Friday, January 23, 2015

Zones for Economic Development and Honduras’ Sovereignty for Sale

The Zones for Economic Development (ZEDEs), commonly promoted by the Honduran government as "model cities," are set to become a reality in the near future, as domestic and international investors and developers plan to break ground in coming months. The project is supported by a two-year feasibility study, which South Korean investors completed in November of last year on the first planned ZEDE. That "model city" would be located on the Pacific coast near the border of Honduras with El Salvador and Nicaragua, in a community called Zacate Grande – an island connected to the mainland by a highway. For more on the South Korean study, as well as the threats of human rights violations due to government land seizures and other aspects of ZEDE law, see  last week’s edition of NotiCen.

Even though residents of Zacate Grande have fended off attempts by domestic and international investors and their own national government to seize their land in the interest of future development, the threats posed by ZEDEs are unlike any in the past. As international human rights expert Erika Piquero writes in the Latin Correspondent, ZEDE law presents investors and corporations with the unique ability to work within a separate legislative system, with its own laws, courts, infrastructure, tax law and equipped with an ability to evict inhabitants of land slated for development.

Opponents, proponents offer their views
The opposition points out that the creation of ZEDEs is akin to selling off the country’s sovereignty bit by bit, and terribly violating the human rights of the nation’s most oppressed and marginalized peoples.

The government and the project’s neoliberal supporters stand by the project’s main objective: ZEDEs will spur an unprecedented amount of development and economic growth, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and lifting the nation out of its perpetual state of poverty and underdevelopment.

Opposition leaders, critics, human rights activists and community counter tha this this “development” will only benefit the already wealthy investors; in much the same way as similar schemes have in the past.

A predominantly indigenous, Afro-indigenous community
Photo: Rick Wunderman, Wikimedia Commons
To put the dispute in perspective, it is useful to review the history of the area. Zacate Grande, a predominantly indigenous and Afro-indigenous community, was uninhabited until the 1920s when its current inhabitants were displaced from the mainland. A highway was constructed in the 1970s with plans to develop the beautiful coastline in sight. Some of the nation’s most wealthy individuals have had their hand on local land titles for decades, and now the opening of the ZEDEs is presenting an unprecedented opportunity.

Even though Honduras has signed most major international accords on human rights and the rights of indigenous peoples, the ZEDEs would suspend basic rights like habeas corpus and other internationally recognized rights. Mixed with Honduras’ checkered past in respecting human rights law, many critics are hoping this plan more model cities and economic development does not plunge the communities within these zones into a state of lawlessness, where the whims of investors and corporations literally run the courthouse.

With many human rights activists and academics linking the creation of ZEDEs more to patterns of Honduran militarization than to actual neoliberal plans for development, we may begin to see a situation where military and security forces are literally and legally acting as a strong arm force for the interests of investment, maintaining ‘order’ in these fantastical economic zones, and perhaps physically removing people from their land.

-Jake Sandler

Also in LADB on Jan. 14-16 
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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Lax Industrial Controls Contribute to Spread of Chikungunya Virus in Some Latin American Countries

Chikungunya does not often result in death, but the joint pain may last for months or years and may become a cause of chronic pain and disability. There is no specific treatment for chikungunya infection, nor any vaccine to prevent it. Pending the development of a new vaccine, the only effective means of prevention is to protect individuals against mosquito bites.  -Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)

Campaign poster
The word chikungunya comes from the African Makonde language and means “bent over in pain.”  The disease is not usually fatal (unless the patient has other health problems), but an infection can result in crippling pain. Chikungunya is transmitted by the bite of two species of mosquito: the Aedes aegypti  (which can also transmit dengue and yellow fever, and is present in the tropics and sub-tropics of the Americas), and the Aedes albopictus mosquito (found in more temperate areas, extending from the east coast and southeast of the United States to the provinces of northern Argentina). "These mosquitoes are easily recognized by the white stripes around their legs; when they bite a person with chikungunya, the transmission cycle begins," said the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). 

There was very little mention of the disease in Latin America and the Caribbean until December 2013, when the first non-imported case was confirmed in the region. There were more than 22,000 cases in the region as of Dec. 29,  2014, including 131 in Mexico.  (Read more in the latest issue of SourceMex).  According to PAHO, the numbers continued to increase in the region, reaching  24,071 cases as of Jan. 9, 2015.

So the why is just now that the disease is appearing in the Americas?  Haven't the aedes aegypti  and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes been around a while? Those mosquito species have been responsible for the spread of dengue fever, but the virus was not present until recently. There have been several cases where humans who traveled to infected areas came home sick.  But the disease is not transmitted from one human to another. So then, what is behind its spread into the Americas?  A closer look at the 2013-2014 data, released by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), reveals that climate and human travel do not have much to do with the spread of the disease. A bigger factor are national and local policies on international shipping, industrial infrastructure and health-care response systems. Furthermore, the species of mosquitos that transmit the virus, it turns out, do not actually depend on tropical and subtropical climates, as they are able to and have in the past bred successful populations in cold climates, even in snowy areas.

Case Studies: Cuba and El Salvador
The impact of industry on the spread of chikungunya are illustrated in the cases of Cuba and El Salvador. While many major Caribbean islands have experienced an outbreak of the viral disease, Cuba--which differs from its neighbors in terms of trade embargos, security levels of shipping ports and availability of health care services--has not reported a single domestic case. Cuba has only reported 20 cases in total, all of which were imported by human travelers.

On the other hand, while El Salvador does not actually contain a Caribbean coastline, it is one of the most highly affected Latin American nations with over 135,000 suspected cases, and nonetheless reports the vast majority of its cases in regions along its Pacific Coast urban areas, where its industry and shipping ports are most active and concentrated. This, too, is true for Guatemala and Nicaragua (Central America’s other highly affected nations) where the vast majority of cases are not found in its Caribbean regions that are dominated by protected wildlife refuges and tourist oases, but rather in Pacific urban areas rife with shipping and industrial activity.

Wikimedia Commons
Used tires serve as a conduit
This pattern is further solidified by the history of the disease in Australia and New Zealand, which despite being in the middle of one of chikungunya’s most historically active regions, has been affected very little by the virus due to stringent regulations on port control and inspections, which are highly effective procedures for limiting the number of the two species of chikungunya-host mosquitos that tend to migrate in used tires and other industrial containers.

A recent special report on Chikungunya in the Dominican Republic published in the Pan American Journal of Public Health, also suggests that preventing the outbreak of the virus has everything to do with limiting the conditions in which the Asian Tiger Mosquito tends to breed. Evidently, these conditions have much to do with shipping ports, industrial materials and containers of standing water, and little to do with human travel.

Another characteristic of the mosquito might explain why chikungunya virus has spread so much more rapidly in countries like Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and French Guiana than it has in the US, Mexico, Brazil and Costa Rica: the Asian Tiger Mosquito feeds primarily during the day as opposed to night, and outdoors as opposed to indoors. What we see in cities such as Escuintla, Guatemala; Managua; San Salvador, Santo Domingo; and Caracas are conditions in which the indoor/outdoor separation between homes and workplaces is often very fluid, allowing the Asian Tiger Mosquito to spend its days in outdoor conditions, even when inside a home at dawn or dusk.

Also what we see in these cities are nearby commercial seaports and streets littered with containers, the bottles, cans and tires with little bits of liquid hanging at the bottom. Where there is litter, seaports, structures built of provisional materials and outdoor markets, there is often poverty, little access to health care and, most importantly, hordes of warm blooded mammals spending their days outside.

-Jake Sandler

Also in LADB on Jan. 7-9

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