Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Not Really Model Cities Again

Juan Orlando Hernandez is determined to get new legislation approving Regimenes Especiales de Desarrollo (RED), what people have been calling "model cities", through the session of the Honduran Congress that ends this month.  To that end, he has introduced a new package of legislation.

He says this draft law takes into account the objections raised by the Supreme Court that made the previous law unconstitutional.  Uncommented on is why he did this, since he later got Congress to illegally dismiss the justices that found the law unconstitutional.  Might it be that they were right?  Oh my!

What he proposes is the establishment of 12 special kinds of entities:
international finance centers
international logistics center
autonomous cities
special economic zones
international commercial courts
special investment districts
renewable energy districts
zones with their own legal system
special agro-industrial zones
special tourist zones
mining zones
forest zones.

What Juan Orlando Hernandez has done is change the name, change the function, and keep the acronym.  This is meant to preserve the mental link to model cities, but this legislation is not about model cities.

The proposed entities are nothing like the previous Regiones Especiales de Desarollo proposed under the  unconstitutional law. Nor are these any kind of model city using either Paul Romer's or Michael Strong's definitions.  Forget everything you've read.  This is something very different.

These zones will all supposedly have "functional and juridical autonomy", although later in El Heraldo's brief description of this new system they say that conflicts will be handled either through arbitration or through a new branch of the existing Judicial system.  So that's clear, right?

There's a twist, though given Honduran electoral politics, not much of one: these new entities can only be established by a referendum and once established their charter can only be modified by a referendum of those who live within them.

The law will modify the Honduran constitution, which is why it's urgent to get it passed in the next few days, before this legislative session ends.  In Honduras, constitutional amendments must be passed by two successive sessions of Congress. More or less what Juan Orlando Hernandez plans is to bring this up as soon as January 19, then again right after January 25th when the new Congressional session begins. 

Article 294 of the constitution would be modified to divide the national territory into Departments (the existing administrative units, equivalent to states) and special zones:
The national territory will be divided into Departments and zones subject to special rules in conformity with Article 329 of this constitution.  Their creation and boundaries will be decreed by the national Congress.  The Departments will be divided into autonomous municipalities administered by officers elected by the people, as governed by law.

Also due to be modified is Article 329. It currently gives the government the power to develop economic plans, in consultation with its citizens and to set up whatever mechanisms are necessary to achieve these goals. El Heraldo does not give us the new language of this constitutional modification, but it will be the key to understanding these new special development regimes.  However, later in the day, Tiempo published the proposed language of Article 329 which seems to contain no changes to the existing language.

The new law would modify Article 303 of the Honduran Constitution, changing the rules governing how justice is administered.  The new Article 303 would read:
The ability to impose justice comes from the people and it is offered freely for the state, by magistrates and independent judges, only subject to the Constitution and the laws.  The Judicial branch is made up of a Supreme Court, special jurisdictions in regions of the national territory subject to special rules created by the Constitution of the Republic, by appeals courts, the courts and other dependencies indicated by law.

Again the modification here is to add the reference to special rules zones.  The key will be how justice in those special rules zones articulates with the Judicial branch, which notably is not spelled out in this change.

Along with Hernandez, the new law is being pushed forward by Congressman Rodolfo Irias Navas, a National party member and owner of TV stations (Channel 8 in Tela, Channel 45 in La Ceiba) and radio stations (Communicaciones del Atlantico, Radio El Patio of La Ceiba, Stereo 92 FM, Stereo 102.5 F, and Romantico 103.5 in La Ceiba, Radio Aguan in Colon, 91.5 and 92.7 FM in Tela).

(Irias Navas was also one of the spokespeople for the 2009 coup, who kept saying that the international community wasn't listening and would understand if they would only listen.)

Anyone who can read should see that this is not anything like the previous legislation, and that it's not about real development.  It's a law designed to benefit the monied class in Honduras that's responsible for underdevelopment, the class that sees the government of Honduras as its reliable income stream.

We're not the only ones to see it that way.

Analyst Raul Pineda pointed out that the reason this law is being rushed through is the urgent need for some in the oligarchy who owned or speculatively purchased lands they expected to be appropriated under the unconstitutional model cities law, to sell those properties for financial reasons.

Or as he put it: it's because a few people need to do business.

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