Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Fact of Life

I tend to stay away from reporting the really bad stuff that happens on the island. For one thing, bad things can happen anywhere in the world and usually do. So, when someone hears of the same things happening on a small island it can spell disaster for its economy in so many ways.

Yes, we have little law enforcement here but, in general, there is not a lot of big crime. I mean, getting off a small island when the only transportation is a boat or plane makes it a little difficult. It has been done, but happily I can report that there are times when the people committing more than petty theft are caught, even white attempting to leave the island.

Of course the major crime here is the thieving of boats and engines, especially engines under 25 HP which can be easily carried off. Homes are occasionally broken into but, generally, the thieves here do this when the owner is away and no one is watching the premises. People trespass on other people's property to steal their mangoes, bananas, avocados, etc. and to hunt iguanas and watoosies (and, yes, I'm guessing at the spelling), a type of rabbit-like creature.

We have had two bank robberies in my 14 years where, which occurred more recently and since then security guards are present at the bank in town and seem to have deterred that activity. There have been a few people killed on the island and that is another area entirely. Most of the time a crime is committed by someone who has been drinking too much and gets in fight with another individual, in-family squabbles or now, unfortunately, drug related crimes.

And this brings me to my topic. Crime is every where, a fact of life. We are not unusual except for the fact that on an isolated island law enforcement is difficult at best.

Recently, another blogger sent out, via an e-mail a copy of a cable from or to, I could not verify which, possibly addressed to or from: DEPT. FOR INL/LP, DRL/PHD, AND WHA/CEN. This was one of the documents released in Wekileaks. It appears to have been prepared in 2003 and reads as follows:


¶1. (U) SUMMARY: The Honduran Bay Islands of Roatan, Utila, and Guanaja are well known narcotrafficking transit points and home to countless other illicit activities. Due to the large tourism industry on Roatan and Utila, the GOH has chosen to focus its limited counternarcotics resources primarily on these two islands. Guanaja, however, has not received the much needed resources to combat its ever-growing narcotics problem. The least developed of the Bay Islands, Guanaja's limited infrastructure and services have served to be a deterrent to tourism. Additionally, unemployment is widespread, creating a safe haven on Guanaja for narcotraffickers and organized crime families. Drug abuse among the 6,000 islanders has greatly increased and all indications suggest that this trend will continue.

¶2. (U) The Honduran Bay Islands of Roatan, Utila, and Guanaja are well known narcotrafficking transit points and home to countless other illicit activities. Roughly 85 percent of Guanaja's adult population uses crack, cocaine, or marijuana according to a recent El Heraldo newspaper report. Casual drug use can be observed openly in public, and even children as young as 8 years old are known to be regular drug users. The widespread usage of illegal substances may be due to the high unemployment rate on the island. Tourism also remains depressed and the fishing industry is not at a sustainable level for many families to subsist on. Thus, some people have found employment with the narcotraffickers and are often paid in the form of drugs rather than cash, creating a cycle of drug abuse.

¶3. (U) Honduras is not usually the ultimate destination for narcotrafficking transactions, but rather a transit point. Much of the product that transits through Guanaja originates in South America and is destined for the Cayman Islands and the United States. The most common means of transportation in the area of Guanaja is maritime, although planes are also used. Drug runners use 200 horsepower boats that easily surpass the 100 horsepower boats used by the Honduran police and Navy. It is common for abandoned packages and boats to be found near Guanaja when the traffickers are alerted of the presence of authorities. This in turn makes prosecution highly difficult and unlikely.

¶4. (U) The narcotraffickers are protected by the inhabitants of Guanaja through methods of terror and assault. Also, the under supported police authorities of the island do not have the manpower to patrol, capture, and prosecute known traffickers. According to the Director of National Police, Coralia Rivera, the effectiveness of the police force is minimized because they need boats, planes, and helicopters to enforce narcotrafficking laws, and these resources are just not available.

¶5. (SBU) COMMENT: In a recent letter to the Ambassador, the Mayor of Guanaja pleaded for some form of direct U.S. counternarcotics assistance to combat the presence of drug traffickers. There are recent reports that a fed-up local population, acting in a vigilante-style campaign, attacked and destroyed the house of a well known drug trafficker. Until more resources become available to law enforcement agencies in Guanaja, the island will remain very vulnerable to the corruption of crime bosses and influential narcotraffickers. Furthermore, much of its population will continue to support such activities both through the use of narcotics and the protection they provide to the traffickers. This problem is not just that of a small island of 6,000 inhabitants, but indicative of the larger problem Honduras faces as more and more of its territory is compromised by the drug trade. Post believes that additional USG counternarcotics resources should be directed at areas like Guanaja in order to fight the larger war on drugs.

For the most part this report is true and is a hard, disturbing fact concerning the Bay Islands. Guanaja was the main target in this article because 1) it is not the popular tourist spot that Roatan is, 2) it has no roads and little infrastructure to contain this problem and 3) the government of the Mainland does not, in general, concern itself about what goes on out there. We do not generate the tax revenue Roatan does and because the difficulty of reaching the island and the lack of funds for law enforcement, the Government of Honduras just does not want to go to the expense to assist the islanders.

In the first Article it states: [on Guanaja] limited infrastructure and services have served to be a deterrent to tourism. And, there it is in a nutshell. Tourism! No tax revenue, i.e., no help to the island. Guanaja had a good tourism business back in the 80's. It had two main dive resorts which were, for the most part, filled to capacity most of the year. What happened? Well, Hurricane Mitch was this island's downfall. It was such a devastating storm, sitting on the island for an unprecedented 3 days, that the rebuilding was too much for the islanders to bounce back from. Some people took out loans from the government and took in donations from other countries to rebuild their businesses but, in many cases, did not use the money for its intended purpose. The businesses did minimal repairs and never returned to their past glory. That was the beginning of the end. With hotels that were offering less than desirable service, tourism fell off. Of course the reporting that people should stay away from the island because of the devastation caused by the hurricane hung with the island long after repairs were made and life was returning to normal. Then we had the big to do with ex-President Mel Zelaya. This was the icing on the cake as foreign governments warned people to stay away from Honduras.

The island has little connection with the mainland and his ouster did not affect us one bit except for the news flashes and the scare tactics of various governments telling people to stay away. Business went on as usual here albeit with less tourists appearing on our shores.

Then, there is the fishing industry which has hit on very, very hard times. This along with tourism was the backbone of the economy and with fishing drying up and tourists no longer flocking to the island, it was a perfect chance for narcotraffickers to step in. And come they did.

Of course, the above cable is erroneous in many ways. First, the population of the island is not 6,000 people; it is more like 13,000 to 15,000 with approximately 5,000 living on the Cay of Bonacca. To state that 85% of the population uses drugs is, I believe, is a stretch for any populated area. We do have a problem of which there is no doubt and it is out of control. Why? Because nothing is really being done. The drug families here are just that, families and since most all islanders in one way or another are related, few will turn in their relatives!

The statement: El Heraldo newspaper report. Casual drug use can be observed openly in public, and even children as young as 8 years old are known to be regular drug users. I would like to know where El Heraldo is getting its reports as the only time a reporter from any mainland newspaper comes here is during a campaign run by a politician or if something newsworthy happens like the shutting down of the airport by protesters years ago. Few if any reporters ever come to report on our annual Conch Festival or Fishing Tournament. So, for people to observed using casual drugs openly in the public, I would ask who is reporting that? Not that it really makes any difference who reports it as, yes, we have individuals that use marijuana in the open but not on the main streets nor in the presence of any law enforcement. For the most part, one does not see people walking down the street or in the open puffing on a joint. It is not unlike other parts of the world where drugs are used in public places - no one does it "out in the open" but it does occur in certain establishments where adults congregate. Crack cocaine is used but I have never witnessed anyone using it in any public areas. And, crack cocaine is a terrible problem with our young people.

And, as throughout the world, young children may be using drugs here as they do in other cities of other countries. By in large, however, I do not believe that many of our young children use drugs. Of course, it depends upon what you classify as "young". If you are speaking of teenagers, yes, they use drugs here the same as they do in the U.S. and Europe.

Articles 3 and 4 are correct - it is a problem here and one that is more than difficult to deal with.

According to Article 5, I can report that here have been recent steps to do something about the problem on the island, but it is not necessarily to save the island from itself. It is simply to stop the disbursing of the drugs to the Cayman Island and the U.S. I am not fooled into thinking that anyone is doing this for the good of the people here. Money is being made by the individuals here that control the drugs and they do not care enough about their fellow Hondurans to warrant stopping the flow of drugs onto the island and thus stoppingthe cash coming into their pockets.

The number of nightly flights per month into the island to deliver drugs has decreased, but they still come. Last Friday evening, during a thunder and lightning storm, a plane came into the island. We all know when a plane is flying above the island late at night, and especially in adverse weather conditions, it can mean only one thing - a drug delivery. There is a new station built at the airport which is to house, from what I am told, drug agency personnel and/or military to stem the influx of drugs. Of course, then I would ask how they are going to deal with the corruption and payoffs which are most likely to occur? People bringing in the drugs, handling the drugs and dispersing the drugs surely don't want to lose their comfort money and know that corruption is King in Honduras, as in many underdeveloped countries!

The fact that locals are involved as hired help cannot be disputed - but it is the same on the mainland and nothing is being accomplished there to stop the flow of drugs, or, what little is done is not making a dent in the trafficking.

Drugs are a fact of life, a miserable one at that, but it happens the world over. For the most part our island is a wonderful place for divers and snorkelers to come and enjoy their sport. As in any large city anywhere in the world - you don't go into areas you are not familiar with, you don't deal in the purchase of drugs unless you want to take the chance on getting caught and or get into a situation that would be life-threatening. The resorts here are distanced from the drugs and safe places to enjoy one's vacation.

I wholeheartedly agree that drugs on the island, i.e., it being a jumping off point, are a problem and I would love to see the whole enterprise shut down. But, as in Europe and the U.S. where they have every means available to them, it is still a major problem.

Life on the island is always hard and in the past it was less difficult with no drugs. Now, with this problem and the misery and pain and lawlessness drugs bring, it is making life less than idealistic.....but where can you go in the world and not have similar problems? I am not excusing the island and the people involved in this dirty business which causes nothing but pain, but I am realistic enough to know it won't go away overnight. We need help for our young people, better educational programs to keep them away from this plight and assistance for those who are hooked.

My wish would be for drugs to be banished from the island, but then again, I want long-lasting good health, a boat without mechanical failures, an electric company that can deliver 24/7 and clean water!


  1. As much as we enjoy your descriptions of a bucolic island life, the substance of this post, though sad is in a way, is also, in a way, refreshing. Mind you, we'd miss the enchanting tales of your day to day life on your island, but this dose of reality is rather grounding.

    Even before reading this we had thought about how to ask about security. One might assume that you do not leave your property unattended whilst abroad, but we never read about that since we've been following your blog. We suppose then, that what we would like to learn, is what security issues are specifically attendant to residency on Guanaja?

    Jeanette and Myron

  2. Ahh Jeanette & Myron:

    I have mentioned, periodically, in my Blog the pitfalls of not having someone watching your property while you are absent and the necessity to someone being here. However, these may have been older blogs that you have not checked.

    It is an absolute MUST that one has someone living on the property when absent. For short absences we have our worker stay here. We need someone more experienced for longer periods of time because we have solar, boats, a generator and a cistern that needs someone who understands their workings in case of an emergency.

    Mainly, we need someone to watch that no one breaks into our house and steals everything that is not bolted down - and, even at that, they will steal it! Rarely do my husband and I travel together over long periods of time. We do go to the Coast but since he does not like to leave the island, that is only a once-a-year occasion to renew our residency. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that you have someone on your property when you are gone and, I'm afraid, it should not be a Honduran unless you have known them and trust them for years! This is a hard fact of life here and something that cannot be dismissed.

    People here have adjusted to this necessity and most of us have an individual or individuals that we trust to leave our home in their care.