Sunday, October 21, 2012

Honduras model cities plan ruled illegal

I've written about Honduras' model city plan several times, most recently here.
The idea, championed by the government, was to create new, privately owned cities from scratch. The owners would make their own laws and set up their own schools and police forces and courts. It would be like a do-over for the country, separate states within Honduras. The tacit admission was that Honduras couldn't fix its problems.
But the Supreme Court of Honduras ruled this week that the model cities law was unconstitutional, in part because it violated sovereignty by creating a country within a country. 
The idea is, for now, apparently dead.
The politicians complained about the decision. They argue that new, secure cities would result in investment and jobs.
As I've written, model cities have great risks. Owners are naturally going to make laws in the interests of big investors, not citizens, and basic principles of democracy and accountability are at risk.
But after nine months in Honduras, I was a lot more open to the idea than I would have been a year ago. As Bob Dylan wrote, when you ain't got nothing, you've got nothing to lose.
One of the big problems is that a country trying the idea out of desperation likely lacks the skills and mechanism to provide proper oversight.
The first city was to be developed with no track record. A promised international oversight commission to ensure all was legitimate and rights were protected was never put in place.
Given the way the project was proceeding, the court decision was probably good for Honduras.