Roatan started out as a self-sufficient island around 5,000-7,000 BC. There were no industries to speak of and the Paya Indians grew their own food and had enough fish to never worry about hunger. The Mayan traders would sail in their canoes to bring them cacao beans and some metal tools to trade for dried fish, shells, and pottery.
Then in the 1580s the island become a hub of the ‘pillage industry.’ Hundreds of pirates lived here and careened their boats in preparation for raids on the Spanish ships carrying silver and goods from nearby Trujillo and Puerto Bello. That industry came crashing down in 1650, and the Paya were deported by the Spanish to Rio Dulce, leaving the island unpopulated for almost a century-and-a-half.
As slavery was abolished in the British Empire, hundreds of Cayman islanders came to Roatan to begin their lives anew. It took another 140 years of quiet, self-sustaining life before the coconut and banana fruit industry motivated islanders to plant thousands of trees and to sell the fruit to Standard Fruit company ships visiting the island. As that banana boom wound down in the 1960s, the shrimp and lobster industry arrived on Roatan. There were lucrative contracts with Red Lobster plenty of jobs and stressful shrimp-boat loans from Honduran banks to pay.
That fishing industry lasted until about the early 2010s when cheaper, farmed raised shrimp drove down the price of wild shrimp and the lobsters “got smaller” and harder to catch.
The tourism industry on the island began with dive resorts such as Anthony’s Key Resort and Coco View springing up in the 1970s. The sailing industry, created courtesy to Reagan era tax shelters, discovered the island in 1980s. Brick Bay Resort or CSY (Caribbean Sailing Yacht) was hopping and bopping with beautiful sailing vessels. The tax shelters went away and so did the sailboats.
Drug smuggling industry had discovered Roatan in early 1980’s.
The construction industry has been a growing employer on the island since the first bulldozer was shipped to the island in 1970s. There are now a dozen construction companies tearing down hills, filling in gullies, and constructing metal and cement buildings all over the island. The construction industry is perhaps the main driver of migration to the island form mainland Honduras. If you have a heart beat and two hands you can get a job on a Roatan construction site.
The drug smuggling industry had discovered Roatan in early 1980s, just as the Iran Contra cocaine smuggling operation was winding up to the deep state kabaal dispatched CIA Et al to move cocaine to the waterfront condos of Miami and street corners of south LA. The industry brought employment, money, addiction and violence to Roatan.
The smuggling spiked in 2009 right after the coup against president Mel Zelaya. While the ‘War on drugs’ continues, so do the smuggling operations that supply millions of US and Canadian cocaine addicts. At least Roatan’s international airport has gotten too busy to bring in drug planes as it did six or seven years ago.
After the first cruise ship visited Roatan on September 5, 1989, there was no turning back. The Ocean Spirit was the biggest cruise ship in the world: it was nearly 500 feet long, weighed 20,000 tons and brought in 360 passengers, a fraction of the 7,000 passenger behemoths that are bound for Roatan visits currently. On the horizon there is the possibility of a third cruise ship dock in Port Royal.
There is yet another industry player eyeing the island: all-inclusive hotels, much less focused on diving. Sandals, Wyndham, Hilton, and Inter Continental are all said to be exploring possibilities on the island and development is inevitable. This growth will likely require expansion of the Roatan’s international airport leading to additional filling in of the reef. Roatan appears to be, yet again, meeting the supply for others’ addictions at its own expense: European addiction to gold, American addiction to cocaine, and American addiction to cheap, all-you can-eat, holidaying.