The pandemic in Roatán

By Lizz Gabriela Mejía

In September 2020, Lizz Gabriela Mejía wrote an article entitled ‘A Micronation for Sale in Roatán’ for Contra Corriente:  The article is longer than those we normally include in The Violence of development website, but contained within it is a section on the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the population of the Honduran island of Roatán. The article is enlightening as regards not only the effects of the pandemic on an island such as Roatán, but also the provision of public services such as health to small regions both out of and  during a time of pandemic and the over-dependence placed on a single industry, namely tourism.

We encourage our readers to read the whole article as given in the link above. We also recommend a visit to the website of Lizz Gabriela Mejía at:

The section on the effects of the pandemic on Roatán is given below. We are grateful to Lizz Gabriela Mejía for permission to reproduce her work here.  

Heavily dependent on tourism, the economy of the Bay Islands has been severely affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The decline in tourists and cruise ships has left many islanders without a steady income. According to statements to the media made by Menotti Maradiaga, president of the Honduran Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Federación de Cámaras de Comercio e Industrias de Honduras), the tourism sector is losing about L600 million (lempiras: equivalent to $25.2 million USD) in daily revenue, which is threatening the jobs of an estimated 150,000 workers.

Roatán businessman Rony Alemán told us that the quarantine hit his business and family hard. “The impact on us has been high. Unfortunately, the cruise ships aren’t coming here any more, which means that there is little need for tourist transportation services,” said Alemán, who has a transportation service for island vacationers. He also said that Roatán’s hotels have been mostly occupied by Hondurans living abroad returning for a vacation.

Even though Tourism Minister Nicole Marrder announced the re-opening of tourism in mid-August, Alemán says that the influx of tourists, mostly local Hondurans, has been minimal. He hopes that the Roatán-La Ceiba ferry service will start again soon, since air travel to the island is expensive and difficult, which means fewer tourists.

Like Alemán, many small and medium-sized businesses are suffering the consequences of the country’s total shutdown, a poorly planned decision that didn’t offer real solutions or relief to those who make a living from tourism.

On top of all this is the shaky condition of the Roatán Public Hospital, which in the early days of the public health crisis didn’t have the necessary biosafety supplies to care for patients and protect health care workers. Public health authorities didn’t take the situation seriously until Roatán’s first case of COVID-19 was confirmed. The hospital’s coronavirus unit has limited space and can only accommodate 15 to 20 patients. Another unit was set up later to accommodate 30 more patients.

Despite being home to over 50,000 people and the premier tourist destination in Honduras, Roatán lacks the hospital infrastructure needed to care for its population in the best of times, much less during a pandemic. One hospital and two health centres are the only medical facilities available to the general public. Those who can afford it go to the one private clinic on the island.