Private Cities in Honduras

I saw this story at AP.com. A group of investors are planning to build three privately run cities, outside the jurisdiction of the Honduran government.

Investors can begin construction in six months on three privately run cities in Honduras that will have their own police, laws, government and tax systems now that the government has signed a memorandum of agreement approving the project.

The project’s aim is to strengthen Honduras’ weak government and failing infrastructure, overwhelmed by corruption, drug-related crime and lingering political instability after a 2009 coup.

The project “has the potential to turn Honduras into an engine of wealth,” said Carlos Pineda, president of the Commission for the Promotion of Public-Private Partnerships. It can be “a development instrument typical of first world countries.”

The “model cities” will have their own judiciary, laws, governments and police forces. They also will be empowered to sign international agreements on trade and investment and set their own immigration policy.

Its an intriguing idea. If I understand this correctly, these cities will be like independent city-states, perhaps free trade zones. This might help to jump start the Honduran economy, though I am surprised that any national government would yield sovereignty, even over just three cities. There might be drawbacks, and this proposal has been controversial.

The project is opposed by civic groups as well as the indigenous Garifuna people, who say they don’t want their land near Puerto Castilla on the Caribbean coast to be used for the project. Living along Central America’s Caribbean coast, the Garifuna are descendants of the Amazon’s Arawak Indians, the Caribbean’s Caribes and escaped West African slaves.

“These territories are the Garifuna people’s and can’t be handed over to foreign capital in an action that is pure colonialism like that lived in Honduras during the time that our land became a banana enclave,” said Miriam Miranda, president of the Fraternal Black Organization of Honduras.

Oscar Cruz, a former constitutional prosecutor, filed a motion with the Supreme Court last year characterizing the project as unconstitutional and “a catastrophe for Honduras.”

“The cities involve the creation of a state within the state, a commercial entity with state powers outside the jurisdiction of the government,” Cruz said.

The Supreme Court has not taken up his complaint.

This is something worth watching and if it works out may become a model for other underdeveloped nations.

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