Hundreds of campesino, indigenous and African-descended Hondurans demonstrated in Tegucigalpa on March 6 after marching 200 kilometers from the northern town of La Barca to protest new laws on mining and the Special Development Regimes (RED), better known as “model cities.” Entitled “For Dignity and Sovereignty, Step by Step,” and sponsored by 47 organizations—including the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ), a group that fights against corruption and for the defense of natural resources—the march started on Feb. 25, with more people joining as it passed through their communities. Protesters said they would remain in the capital in front of the National Congress until March 8.
“The sectors represented here are defending their territories, the natural wealth of their communities, and public properties,” MADJ member Hermes Reyes told ACAN-EFE, the Central American branch of the Spanish wire service EFE. Protesters said the RED law will create autonomous cities–like Hong Kong when it was under British rule–that would be controlled by foreign private capital. The Minerals and Mines law will expand mining in Honduras, endangering the environment, according to the marchers. Reyes said the government has already granted 90 mining concessions in the Caribbean coast department of Atlántida, in the western departments of Santa Bárbara, Lempira and Ocotepeque, and in the eastern department of Olancho. The protesters were also opposing an Agricultural Modernization law and changes to the Constitution, and were demanding the immediate release of Aguán Valley campesino José Isabel (“Chavelo”) Morales, who they said has been in prison for four years “for a homicide he didn’t commit,” the killing of an employee of Aguán landowner and business magnate Miguel Facussé Barjum.
Some protesters carried Venezuelan flags to honor Venezuelan president Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, who had died the day before from the effects of cancer. (EFE-ACAN, March 6, via La Tribuna, Tegucigalpa; Prensa Latina, March 6; Adital, Brazil, March 1)
The new laws were hurriedly passed by the National Congress after its new session opened on Jan. 25. The final version of the model cities law, Decree 236-2012, includes special tourist zones, which analysts said could open the way for foreign investors to take over the famous Copán archeological site. The Minerals and Mines law allows for concessions to be given to foreign governments as well as to private companies. The new constitutional amendments will restrict the powers of the Supreme Court and make it impossible for citizens to appeal the constitutionality of a law; instead they can only appeal the rules enforcing a law. Challenges to the constitutionality of the original model cities law led to a Supreme Court decision vacating it and forced Congress to pass a revised law. The new amendment removes the danger that that will happen again. (Honduras Culture and Politics 2/4/13)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 10.