Monday, October 27, 2014

Plans to Develop the Gulf of Fonseca Move Forward While Communities Say No to ZEDEs and "That Kind" of Development

By: Karen Spring

On August 14, 2014, the Presidents of Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador participated in the "Second Technical Preparatory Meeting - Gulf of Fonseca" in Managua, Nicaragua.

The Presidents were discussing the elaboration, implementation, and follow-up of "a master investment plan that assures the economic development of the Golf of Fonseca," a plan that would contain "proposals from each country in order to convert the Gulf of Fonseca into a site of sustainable economic development."

In the meeting, Juan Orlando Hernández (President of Honduras), Daniel Ortega (President of Nicaragua), and Salvador Sánchez Cerén (President of El Salvador) defined their nations' interests in projects that would develop the Gulf and came to an agreement on investments in the following sectors: Infrastructure, tourism, agroindustry, and renewable energy.

The meeting declaration outlines 12 agreements that were reached and mentions interest in the development of various projects that would facilitate transportation between the three nations and development in the Gulf. These projects include: a ferry from the La Union Port in El Salvador to Port Corinto in Nicaragua, and a ferry or shuttle from La Union, El Salvador to Potosi, Nicaragua expanding to Amapala and San Lorenzo.

Locals transporting people from Coyolito to Amapala, Oct. 23, 2014

The report also mentions the "implementation of a Employment and Economic Development Zone (ZEDE) [known as a Model City] that includes a logistics park." The idea is to convert the Gulf into a "Free Trade and Sustainable Development Zone."

The Amapala dock on the Isla del Tigre, Honduras, October 23, 2014

The declaration itself as well as articles in Honduran national newspapers report that President Juan Orlando Hernandez will request financial assistance for this infrastructure - including a large dock between Coyolito and Amapala - from South Korea, the Central American Bank of Economic Integration (BCIE), and the InterAmerican Development Bank (BID). Shortly after these announcements, on September 5, 2014, La Prensa wrote that the BID would finance $7.9 million for projects in the Gulf - $6.6 million for the "Regional Economic Development of the Gulf of Fonseca" and $1.3 million for "Value Chain and Rural Business" program(s). This specific contribution is not the only international loans contributing to 'development' in the Gulf of Fonseca.

Approximately one month later, President Hernandez along with other Central American Presidents, presented the "Prosperity Partnership Plan for the Development of the Gulf of Fonseca" to the United States government and the United Nations during a trip to Washington. This Plan is being proposed as one solution to the "constant and growing migration" to the United States, a topic that has picked up pace since the child migration issue became a hot topic in mainstream North American media.


The march against the ZEDEs in Amapala, October 23, 2014

Last week on October 23, communities and individuals from all over Southern Honduras (El Transito, Nacaome, Amapala, Zacate Grande, Tegucigalpa, etc) crossed the beautiful Gulf of Fonseca - from Coyolito to Amapala - to participate in a march against the ZEDE project proposed for the area. While some participants handed out copies of the ZEDE law, over 500 people marched from the Amapala dock to the municipality office.

Over 500 people waiting for the boats to cross the Golf of Fonseca to participate in the march. Oct. 23, 2014.

One participate from Amapala told me (as was reported in the Honduran press) that three mayors from southern Honduras, including the mayor of Amapala had recently (in July or August 2014) traveled to South Korean to learn about a potential Korean investment in a megaport in Amapala. Since his return, mayor Santos Cruz Guevara, has organized three cabildo abiertos or information sessions in Amapala to inform the population of his trip including that the South Koreans would be conducting a feasibility study in the region in the coming months.

Shortly afterword, one woman in Amapala reports seeing foreigners - thought to be from Korea - measuring land on her property. When asked what they were doing, the group responded that they were measuring land for a project they wanted to build on the island.

Although there are proposals to construct ZEDEs in other parts of Honduras (like in Trujillo for example), the communities participating in the march last week worry that the project has advanced rapidly without informing or consulting the local population as to its specifics or impacts. Many complain of the lack of transparency in which the Honduran government has promoted the project and ZEDEs in general, as well as the potential exacerbation of existing land conflicts if the Honduran government decides to move forward.

The individuals, organizations, and communities in attendance at the march reaffirmed their desire for community development in southern Honduras but emphasized that they were against "that kind" of development or large-scale, top-down, non-participatory, neoliberal development like the ZEDEs/Model Cities.

Sign reads: "Model Cities = surrendering sovereignty, looting, and militarization", Oct. 23, 2014

Karen has lived and worked in Honduras and Central America since 2008 and currently is the Honduras Coordinator for the Honduras Solidarity Network (HSN).

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Transportation Strike in Tegucigalpa: Another Sign of Failure of the Honduras-US-SICA Security Strategy

Today, the Urban Transportation Union and the Taxi Driver Association of Honduras called a general transportation strike in Tegucigalpa. The transportistas are protesting the high levels of violence and insecurity, and are demanding justice for assassinations of transportation operators that have occurred in the last few weeks.

Oscar Castillo, the President of the Taxi Driver Association of Honduras told El Heraldo, a national Honduran newspaper that taxi drivers had the moral obligation to support the bus drivers, who first initiated the strike, because violence affects the entire transportation sector. Speaking about recent deaths of transportistas, Castillo told El Heraldo, “Only us taxi drivers, they have killed 44 comrades throughout 2014, the situation that the sector is living through is unsustainable and now no one wants to work with us out of fear.”

The final straw that initiating the strike was the murder of 28-year old Javier Antonio Ortega, a driver of a small bus or rapidito as they are called in Honduras. Ortega worked on the route between the National Autonomous University (UNAH) and the neighbourhood El Carrizal and was killed on the Boulevard Fuerzas Armadas, known as the “corridor of death” because of the number of individuals working in the public transportation sector that have been killed on the road.

Traveling in public buses and collective taxis (known as colectivos) is like entering a life-death lottery. One never really knows if they will reach their final destination without being robbed, killed, deeply traumatized from seeing something horrendous or all of the above. Heck, no one is safe from potential attacks of the Military Police themselves, who shot at a passenger bus in Tegucigalpa a few weeks ago, injuring four people.

Sign reads: "Mr. President and the results of the Security Tax ... when?"

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez created the Military Police and the TIGRES, yet - as the transportation sector is stating - have not improved the security situation in the country. Under the ex-President, Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo, the Honduran military were sent to the streets, and 3 years later, the homicide rate still remains one of the highest in the world.

Since the Merida Initiative was launched in 2008, and later the United States’ Central American Regional Security Strategy (CARSI) was folded into the Central American Integration System (SICA)- Central American Security Strategy (CASS), the homicide rate has skyrocketed. One of the intentions of SICA-CASS is to create safer streets and citizen security in Honduras - a goal that has not been achieved through militarizing the Honduran police, creating elite hybrid police-military units, and 'cleaning-up' the Honduran police.

Today’s strike of the transportation sector is another reminder of the failure of the Honduran security strategy that receives millions of dollars of support and training from the US and Canada governments.