On Monday February 10 Diaz, along with Juan Orlando Hernández, annnounced that in cooperation with the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) they would do a study of where in southern Honduras to establish a ZEDE. Their announcement said that once an area is selected, the Koreans will develop a master plan for the administration of the ZEDE. Diaz said:
It's an ambitious project which we start this day with a study and design of the country's first economic zone.
But there's a lot Diaz didn't say that's revealed in a document freely down loadable on the Honduran Ministry of Planning and External Cooperation (SEPLAN) website. This document, signed by members of the previous administration on August 23, 2012, lays out the project more fully.
Titled in English "The Feasibility Study and Master Plan for the Establishment of a Special Development Region in Honduras", the document is signed by representatives of KOICA, Coalianza, SEPLAN, and the then-Vice President of Honduras, Maria Guillen de Bogran.
This agreement was made before the current ZEDE law was passed (in June 2013) and thus refers to Regiones Especiales de Desarrollo (RED), the predecessor to ZEDES in the model cities legislation that was found unconstitutional.
KOICA agreed to contribute $4 million, and the Honduran government an unspecified amount, in support of the project. The first step called for was a feasibility study of three particular locations in southern Honduras.
The studied locations are Amapala in Choluteca, and La Alianza and Nacaome in Valle. Amapala is on Tigre Island in the Gulf of Fonseca. La Alianza is located on the Guascoran river which forms the boundary between El Salvador and Honduras and currently has poor access to transportation. Nacaome is on the Pan American highway which runs in one direction to El Salvador and in the other direction to Choluteca and on to Nicaragua.
The record of discussions between KOICA and the Honduran government indicates that the feasibility study should take three months from its inception. The three feasibility studies will be given to the Honduran government, which will then have one month to select one of the three locations to build out. Then, KOICA will do a more complete feasibility study, a concept design, a master plan for the design and operation of the ZEDE, and an implementation plan, all to be delivered about 19 months after the site is selected, or about halfway through the Hernández administration's term.
While the agreement between KOICA and the Honduran government was signed back in 2012, apparently Porfirio Lobo Sosa decided to sit on it. Juan Orlando Hernández, who traveled to Korea to see their economic development zones while head of Congress, and who supports the idea of model cities and economic development zones in Honduras, decided to proceed.
Like the model cities law, the ZEDE law has been contested, and on February 8 the Honduran Supreme Court admitted a challenge to the law. The challenge alleges that the ZEDE law violates articles 294, 303 y 329 of the Honduran constitution. These clauses have to do with the ordering of the Honduran territory, the justice system, and the economic development of Honduras.
After admitting the legal challenge, the Constitutional branch of the court passed the case on to the Public Prosecutor, Oscar Chinchilla, for comments. Chinchilla was previously the lone Supreme Court justice in the Constitutional branch who did not find the model cities law unconstitutional. Further, he traveled with Hernandez on the trip to visit Korean economic development zones. This suggests it is unlikely he will find anything wrong with the ZEDE law.
In theory, Honduras says it has local buy-in from the mayors of these towns. But the ZEDE law exempts lands adjacent to the Gulf of Fonseca and on the Caribbean coast from having to hold a referendum for the population to approve being incorporated into a ZEDE.
So it will not surprise us if Amapala ends up being selected for development: the possibilities there include everything from a new port to luxury ocean residential properties, all in an area that has continued to be subject to tension with Honduras' neighbors on the Gulf of Fonseca. All this, and no need to hold a popular referendum if this site is selected.