Will the EU and IDB Fund Human Rights-Free Zones in Honduras?

October 31, 2014

Karen Spring of the Honduran Solidarity Network writes that in a recent meeting

… Juan Orlando Hernández (President of Honduras), Daniel Ortega (President of Nicaragua), and Salvador Sánchez Cerén (President of El Salvador) defined their nation’s [sic] interests in projects that would develop the [shared area of the Gulf of Fonseca] and came to an agreement on investments in the following sectors: Infrastructure, tourism, agroindustry, and renewable energy.

The meeting declaration mentions, among other projects

…the “implementation of a Employment and Economic Development Zone (ZEDE) [known as a Model City] that includes a logistics park.” The idea is to convert the Gulf into a “Free Trade and Sustainable Development Zone.”

Radio Progreso has noted that the Honduran government is courting investment for the projects from “the European Union [and] the Inter-American Development Bank and is seeking investors in Panama and the United States.”

The ZEDEs, or “model cities,” are areas in which large portions of the Honduran constitution will not apply, including various sections that apply to fundamental and internationally-recognized human rights.

A National Lawyers Guild (NLG) delegation recently traveled to Honduras to investigate the legal implications of the proposed ZEDEs. In a report released in September, the NLG described how few articles of the constitution residents of the ZEDEs would actually enjoy:

Chapter I, Article 1 of the ZEDE law states that Articles 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, and 19 of the Constitution are fully applicable. These provisions define the territorial limits of Honduras, obligate Honduras to international treaties and forbid the ratification of treaties that damage Honduras’ territorial integrity or sovereignty. The remaining sections of the Honduran Constitution, a document of 379 articles, will have only the effect that they are given by an agreement between the Committee for the Adoption of Best Practices (CABP), the independent governing board of the ZEDEs and the corporate promoters seeking to develop the land. [Emphasis added.]

Many fundamental rights of Honduran citizens who live within the borders of ZEDEs are not protected under the new ZEDE law. These rights include: the right to Habeas Corpus or Amparo 20 , Article 183; the inviolability of a right to life, 65; guarantees of human dignity and bodily integrity, 68; the guarantee against the extraction of forced labor, 69; freedom of expression, 72; protections for a free press, 73; freedom of religion, 77; guarantees of assembly and association, 78, 79, and 80; freedom of movement, 81; the right to a defense, to court access, and to counsel for indigents, 82 and 83; and freedom from non-legal detainment, 84 and 85.

Who is this CABP who will govern the ZEDEs and determine which basic human rights will be granted to their residents?

The 21-member CABP, which was announced in February 2014, includes nine US citizens, three Europeans and only four Hondurans. The CABP is dominated by neoliberal and libertarian activists, several with close connections to former President Ronald Reagan [including Grover Norquist and Mark Klugmann].

Ironically, the ZEDEs are being promoted by some libertarian intellectuals and “activists” as perhaps “the freest cities in the world” despite the fact that the zones will shred another fundamental right, and one usually considered sacred to libertarians: property rights. The NLG explains:

A further particularly troubling aspect of the ZEDE law relates to the provisions that allow for the placement of ZEDEs in areas of “low population density,” and in municipalities in the departments adjoining the Gulf of Fonseca and the Caribbean Sea, without prior consultation with the affected communities.

As an example, the report cites the historic Garifuna community of Rio Negro at Trujillo in Colón, which was disrupted by shady land deals ahead of foreign investment. “ZEDEs have created an increased the fear of such incidents in the future,” the NLG states.

Further down, the report elaborates that “ZEDEs do not present Hondurans with authentic choice because they can be imposed on unwilling communities without any referendum,” and that “If the Honduran National Statistics Institute declares the area to have a lower than average population density for a rural area, Congress may impose a ZEDE on any existing communities in that area without even the basic protection of a referendum.”

The NLG notes that “These provisions …violate international law.”

As both the NLG report and Radio Progreso describe, communities in Zacate Grande and Amapala are among those threatened with losing property to ZEDEs that might be “imposed” on them. As attorney Lauren Carasik, one of the authors of the NLG report, wrote in Foreign Affairs in August, “If Zacate Grande is subsumed into the first ZEDE, the island’s 5,000 inhabitants will lose the right to help determine what happens to its land or its resources.”

This is why, as Spring reported,

Last week on October 23, communities and individuals from all over Southern Honduras (El Transito, Nacaome, Amapala, Zacate Grande, Tegucigalpa, etc) crossed the beautiful Gulf of Fonseca – from Coyolito to Amapala – to participate in a march against the ZEDE project proposed for the area. While some participants handed out copies of the ZEDE law, over 500 people marched from the Amapala dock to the municipality office.

Amapala and neighboring communities are being sidelined from the decision-making process that could lead to ZEDEs in their region of Southern Honduras. Radio Progreso reports that while the Korea International Cooperation Agency is funding a feasibility study for the Gulf of Fonseca region, the study has not been presented to the mayors of the relevant municipalities, Alianza, Nacaome and Amapala en Valle. Residents of the areas being considered for ZEDEs are being told very little. NLG investigators explain that

Virtually everyone in the Gulf of Fonseca region who spoke with the delegation voiced concerns about the government’s unwillingness to explain the effects that ZEDEs will have on existing communities within their borders.

…despite the ZEDEs’ potential to nullify existing labor contracts and labor laws in their territory, members of the union of workers at the port that operates in the Gulf of Fonseca have been told nothing. They fear that the arrival of a ZEDE will spell the end of their jobs when a proposed port at Amapala replaces their livelihood.

The Gulf is just one of 14 “potential zones” the Honduran government is considering.

As Radio Progreso notes, the Liberty and Refundation (LIBRE) party is hoping to see the repeal of the constitutional amendment and the organic law facilitating establishment of the ZEDEs. Instead, LIBRE is proposing forms of investment that don’t involve “the surrender of national sovereignty and territory.”

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