Honduras: are ‘model cities’ back on the agenda?

Juan Orlando Hern├índez, the president of Honduras’ National Congress, introduced a bill the evening of Jan. 14 to create Special Development Regimes (RED), semi-autonomous jurisdictions that proponents say would attract international investment and stimulate the country’s economy. The proposed special regions are similar to the “model cities,” autonomous zones to be managed by North American corporations, that Hern├índez and Honduran president Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa pushed for last year; these were called Special Development Regions (RED), with the same acronym as the new entities. The Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) ruled the earlier proposal unconstitutional on Oct. 17.

The new proposal would include 12 types of special zones: international finance centers, international logistics centers, autonomous cities, special economic zones, international commercial courts, special investment districts, renewable energy districts, zones with their own legal systems, special agro-industrial zones, special tourist zones, industrial mining zones and industrial forest zones. Hern├índez claims the new bill responds to the CSJ’s October ruling by keeping the zones under the national court system and by requiring referendums before establishing or changing the zones. He is pushing to have the new law passed by Jan. 25, before the end of the current congressional session; since the bill includes constitutional changes, it needs to be approved in two successive sessions. (El Heraldo, Tegucigalpa, Jan. 15; Honduras Culture and Politics blog, Jan. 16)

There also seems to be a renewed interest in “model cities” in the US. National Public Radio (NPR) ran a segment on Jan. 4 describing model cities as a way “you could cure all your country’s ills by just…starting over” [ellipses in the original]. “[P]oor countries could invite richer countries to found and run ideal ‘charter cities.’ It’s not colonialism, [US economist Paul] Romer explains, because the poor countries are asking for help.” (NPR, Jan. 4; Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) Americas Blog, Jan. 15)

The new legislation might face a somewhat more sympathetic CSJ, since the National Congress removed four of the court’s 15 justices and appointed replacements for them on Dec. 12ÔÇöa maneuver that opponents said was unconstitutional. The new justices took office on Jan. 3 under heavy police guard as demonstrators protested the changes in the CSJ. However, the replacement of four justices wouldn’t be enough to change the lopsided October ruling, which was approved by 13 justices. (EFE, Jan. 3, via Terra.com)

The authors of the Honduras Culture and Politics blog write that the old law is very different from the new one and is simply intended to help out rich Hondurans, not to revive the model cities plan. They cite Honduran analyst Raul Pineda, who said, in the blog’s paraphrase, “that the reason this law is being rushed through is the urgent need for some in the oligarchy who owned or speculatively purchased lands they expected to be appropriated under the unconstitutional model cities law to sell those properties for financial reasons.” (El Heraldo, Jan. 15; Honduras Culture and Politics, Jan. 16)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 20.