EspañolDespite overcoming protests and legal challenges, the Honduran Zones of Economic Development and Employment (ZEDEs) continue to face resistance from those who feel threatened by the bold socioeconomic initiative.
The most recent example took place on Thursday, October 23, when roughly 500 civilians from 13 towns in the Honduran departments of Valle and Choluteca came out to protest the project.
According to Catholic priest Benardino Lazo, who participated in the protest, the ZEDEs “will only benefit large domestic and international businesses. This protest unifies the pain of the people. We are in search of complete development for our people, but we don’t want the ZEDEs.”
In a statement released last Wednesday, protesters said the central objective of their movement “is not to abolish the ZEDEs, but to spark the beginnings of true, sustainable development that respects our culture and the needs of the poor.”
They said they do not stand in opposition to the people of Amapala (where they say a ZEDE will be built), but warned of evictions of families and deepening poverty that the project will generate. The statement concluded by denouncing the Honduran government for implementing policies that benefit political and business elites, while neglecting the average Honduran.
As part of the protest in southern Honduras, representatives from the Catholic Church and residents of the region met to discuss the issue. The meeting was supported by the Committee for the Defense and Development of the Flora and Fauna of the Gulf of Fonseca and international NGOs such Caritas, Peace Brigades International, the Honduras Accompaniment Project (PROAH), and Oxfam.
Honduran Executive Secretary of the Council of Ministers Ebal Díaz has made it clear that, contrary to protester claims, the site of the first ZEDE has yet to be confirmed, and will be decided by a feasibility study directed by Korean scientists and technicians. However, in September, Korean consultants did choose the Golf of Fonseca as the site of three support components for a future ZEDE, which suggests they will be located somewhere in the south of the country. The master plan — including all environmental, population, government, and trade specifications — will be finalized in 2015.
Opponents Take Battle to Court
Protests against “model” or “startup” cities in Honduras have occurred frequently since the idea began to gather momentum in 2011. At the time, the concept went by the name of Special Development Regions (REDs). Following a 2012 Supreme Court decision that declared the project unconstitutional, however, the concept had to be revised to its current version, with the help of a series of constitutional amendments.
People of the town of Suyapa (population 7,000), located on the outskirts of the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, have raised their voices on several occasions. Suyapa has come up many times as a potential ZEDE site, despite its historical and religious significance.
In 2013, Carlos Marquez, president of Native Laborers of the Village of Suyapa, said: “We are not going to allow them to bring a model city [ZEDE] to Suyapa because they will destroy our 300-year-old cultural heritage.”
ZEDE opponents, led by representatives of various professional organizations, labor unions, student groups, and artists have taken legal action, including challenging the project’s constitutionality in February 2014. However, the Supreme Court of Justice has ruled in favor of the constitutionality of the ZEDEs, after Congress ratified the Organic Law of the ZEDEs in 2013.
ZEDEs Could Strengthen Rule of Law for All
Jorge Colindres, a local coordinator for Students for Liberty Honduras, supports the ZEDEs project and conveys the need for outreach on the matter. He told the PanAm Post that “The fear of change is one of the primary motivations behind these protests, but an inherent aspect of the ZEDEs is the application of the best practices in the world in terms of trade, civilian security, conflict resolution, and the maintenance of a genuine rule of law — which has been the main shortcoming of Latin-American governments.”
In response to the concerns of protesters, Colindres says “these fears will lessen if we study the success that these policies have had in countries poorer than Honduras, and understand that a society of free and prosperous men is indeed possible, and achieving that is not a miracle or a stroke of luck, but a decision.”
Translated by Alex Clark-Youngblood. Edited by Fergus Hodgson.