Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom
Roatan’s economic system is one of the principal reasons why it is such a pleasure to live here. The island economy has been based on a little known economic model know as distributism.

Distributism envisions an ideal society where property ownership is widespread and protected, and where means of production are owned by families not corporations. Distributism envisions a state that supports and maximizes family ownership of businesses and land.

Thomas Storck, a Catholic writer and philosopher, argues that “distributism seeks to subordinate economic activity to human life as a whole, to our spiritual life, our intellectual life, our family life.” That is a reality we should all aspire to.

While the Honduran state, nor our local government are far from supportive of empowering families in that manner, nevertheless a majority of Roatan’s business are family owned. Hybur, Serrano’s, Galaxy and Island Shipping are shining examples that families can sustain and grow business over generations empowering their employees and keeping wealth on the island. BIP, MaxCom and Eldon’s are examples how driven single individuals can out compete foreign corporations.

The island cooperatives and small family businesses have thrived on Roatan since 1800s. In fact, Roatan’s many industries are still decentralized, family owned and based on distributism system. The seafood packing industry is held by several island families since 1960s. The construction industry is managed by families and individuals or sometime partners.

Living on Roatan we interact with individuals, not corporations which is ever increasingly the case in US. For example, I know my Roatan doctor personally. I don’t choose her because I pay in some huge insurance scheme that limits my choices. I also know my carpenter, plasterer and my electrician, neither of whom work for a corporation. All these professionals stand behind the quality of their work. Interacting with them and knowing who they are enriches my life.

Biggest land holder on Roatan is another corporation with unclear owners.

The base of independent spirit of a community often lies in ability for that community to educate its own children with their own means and according to their own values. That is also the case with Roatan. The island’s educational roots from 1840s rest in private, family educational system. Even today the island has a healthy private education system that is not beyond the reach of the people with stable employment.

Distributism follows the principle that the means of production should not be held by the state stratocracy as it is in China, Cuba or Saudi Arabia. The economic power should not rest in the hands of a few individuals (plutocracy) as in today’s Mexico, United States, or Switzerland. Distributism also sees a major problem where the means of productions are held by corporations (corporatocracy) as it is in today’s Germany, Sweden and France.

By early XXI century most countries have become hybrid economic models where multiple types of economic players monopolize power. US, China, France have now become examples of places where monopoly of power is held not by families, but with the state, corporations and oligarchs.

Some smaller countries, like Honduras, have resisted this globalization trend. Living here we still have relative freedom to pursue family life, individual spiritual life and personal autonomy. These opportunities attracted people to Honduras and Roatan for the last 200 years. While our island is still very much an attractive, know your neighbor, grocer and shoemaker type of place, these values are gradually being eroded.

In fact, capitalism has been making inroads on the island for decades. Capitalism has arrived with international corporations: Banco Atlántida, Royal Caribbean and Diamonds International and 10 years ago RECO from a coop model became a corporation. Próspera is one of the newest arrivals to the island and its vague ownership and control structure combined with international capital will likely cause further disruption

Things have gradually become less personal here, more like in the US or the Honduran mainland. Roatan is gradually entering the de facto glorification of usury disguised as interest-rate loan contracts. There are several thousand corporations incorporated on Roatan. Most of them are land holding entities created so foreigners could hold a land in Honduras.

Many stores on Roatan have become in fact usurious loan institution offering quick access of products such as motorcycles, furniture, appliances or construction in exchange for years of high interest debt guaranteed by personal assets. Electra, MotoMundo and Banco Atlántida for example have been making quick loans that have pushed many into losing their property and land.

Thus, the island’s biggest landholder is not an individual or an island family like it has been since 1850s. The biggest land holder on Roatan is another corporation with unclear owners – Banco Atlántida. Honduras’ oldest bank has managed to acquire land holdings through predatory lending for developers and individual homeowners. Sometime around 2010 Roatan’s biggest landowner became a corporation whom we do not know who controls it and who owns it.

There are alternatives to usurious encroachment of international “banksters” to the island. Some island run family businesses offer low interest loans for employees so they could purchase their land and build their home in an affordable fashion. The exceptions are the banking coops like Cooperativa Isleña, Cooperativa Santos Guardiola and Cooperativa Ceibeña.

Roatan remains a thriving garden attracting people from around the world.

The breaking down of distributism system that has existed on Roatan for 200 years is not pleasant to see. One of the results of spreading of the Socialist or Capitalist systems is the breakdown of social contract. The workers don’t really care about the welfare of the business they work for, and the employers see their employees as a source that can be exploited and replaced when needed.

To give communism an acknowledgment, there are and have been for centuries enclaves of communism on Roatan. These “communist” enclaves here were and still are called families and family business. In fact, “communism” has been functioning on family scale on the island well before Carl Marx wrote down his famous 1875 slogan: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” had been already practiced on Roatan. There are family members working harder and sacrificing for family members that cannot pull their own load for one reason or another.

For now, at least Roatan remains a thriving garden attracting people from around the world and from all over Honduras. They sometime come here sometimes without full understanding why they like it so much. They know however what they left behind in US and Canada, failing social systems, overpowering government and neighborhoods dominated by impersonal and ever expanding corporations. For them Roatan offers a glimpse of hope.