Español There are many reasons why someone might be skeptical of the ZEDE project in Honduras (Zones for Employment and Economic Development). One could argue, for example, that the ZEDEs will serve as crony islands that allow the well connected to enjoy better governance, while less fortunate Hondurans remain stuck with the mess they have.
Informed observers also know that the startup city idea is vulnerable to the democratic winds of change. New people in power could push back against innovative policies and unravel precious goodwill established with both local and foreign investors. Even under supportive presidents and legislators, the ZEDE legal framework for Honduras has taken many years to get off the ground and satisfy constitutional challenges.
There are responses to both of these concerns, for those willing to look — many of them appearing on this very website. The Startup Cities Institute at Francisco Marroquín University in Guatemala explains why Central America’s poor, of all people, are so in need of institutional competition and a more welcoming environment for investment. Mark Klugmann, a member of the Committee for the Adoption of Best Practices, has also gone to great efforts to explain why the ZEDEs are set to both generate economic growth and stand the test of time.
However, two recent hit pieces in prominent US outlets, the New Republic and Salon, show that the naysayers have little interest in engaging in an informed discussion. Instead, they prefer to resort to deception, hyperbole, and scare tactics. Such endeavors may generate clicks from progressives in North America, but they defend the atrocious status quo and do nothing to help vulnerable Hondurans.
The latest, appearing in Salon and on AlterNet in January, takes the cake in this regard. The capacity of both author Mike LaSusa and the publishers to brazenly mislead their readers is astonishing. Consider the headline alone: “Nightmare libertarian project turns country into the murder capital of the world.” Anyone with the faintest familiarity with the ZEDEs knows that not a single one exists yet.
The plans for the first one are set to be made known next month, for the Pacific Coast, on the Gulf of Fonseca. That’s on the other side of the country relative to San Pedro Sula, which unfortunately does suffer from crippling crime — largely on account of the War on Drugs and violence from cartels that have infiltrated both government and police.
Likewise, the New Republic article seeks to spook readers with the specter of ZEDE proponent and early leader Michael Strong as a “libertarian activist.” Danielle Marie Mackey neglects to mention that Strong has devoted great efforts to reforming and improving public education and has even supported welfare programs such as a basic income guarantee. Further, the initial investment for the first ZEDE is coming from a South Korean government agency — not exactly a libertarian dream.
In her words, a ZEDE territory “becomes an autonomous region no longer governed by Honduran laws or police.” Yet the ZEDE project is now part of the Constitution of Honduras, the highest law of the land, and will be overseen by state-appointed officials under approved conditions. Further, ZEDE architects had to reform the law to comply with sovereignty requirements of the Supreme Court, which has now ruled in their favor.
These critics, who have garnered considerable traction (the AlterNet article now has 628 comments), may be well intentioned and just misinformed. Regardless, their readers are now misinformed also.
Worse, these efforts sabotage what is a noble attempt to address the urgent need of Hondurans for a more open and stable economy. Michael Strong “had hoped to be able to … improve lives in Honduras, and may yet do so despite articles such as [the one in the New Republic].”
While US progressives denounce the “dangerous economic experiment” from their First World armchairs, the losers if the ZEDEs do not go ahead will be the people whom Strong works for, those locked out of the legal system, “the aspiring small entrepreneur who is forever forced into informal markets.”