The Employment and Economic Development Zones (Zede) – promoted model cities -, adopted by law in Honduras in September 2013 after a controversial process, have come a long and lethargic road to explode this election year. After several previous attempts to create these amenities in Amapala, in the south of the country, in Choloma, north of San Pedro Sula, or in other parts of the Caribbean coast, it seems this time it’s serious.
Last March, protests suddenly erupted in Crawfish Rock, on the island of Roatán, against Zede Roatán Próspera, set up by a consortium of international investors (Honduras Próspera) without any prior consultation with the authorities or the community.
Earlier, in April 2019, word had spread of the construction of the first Zede in Choloma, department of Cortés, under the name Ciudad Morazán, but it was not until October 2020 that news emerged, when the project was said to have invested around US $ 90 million for the purchase of land, housing and office buildings.
We do not know who the investors of Roatán Próspera and Ciudad Morazán are, but we deduce that they are the same capital. But who would invest in projects heavily criticized by businessmen, politicians, religious leaders, academics, trade unionists and social leaders?
Complaints against the Zede come from all sectors except those who still support President Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH) and defend their plans.
Some analysts suspect that the investors behind these companies are probably the president himself and his entourage. Inference is not that wild. Finance capital would not be lacking, because in three shady administrations – as the nationalists are called – there have been accusations of corruption and links to drug trafficking.
THE ORIGIN OF ZEDE
It all started when the current president, JOH, was president of the National Congress. His idea was to create model cities based on previous experiences in different parts of the world. The first mentions of these initiatives in Honduras appeared in 2011.
The concept was originally based on the idea of “charter cities,” developed by economist Paul Romer, a professor at New York University and later chief economist at the World Bank. But the academic, who initially supported and even advised Hernández’s initiative, eventually distanced himself from Honduran plans because he was out of step with the direction the project was taking.
In 2012, after an unfavorable opinion on the first model city project, four of the five members of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) were dismissed by Congress. The excuse was that they had opposed the police clearance process, another controversial JOH project. Only magistrate Oscar Fernando Chinchilla Banegas, who voted in favor of the initiatives, survived. As a reward for his loyalty, Chinchilla has already served two terms as attorney general of the public prosecution.
REFUGE FOR CORRUPTED?
Speculation is growing that the Zede could become a safe haven, at least temporarily, for current officials when they step down. The risks of being brought to justice by the new government, even if it is also a cachureco, are high. In addition, there is a risk of being sued by US courts for their alleged relationship with the drug cartels.
Recently, the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ) approved special courts for Zede, with their own judges and courts, although, according to the resolution, “subject to the political constitution of the Republic”. According to the website of the Ministry of Economic Development of Honduras, these areas are areas of the national territory subject to a “special regime” in which investors would be in charge of fiscal policy, security and conflict resolution, between other powers.
This implies, by law, that the Zede “must establish their own internal security organs (…), including their own police, criminal investigation, intelligence, criminal prosecution and prison system”.
Faced with the realization of a couple of Zede, with the possibility of many others, Honduran society reacted with anger almost unanimously. The companies, the all-powerful Honduran Council of Private Enterprises (COHEP), as well as the strongest chambers of commerce and industry of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula (Cortés) of the country, have protested against these initiatives, even with very good arguments. justify their position.
Likewise, the Catholic Church, led by a cardinal linked to the ruling National Party, by family and conviction, and the Evangelical Confraternity of Honduras, a sector whose pastors have firmly supported JOH for years, have spoken out against these initiatives. . , although with different nuances. And in many municipalities, a Cabildo Abierto has been called, a constitutional figure who allows the population to express opinions and decide issues inherent in life in their jurisdiction. All completed cabildos have declared themselves “free territories of Zede”.
However, for the government, only what the president and his officials promote is valid. With the approach of legislative elections which should be confrontational, not very transparent and with the possibility of a new fraud, the Zede have become a new point of friction.
* Translation from Spanish by Maria Isabel Santos Lima