Fire & The Truth on Little French Key
Which is worse? An unscrupulous business, or an unscrupulous government?
SUMMARY OF HISTORIC CONFLICT
By way of a short historical overview, Little French Key (LFK) has long been involved with civil claims for allegedly building without proper permits or for violations against the local marine reserve on which it operates.
For years, these legal cases have remained where they belong, inside a courtroom. But in recent days, local public officials have grown frustrated (by their admission) with the political process. As a result, public officials made the decision to bring these legal matters out from the courtroom and into the public domain.
Local governmental and quasi-governmental agencies took to social media recently with a series of public notices asking the general public to stay away from Little French Key. These notices lead to unproductive online rhetoric which divided many and angered others. A few days after the public notices, at least two fires erupted on Little French Key.
THE BUILD UP
A few weeks ago, a coordinated effort by local officials and branches of local government released a series of "public communicators" urging travelers to refrain from visiting Little French Key (LFK).
The second communicator of these notices "Motivated the national and foreign population not to support or visit" Little French Key.
In short, the communicators encouraged travelers (unrelated to LFK's civil matters) not to visit what is arguably the most popular tourist destination in Honduras. Although the notices were not signed by a public official (an attorney signed one), these public notices were legitimate and first appeared on known social media profiles managed by local governmental offices.
These communicators cited a "general frustration" by these local officials with court rulings on the mainland in civil cases related to Little French Key. The communicators further maintained that because of the "unfavorable legal outcome" with the courts, that a "public notice" was needed to "alert others" about Little French Key's civil cases.
Unfortunately, the communicators released by public officials were void of any supporting documentation which could provide greater insight into the alleged lack of permitting, or any ecological reports which might cite specific environmental violations. The communicators did not include the documentation needed to also learn more about the alleged animal doping practices.
Social Media Propaganda
Predictably, social media influencers almost immediately began to change the narrative from what was released by public officials to stories about animal cruelty and other poor environmental practices which were never mentioned in the public notices. Most social media dialogue quickly became unproductive and ended with insults and misinformation.
Sadly, members of LFK engaged in much of the social media rhetoric and in some cases fueled the negative publicity which had been brought against them.
It is uncharacteristic for governmental agencies to issue public "boycotts" via social media, especially against a privately held organization. Unfortunately, questionable practices like these are part of the legal and political landscape on Roatan and in Honduras at large. We are a 3rd world country after all.
The communicators were first released in Spanish, which left many of our english speaking guest and residents out of the loop. For this reason, we've taken a moment to translate the public notices here. Click below for both English and Spanish translations.
Sequence of Events
WHAT WE KNOW
On Sunday, at approximately 9 am, two fires were reported on Little French Key. The first fire originated in the kitchen of the main building and a second fire was born in the generator room. These fires lasted for approximately 3 hours. It is unclear why the kitchen was being used, as Sunday's are light days days for LFK and the kitchen doesn't open until later in the day.
Early reports indicate the fires consumed some 60% of the infrastructure on LFK. An estimated seven structures destroyed.
Although an investigation has not been completed, several media organizations laid claim that the source of the fires could be traced back to a single gas tank which had exploded in the main kitchen. We were not able to confirm or deny these claims.
The source and the cause of the fires are unknown. Ironically, the issuers of the public notice found themselves on Little French Key moments after the fire to gauge the environmental impact of the fires. They issued a public statement stating that the animals would remain on LFK. When given a chance, the same representatives reiterated their message verbally, that LFK had been operating without the proper permits.
Loss of Life
No human fatalities
Two Birds perished
A Rabbit perished
There were no human fatalities.
Two birds and a rabbit were reported dead. All other animals have been accounted for, and there have been no injuries to report. One Jaguar escaped to the main island of Roatan during the commotion but was soon reunited with its handler without any issues.
On Tuesday, following the fires, several armed law enforcement agents arrived on Little French Key. Early reports claim the police force was there in numbers to investigate Little French Key. Further reports have alluded that the police force was there to evaluate further the well being of the animals currently housed on Little French Key.
In the interim, friends of Little French Key have come forward with first-hand testimonies affirming that the animals they encountered while on LFK were fully vibrant and active.
One observer stated that "animals cannot act," they cannot pretend to be "happy and energetic" when they are sedated. "When animals are sedated, they act sedated, they don't pretend to be joyful, said an observer." These remarks are a stark contrast to other bombastic claims of animal cruelty which we have not been able to verify or confirm.
SHOW OF FORCE
A Police roadblock was set up Monday morning. A naval patrol boat was also stationed nearby, and it kept a watchful eye on patrons commuting to and from LFK.
Both the roadblock and the naval patrol remained in place for most of the day the Monday following the incident. On Tuesday morning the roadblocks continued, and this time, police patrols were stopping incoming traffic including some LFK staff who were looking to get across the roadblock by foot.
Eyewitness reports noted that there were five or more police vehicles with an estimated 40 to 50 police officers and military personnel in front of the main gates, all fully armed.
As approved patrons crossed over to LFK, the naval boat and a boat belonging to the Roatan Marine Park were both tied up to the pier on LFK. The key was reportedly manned by armed guards and officials documenting the scene and photographing the little key from all angles.
Government officials observed as one of LFK's vets administered pain meds to a sweet monkey who suffered burns to her hands during the fire.
IN CAPTIVITY VS IN THE WILD
Most of the animals on LFK were born in captivity. Other animals were rescued. Neither is accustomed to a wild habitat such as a jungle. If these animals were to be released into the wild, they would almost certainly perish.
The animals on LFK interact with humans on a daily basis. This may cause problems for the population at large if these animals are released into the wild.
Each cat consumes an average of 20 lbs of white meat (Chicken) each day, no red meat. It is unlikely that local government agencies have the budgets to provide for these meals adequately.
Little French Key keeps a full-time veterinary on staff around the clock. Further, there are many caretakers. It is estimated that there is a 3 to 1 ration between caretakers and animals. The medical and payroll budgets alone would make it difficult for any other local organization to care for these animals adequately.
LAW AND ORDER
Lions, tigers, and peacocks are not considered "Wildlife" in Honduras. These species are not included in the forestal law. At its core, forest law does not regulate or prohibit the ownership and care of wild animals that are not native to the Honduran Fauna & Flora.
One of the marks of a third world democracy lies in how they manage and respond to conflict and Honduras is no different. In a mature democracy, the government would be lawful in its approach, and it would insist that these types of conflicts be handled in a court of law.
The decision to take this case public and use the government's social media platforms to boycott a private enterprise leaves much to be desired to say the least.
Lack of Leadership
Rule of Law
Not Public Opinion
LEADERSHIP & DiPLOMACY
There is no doubt that lack of leadership is central to this case. On the part of LFK, we see a failed opportunity to be an industry leader. An establishment like LKF should be compliant and transparent. They should lead the way in eco-friendly initiatives, marine conservation, and tourism practices.
On the part of our local authorities, they should not engage in combative social media tactics. They should refrain from illegal searches of private property, and they should insist on carrying out legal matters in a court of law, not in the court of public opinion.
Images of the Incident
1st Legal Notice (English)
Municipality of Roatan
The undersigned municipal secretary of the municipality of Roatán to the population, in general, makes it known, this following statement by the honorable municipal corporation; In a plenary session held on Friday, August 10, 2018, the decision was made to present the current situation and our position regarding the actions of the company Little French Key, S.A. in this Municipality.
In the municipal archives, there are a series of complaints against the aforementioned mercantile society that date back to 2010 and were received by previous municipal administrations, the current administration took the firm determination to enforce the law to safeguard and protect the reefs.
For us it is cause for amazement and recovery that the justice operators have hindered our actions in defense of the environment, especially we refer to the order of a judge of letters knowing in action of amparo. For a better understanding of the seriousness of these facts, it is enough to mention the actions of the trading company Little French Key S.A., do not stand up the least legal analysis. Since they do not have an environmental license, they do not have authorization from the merchant marine that is necessary for the construction of docks and structures on the seabed and the buildings made precisely on the reef do not have a construction permit that must be approved by the department. of urban planning, they do not even have the business operation permit; all of them were never presented or were denied because they did not meet the requirements.
Being obvious the illegality of their actions, it is possible to ask how is it possible that the transgressor through, an action of amparo, was able to suspend the actions of the authority in defense of the environment? We have come to the conclusion that something is seriously failing within the judicial system. All the irresponsible and illegal acts committed by the legal representative of the company in question have already been reported and the evidence has been presented. It is difficult as a corporation to demand that the laws be respected without the support of the different institutions and authorities that must demand their compliance.
We reiterate to the island population and foreigners who live with us respecting our laws, that our commitment to ensure legal security is firm, our actions have been and will continue to be in compliance with the law.
Given in the port city of Roatán, on the 15th day of the month of August of the year 2018.
Myril Yannell Brooks Municipal Secretary
1st Legal Notice (Spanish)
Municipalidad de Roatan
La suscrita secretaria municipal de la municipalidad de Roatán a la población en general hace saber, es siguiente comunicado por parte de la honorable corporación municipal; que en sesión de corporación en pleno celebrada el día viernes 10 de agosto 2018, se tomo la decisión de exponer ante la opinión publica la situación actual y nuestra posición respeto a las actuaciones de la sociedad mercantil Little French Key, S.A. en este Municipio.
En los archivos municipales constan un serie de denuncias en contra de la referida sociedad mercantil que datan desde el año 2010 y que fueron recibidas por administraciones municipales previas, la presente administración tomo la firme determinación de hacer que se respetase la ley para salvaguardar y proteger los arrecifes.
Para nosotros es motivo de asombro y recuperación que los operadores de justicia hayan obstaculizado nuestras acciones en defensa del medio ambiente, en especial nos referimos a la orden de un juez de letras conociendo en acción de amparo. Para la mejor comprensión de la gravedad de estos hechos basta y sobra con mencionar que las andanzas de la sociedad mercantil Little French Key S.A., no resisten el menor analisis legal. Puesto que carecen de licencia ambiental, no tienen autorización de marina mercante que es preciso para la construcción de muelles y estructuras sobre lecho marino y las edificaciones realizadas precisamente se encuentran sobre el arrecife, no cuentan con permiso de construcción que debe ser aprobado por el departamento de urbanismo, ni siquiera tienen el permiso de operación de negocio; todos ellos o nunca fueron presentados o les fueron denegados por no cumplir requisitos.
Siendo notario la ilegalidad de sus acciones cabe preguntarse como es posible que el transgresor mediante una de acción de amparo logro suspender los actos de la autoridad en defensa del medio ambiente? Hemos llegado a la conclusión que algo está fallando gravemente dentro del sistema judicial. Todos los actos irresponsables e ilegales cometidos por el representante legal de la sociedad mercantil en mención ya se han denunciado y se han presentado las pruebas. Es difícil como corporación exigir que se respeten las leyes sin el respaldo de las diferentes instituciones y autoridades que deber de exigir su cumplimiento.
Reiteramos a la población isleña y a los extranjeros que conviven con nosotros respetando nuestras leyes, que nuestro compromiso de garantizar la seguridad jurídica es firme, nuestros actos han estado y seguirán estando apegando a la ley.
Dado en la ciudad puerto de Roatán, a los 15 días del mes de agosto del ano 2018.
Myril Yannell Brooks Secretaria Municipal
2nd Legal Notice (English)
The secretary of natural resources and environment (MiAmbiente +), to the population in general, makes it known:
That it has acted ex officio and in conjunction with other governmental and non-governmental organizations, in the opening of several environmental complaints to the tourist projects "Little French Key," located in the Community of French Key, on the island of Roatán; and, (Diamond Key) located in the island of Utila, relating inspections to the sites, with the objective of answering the environmental damages caused by the activities that have been unsupported, of which MiAmbiente+ through its addresses has prepared reports and technical reports, finding sufficient merits to declare such allegations, so they have been remitted to the special prosecutor's office of the environment (FEMA), so that in this way continue with the processes established in the law.
Therefore, said tourism projects do not have the respective environmental license to operate, by virtue of which they have replied that they are causing environmental damage to the Islas de Las Bahía national marine park.
We motivate the national and foreign population not to support and visit such projects that act outside the law and cause damage to the natural resources of our country.
Given in the city of Tegucigalpa, municipality of the central district, on the 9th day of the month of August of the year 2018.
2nd Legal Notice (Spanish)
La secretaria de recursos naturales y ambiente (MiAmbiente+), a la población en general, hace saber:
Que se ha actuado de oficio y en conjunto con otras organizaciones gubernamentales y no gubernamentales, en la apertura de varias denuncias ambientales a los proyectos turísticos “Little French Key,” ubicado en la Comunidad de French Key, el la isla de Roatán; y, (Diamond Key) ubicado en la isla de Utila, relacionando inspecciones a los sitios, con el objetivo de contestar los daños ambientales ocasionados por las actividades que se han venido desapoyando, de lo cual MiAmbiente+ a través de sus direcciones ha elaborado informes y dictámenes técnicos, encontrando méritos suficientes para declarar con lugar dichas denuncias, por lo que han sido remitidos a la fiscalía especial del medio ambiente (FEMA), para que de esta manera se continuécon los procesos establecidos en la ley.
Por lo tanto dichos proyectos turísticos no cuentan con la respectiva licencia ambiental para operar, en virtud que se ha contestado que los mismos están causando daños ambientales al parque nacional marino Islas de Las Bahía.
Motivamos a la población nacional y extrajera a no apoyar y visitar ese tipo de proyectos que actúan al margen de la ley y ocasionan daños a los recursos naturales de nuestro país.
Dado en la ciudad de Tegucigalpa, municipio del distrito central, al los 9 días del mes de agosto del año 2018.