Our Community - Florentino Gonzalez - "The San Pedrano Pioneer"

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 10, No. 11            March 16, 2000

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Florentino Gonzalez

Our island has grown to be one full of modern facilities and easily accessible services. Of course, for our town to achieve this, many hardworking men and women had to go through difficult times and devote numerous hours of their lives working for the development of San Pedro. Many years ago, people had to sacrifice a lot to ensure the progress of the island. That is the case of this week's personality who was a pioneer of San Pedro's tourism industry - Mr. Florentino Gonzalez.

   Born in 1931, Florentino has been a great contributor to our community. From the tender age of twelve, he spent a great deal of his life as a net fisherman. Even though fish were abundant at that time, Florentino was only a seasonal fisherman because there was not a fish market all year long. The abundant catch was delivered to Corozal and Belize City, but the amounts were too large for the market there and left the fishermen with spoilage. Their sales would sometimes pay as low as $6 a month per person.

    Mr. Gonzalez saw the need to temporarily move to Mexico for work. He worked the coconut plantations for about two years in Mahahual and Guadalupe. He returned to San Pedro after the unfortunate death of his father and ventured into the logging industry. Hardwood lumber was much in demand at that time, and he worked cutting mahogany in the mountainous areas of Placencia, Guacamayo (near San Ignacio) and Mango Creek. He also cut pine and engaged in other logging tasks in the Pine Ridge Area. The process included cutting and stocking wood at the saw mill at August Pine Ridge and then transporting it to an area known as Baceros in the Rio Hondo. There the ships were loaded for exportation and national distribution. He worked in this field for several years until the industry's decline, when he decided to come back home to San Pedro.

    At the age of 28, Mr. Gonzalez married Miss Soila Paz and they have raised eight children. Their children (four girls and four boys) today are all prominent citizens of San Pedro.

    Fish were still plentiful in San Pedro so Florentino went back to fishing but this time using traps. Soon after, the lobster industry began to boom and he immediately got into this business. At the same time a group of fishermen began the San Pedro Fishing Cooperative, which he became a big part of. One of the popular spots for lobster fishing then was Turneffe Islands. In 1961, Florentino and many other fishermen had the most frightening experience of their lives. The team was at their fishing camp when Hurricane Hattie struck Belize, destroying a great part of the country including Florentino's entire camp. Having been in the conch, fish and lobster business for a little over twenty years, this experience signaled the beginning of the end of his fishing expeditions.

    Mr. Gonzalez was now ready to try something new. San Pedro was growing as a tourist destination and accommodations for visitors became a priority. He built a small hotel consisting of seven rooms on his lot, working in collaboration with two or three hotels on the island. Incoming guests would be assigned to a different hotel on a rotating basis. Florentino and his wife Soila ran the hotel which they called San Pedrano Hotel. Additionally he took on the task of taking his guests fishing, snorkeling and to visit other islands. His tour guide skills were admirable and as the tourism industry kept growing, his services were much in demand. In time the hotel was renovated, making the rooms more spacious yet still retaining their simple island charm. As years went by Florentino and his wife gained a reputation for their personalized service to their customers in both the hotel and tour guide business. Eventually, because of eye-sight problems he had to stop tour guiding. Full retirement was not something that a man like Mr. Gonzalez was ready for. After talking with his wife and children, he opened a small grocery in the same building to keep him entertained. They named the store San Pedrano Grocery, a business that has grown to triple its original size. Once again the Gonzalez's personalized and friendly service made their business successful. Florentino and Soila now employ seven permanent and three part-time workers in both businesses. Their daughter, Lydia Lavin, manages the hotel and daughter, Soila Guerrero, is the accountant overall.

    At the age of 79, Mr. Gonzalez can still be seen working at either the store or the hotel, making sure his customers are satisfied. He is a true example of the high-spirited pioneers of San Pedro who are responsible for building "Our Community."

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