Two Strikes, Not Out
Island’s Cruise Ship Season Hangs in the Balance as Protesters Paralyze the Island Once Again

December 1st, 2008
by Thomas Tomczyk

[private]

Protesters burn the doll at the end of the protests.

Protesters 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 power.

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.

When 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 the 1990s.

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.

Cobra riot police arrive at Roatan airport

Cobra riot police arrive at Roatan airport

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 vocally

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. [/private]

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