have at least the passive support of their families who venture out with helping arms when they need food, or are in jail.

Many countries in Latin American have made a shift to the left in the last decade. Honduras is bringing up the rear and might join Nicaragua, Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba as a place where the poor rule, and the leaders of the protests see themselves as the vanguard of just such developments on Roatan.

The one organization that should be and still has the potential of bringing Bay Islanders together has failed abysmally. ZOLITUR has alienated the poor and many small business owners frustrated by the organization’s lack of transparency, slowness of action and efficiency at capturing of funds. Over the course of the last two years, ZOLITUR became perceived as a bureaucratic and hypocritical monstrosity that produced censuses that no one heard about, took in money that no one later saw – unless in their paycheck, and hired foreigners to do its security.

Accusations of political and personal bias in ZOLITUR abound and the only tangible improvement that ZOLITUR has passed on is a garbage truck in Guanaja… an island on which most people move on boats, not trucks.

What ZOLITUR should do:

  1. Empowerment: Begin training local people to replace the mainland born ZOLITUR security officers.
  2. Investment: Spend the bulk of its security money on improving existing municipal police forces and tourist police.
  3. Protection: Purchase insurance and equip ZOLITUR offices with fire extinguishers. Back up all computer files and hold the information off site.
  4. Transparency: Disclose fully the entire ZOLITUR employee salary structure.
  5. Openness: Open all ZOLITUR meetings to the press
  6. Compassion: Create a fund to subsidize travel and electric bills of poor, ID holding Bay Islanders in emergencies.
  7. Preservation of Culture: Immediately contract PHD and MA candidates to gather ‘oral history’ records of the old Bay Islanders.


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