The following letter was recently sent by the mass National Movement Against ZEDEs in Honduras to President Juan Orlando.
During the past few months, the Employment and Economic Development Zones (ZEDEs), also known as ‘private cities’, ‘charter cities’ or ‘model cities’, have been rejected overwhelmingly in Honduras almost a decade since the first protests against them in 2011 when they were introduced as ‘special development zones’. Now there are four ZEDE projects advancing politically, fiscally and legally in Honduras. These include: ZEDE ‘Honduras Próspera’ (in the community of Crawfish Rock, Roatán); ZEDE ‘Ciudad Morazán’ (Choloma, Atlántida); ZEDE ‘Orquidea’ (San Marcos de Colón, Choluteca) and ZEDE ‘Mariposa’ (location not yet determined).
The organic law for ZEDEs (legislative decree 120-2013) was approved on 12 June 2013 by the national congress of Honduras. This law permitted the creation of totally autonomous city-states within Honduran territory, governed by foreign investors, that would be a kind of new colony for modern times.
Through this law, any group or individual whether national or international can obtain a portion of Honduran territory and there build their own government, with its own legal system, judicial system, tax system and social protections. They can take possession, through questionable means, of lands or regions in order to build the ZEDEs, transfer it to third parties, and expand it without any time or geographic limits.
ZEDEs owners would even be able to expropriate the property of legitimate Honduran owners in the areas where they are created to expand their business. Furthermore, they can establish their own treaties or agreements with other governments and create their own currency. Clearly, this law violates the basic constitutional principles of any national independent state.
For the above reasons, the National Movement Against the ZEDEs and in Defence of Sovereignty calls this a project that is “unconstitutional, illegal, illegitimate, anti-democratic and anti-national that assaults sovereignty, national security, the rule of law and the human rights of Honduran citizens”. (Communiqué on the founding of the Movement, 16 June 2021)
The most immediate precursor to the current law, the Constitutional Statute for Special Development Regions (legislative decree 283-2010) ratified in 2011, was declared unconstitutional for the first time in October 2012 by the constitutional court of the supreme court of justice. This led to the national congress, presided over at that time by the now president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernandez, irregularly dismissing the four supreme court justices (of five judges on the court) who voted against the ZEDEs from their posts.
Afterwards, the law was modified and reintroduced at a time when the political context in the country favoured extreme neoliberalism and privatisation and a climate of impunity.
Since that time, the ZEDEs have advanced in Honduras within the context of questionable judicial independence and a generalised corruption that penetrates the highest levels of government, including influential members of the ruling National party, as was recognised by the Mission of Support Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH), organised by the OAS in 2015.
It is also worth remembering that in 2014 the southern district court in New York began trying cases involving many collaborators of President Hernandez, including his brother ‘Tony’ Hernandez, who received a life sentence for narcotics trafficking. Now, ZEDE promoter President Hernandez and Ebal Diaz, the highest ranking minister in the government and a board member for one of the ZEDEs, are both subjects of an investigation for “narcotics trafficking co-conspiracy” in the same New York court.
The National Movement Against the ZEDEs
To confront the most recent proposals for the ZEDEs, diverse Honduran environmental, indigenous and community organisations founded the National Movement Against the ZEDEs and for Sovereignty to “defend the sovereignty of our physical territory … and reaffirm our historic commitment to overturn the ZEDEs”.
In the past few months, at least 126 mayors out of 298 total municipalities in the country have publicly rejected the ZEDEs and more than a dozen municipalities have organised legally-sanctioned open public assemblies or municipal referendums declaring that ZEDEs will not be permitted in their territories. There is no doubt that more referendums will be held in the coming weeks and months.
This generalised condemnation of the ZEDEs has also led to the national rector of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) filing a formal complaint of unconstitutionality against the ZEDE legislation; the College of Lawyers of Honduras (CAH) has publicly declared that the ZEDE law must be annulled; the Anti-Corruption Council (CNA) has presented more than 15,000 signatures against the ZEDEs to the national congress; and various Catholic Church dioceses have united to condemn the ZEDEs.
At the international level, the United Nations has also expressed its concerns about the ZEDEs for the the lack of a free, informed and previous consultation in the regions in which the Prospera ZEDE will be installed; the lack of protection for property rights and access to the land for local communities; and the deregulation and possible privatisation of public services such as healthcare and education.
The ZEDEs create additional concerns: perhaps one of the most serious, not only mentioned by the UN but also by the National Movement Against ZEDEs and for Sovereignty, is that the ZEDEs will aggravate longstanding land conflicts because measures have already been taken to prioritise the interests of the ZEDEs investors both in the national property register and in the National Agrarian Institute, two institutions that supervise granting titles to land in Honduras.
Land conflicts in Honduras are common and have led to various abuses, including violence and assassinations of land defenders and environmentalists and the systemic dispossession from their lands of indigenous groups, coastal communities and campesinos. Honduras continues to be one of the most dangerous countries in the world for environmentalists and land defenders.
Furthermore, there is fear that the ZEDEs will become a refuge for the activities of organised crime, especially given that the strongest Honduran supporters of the ZEDEs are facing serious accusations for drug trafficking and corruption in US courts, as mentioned above.
For all of these reasons, we add our voices to support for the National Movement Against the ZEDEs and for the Defence of Sovereignty and express our concerns regarding the unconstitutionality of the ZEDEs, and we support the generalised rejection and resistance against the ZEDEs in Honduras.