US Activists Protest Charter Cities: An ‘Assault on Honduran Sovereignty’

Heather Gies | TeleSUR | Jun 9, 2015

A coalition of Latin American solidarity and California Bay Area groups, including the Honduras Solidarity Network and Food First, have issued a call to action to protest a San Francisco event Monday that will promote anti-democratic land grabbing and repression in Honduras under the guise of poverty reduction.

While Honduran officials and libertarian think-tank representatives will discuss their “utopian vision” of the policy known as charter cities, activists will protest the “assault on Honduran sovereignty,” and potential for increased repression these charter cities represent.

The official event will feature Honduran panelists Octavio Sanchez and Ebal Diaz, both key architects behind the charter cities plan in Honduras, as well as Randolph Hencken and Mary Theroux, heads of the Seasteading Institute and the Independent Institute,U.S. think tanks promoting charter cities abroad.

While Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, currently embroiled in a massive corruption scandal and facing a popular demands for his resignation, was initially scheduled to attend, he has since canceled his appearance and will instead be represented by his Chief of Staff Ebal Diaz.

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According to the event description, the panel titled “New Opportunities for Enterprise and Governance in Honduras and Beyond” will discuss how Honduras’ charter city legislation is “opening a new jurisdictional frontier” through implementing “competitive governance.”

“A small group of elite businessmen and politicians are trying to auction off parts of the country to foreign capital in order to create islands of affluence surrounded by a sea of poverty and violence.” Charter cities are special economic zones governed by foreign governments or corporations where national law does not apply. Despite the freedom of choice rhetoric that claims residents can “vote with their feet” to “opt in” to the system, these foreign-owned, so-called “model cities” are devoid of democratic structures.

A small group of elite businessmen and politicians are trying to auction off parts of the country to foreign capital in order to create islands of affluence surrounded by a sea of poverty and violence.

Honduran legislators approved the creation of charter cities in 2011 under the U.S.-backed, post-coup government of President Porfirio Lobo. The Caribbean coast of Honduras, the traditional territory of the Afro-indigenous Garifuna people, was slated to become the site of Honduras’ – and the world’s – first charter city, despite widespread criticism from affected communities and local and international human rights groups.

In October 2012, four of five Honduran Supreme Court justices declared charter cities unconstitutional. Just two months later, in a move referred to as a “technical coup” against the Supreme Court, the four dissenting judges were removed and replaced with justices aligned with the ruling National Party and its neoliberal privatization agenda.

The irregularity of the Supreme Court “technical coup” was an assault on Honduran democracy, but not out of character for the government mired in widespread impunity and popularly regarded as a fraudulent continuation of the coup regime in Honduras.

In 2013, Honduran lawmakers brought the charter cities plan back to life, re-approving the project for developing investor-friendly enclaves governed by their own laws under the new name of Zones for Employment and Economic Development, or ZEDEs.

Despite the rebranding of the project, ZEDEs raise all the same troubling concerns for which charter cities were initially condemned. “The first ZEDE is being proposed in southern Honduras on the Golf of Fonseca and will have various impacts on the environment,” Karen Spring of the Honduran Solidarity Network told teleSUR. “If this ZEDE moves forward, over 10 communities on the island of Zacate Grande will likely be evicted from their ancestral lands.”

“[ZEDEs] allow corporations to circumvent local business regulations, write their own laws, and create their own private police force,” protest organizers explained in a statement. “They bypass accountability to the Honduran people, grab land that sustains local people, and enforce arbitrary laws with private security.”

Among the communities that would be most directly impacted by the implementation of charter cities are campesinos and indigenous Garifunas already suffering U.S.-backed repression and grave human rights abuses, while engaged in intense struggles to defend their land, livelihoods, and food sovereignty.

Corporate land grabs for mega-tourism projects, resource extraction, and agribusiness, sometimes doubling up for narcotrafficking, have robbed several north coast communities of their land and sea access, and continue to threaten many more.

“The corporate cities represent another threat to their territories,” said protest organizers. “Yet the communities will be defenseless before the legally autonomous, unaccountable Charter Cities.”

Charter cities not only violate the Honduran constitution, as found by the former Supreme Court justices, but also the international convention on the rights of indigenous people that protects the right of indigenous communities to “free, prior, and informed consent” for any development projects proposed for their territories.

“A small group of elite businessmen and politicians are trying to auction off parts of the country to foreign capital in order to create islands of affluence surrounded by a sea of poverty and violence,” the Honduran Garifuna organization OFRANEH said in a statement last week. “Honduras’ failed state is directly related to the actions of these thieves who are associated with narcotraffickers and have permitted the collapse of our legal system and corruption of our security forces.”

National and international advocates of charter cities in Honduras have repeatedly ignored widespread calls for the repeal of the legislation from indigenous groups, campesinos, human rights defenders, and political opposition. Despite adamant local opposition of the plan, one of the upcoming event sponsors, The Seasteading Institute, a U.S. think tank that advocates “floating cities” with “significant political autonomy,” has expressed interest in establishing such an ocean elite-haven off Honduras’ north coast.

If realized in Honduras, charter cities will be founded on mass land theft, violation of human rights, and repression and criminalization of popular movements fighting to defend their communities.

California-based activists are calling for protests against this assault on Honduran democracy, sovereignty, and rule of law and the repressive, corrupt, violent context in which these projects are being advanced, with the political and economic support of the U.S. government.

This article was originally published by TeleSUR.