Honduras: ‘model cities’ project set to begin?

Honduran National Congress president Juan Orlando Hernández announced on Sept. 4 that the government’s Commission for the Promotion of Public-Private Alliances (COALIANZA) had signed an agreement for the first of three “model city” projects—semi-autonomous regions mandated under a 2010 constitutional amendment. COLIANZA claims the project, which still needs approval from the Congress, will create 5,000 direct and indirect jobs this year, 15,000 jobs in 2013, 30,000 in 2014, and 45,000 in 2015.

The project is likely to be located near Puerto CortĂ©s or Puerto Castilla on the Atlantic coast, or in Choluteca department on the country’s narrow Pacific coast. “It should be noted that these model cities will be established in depopulated areas of Honduras,” Hernández told the media. “It does not imply the displacement of people or social groups.” The Honduras Culture and Politics blog noted: “None of these regions is completely vacant. Reading between the lines, what Hernández is saying is that there are no large cooperatives or powerful landowners in these regions, groups that might vocally protest the expropriation of the land on which they live and work.”

The main funding for the “model city” is coming from an unidentified Canadian company. Other funders include a US company identified as the “NKG Group” or “MKG Group,” and a start-up called Future Cities Development Corporation. Both companies seem to have right-wing libertarian orientations. A leading executive at NKG Group, Michael Strong, appears to be associated with Whole Foods CEO John Mackey; a Michael Strong is listed with Mackey as a co-founder of FLOW, an organization dedicated to “liberating the entrepreneurial spirit for good.” One of Future Cities Development Corporation’s founders is Patri Friedman, the grandson of University of Chicago economist and neoliberal theorist Milton Friedman. (Honduras Culture and Politics, Sept. 5)

Some 14 groups or individuals—including campesino organizations and the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH)—filed a legal challenge to the “model cities” law on Sept. 7, citing a motion filed in October 2011 by Oscar Cruz, a former government attorney for constitutional issues. Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, the presidential candidate of the leftist Freedom and Refoundation (LIBRE) party and the wife of former president JosĂ© Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009), issued a statement denouncing the law as “incompatible with the concept of sovereignty, independence and equality of opportunity for national and foreign investment.” She warned people who start these projects that “they are exposing themselves to the loss of their investments.”

LIBRE was formed in June 2011 by the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), a coalition of unions and grassroots organizations that led the resistance to the June 2009 military coup that removed former president Zelaya from office.

The project has even received criticism from Paul Romer, the New York University professor whose “charter cities” concept is the basis for the Honduran “model cities” law. Romer reportedly may quit the Honduran transparency commission he was chairing because he feels he hasn’t been give sufficient information and authority to carry out his responsibilities. (Honduras Culture and Politics, Sept. 7; Xiomara Castro de Zelaya statement, Sept. 7, via Vos el Soberano, Honduras)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 9.