Friday, September 28, 2012

Legal Challenges to Model Cities Law Proliferate

The law in Honduras that enables the Regiones Especiales de Desarrollo (RED), better known in English as model cities, is facing increasing opposition from Honduran citizens. 

The constitutionality of the law was first challenged in October, 2011 by the Asociación de Juristas para la Defensa del Estado de Derecho (Association of Jurists for the Defense of the Rule of Law).

Fourteen challenges against the model cities enabling law were filed on September 18, 2012. These fourteen challenges were filed on behalf of 14 separate individuals, including Miriam Miranda Chamorro, head of Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña  (OFRANEH), a Garifuna organization.

On September 18, the Public Defender of the Constitution, a prosecutor with the Public Prosecutor's office, filed a brief with the Supreme Court on an October 2011 case challenging the constitutionality of the law. The Honduran Supreme Court solicits the opinion of the Defender of the Constitution whenever there is a constitutional challenge present in a case before the Supreme Court.  A legal countdown clock has now started, that by law gives the Supreme Court's Constitutional group of five judges just 20 days to render an opinion in that first legal challenge from October, 2011.

Nine more challenges to the constitutionality of the law were filed with the Honduran Supreme Court on September 21, 2012.  Eight of these were filed by the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH, the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations) and the nineth by Father Fausto Milla, a Catholic priest in the Lenca region of Honduras.

On September 25, the LGBT community filed 30 more challenges to the constitutionality of the Regiones Especiales de Desarrollo law.

On September 26, a further 22 challenges against the law were filed.  One of these was by the Colectivo de Mujeres Hondureñas (Collective of Honduran Women), and the rest by individuals challenging the legislation.

For those of you keeping score, that's 76 separate challenges to the constitutionality of the RED legislation.

And that's not the only bad news. The Honduran Congress apparently agrees that the law, as written, is unconstitutional.

Oswaldo Ramos Soto, who drafted the existing RED law and is  Juan Orlando Hernandez's go-to guy for writing legislation, is preparing to introduce an amendment which will "fix" the unconstitutional parts of the law.

Ramos Soto wants to change Article 1 of the RED law to make it clear that the judicial system in the RED is still answerable to the Supreme Court, which is the court of last resort in Honduras.

Ramos Soto also wants to strip away the treaty-making power granted the model city in the existing law.  He proposes changing Article 18 to remove any mention of treaties, and to give to Congress the power to appoint judges in the model city. 

Ramos Soto also proposes changing Article 19 to make the legal system in a RED part of the Honduran judicial system, under the authority of the Supreme Court.

The net effect of Ramos Soto's proposed changes would be to gut one of the key features of Paul Romer's model cities: their judicial independence from the host country.

Both Romer and Michael Strong have argued that it is the legal systems in the host countries that are in part responsible for the poverty in them and the lack of economic development.

The experiment seems to be on the way to being over before it even began.

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