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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