TBT - The Trouble With the American Embassy

The little island of Utila, Bay islands, Honduras, has a long history of mariners and fishermen. Just off the Caribbean coast of Honduras, the islands were settled by English speaking seafarers from other islands of the Caribbean in the 19th century.

When I was there In the '70s the islanders were still building small inter-island freighters on the shore of this small community with just hand tools. Some of the older men still bragged about being rum-runners during the prohibition period in the Untied States. And at that time most of the island's income was from men working in the merchant marine on large American tankers and freighters plying the world's sea lanes.

In our small hotel, the Bahia Lodge, we had a bar where I had the opportunity to hear the islanders tell their stories about 'shipping out' with various commercial ocean freight companies in the United States. The men were proud of the fact that they could build nice homes and raise families on the income from their long stays away from the island working as sailors in the merchant marine. Only those islanders with large shrimp or lobster boats were financially better off .

Then one day in the early '70s disaster hit the men of the merchant marine on Utila. In the past it was easy for these guys to get a visa from the U.S Embassy in Tegucigalpa to travel to the States. Then they could apply for work at the shipping company office when they arrived in Miami or New Orleans. But the rules had changed, and now the U.S. Embassy would no longer issue a travel visa to these men without the presentation of a special letter from the shipping company naming the vessel, sailing dates, and a guarantee to the United States government that the company would make sure the men returned to Honduras in a timely manner and at no expense to the U.S. government.

Well - we had two typewriters in our hotel. . . . Why not open an 'informal American Embassy' on the island?!. One of the merchant sailors from Utila that was in the States sent me a stack of 'National Bulk Carriers' (a major shipping line) letterhead stationary. No more delays on anyone needing a 'Letter of Guarantee' for a travel visa from the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa! Those typewriters were kept busy - it was creative fun making up names of ships, company officials, etc. And we never changed anyone a dime. Hey - they spent a lot of money in my bar!

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