All We Are Saying: Give ZEDEs a Chance

La Isla de Amapala en el sur de Honduras ha sido objeto de constantes rumores sobre la creación de una ZEDE. (Flickr)
The fishing village of Amapala on Honduras’s Pacific coast is to be the site of a new free trade port. (Flickr)

EspañolThe first I heard of Honduras’s plans to create Zones for Employment and Economic Development (ZEDEs) didn’t bode well. I was on my way to work, when I heard the following question on the radio:

“How do you feel about Honduras being sold, piece by piece?”

At first, I thought it was a joke. But this was the information, or rather the opinion, being circulated in local press when talks on the issue first began in 2011. At that time, ZEDEs were known as Regions for Special Development, but the vision has remained the same, if details have changed. Honduras is set to host designated areas under distinct regulatory and fiscal frameworks, designed to compete for outside investment.

Despite my original staunch opposition to the creation of ZEDEs in national territory, I’m now inclined to give them a chance. They could prove to be extremely positive, and kick-start a wider change across the country. What successive administrations have tried thus far to end economic and societal failure has failed to work altogether. ZEDEs could help to change all that.

What changed my mind? It was the realization that radicalism leads to dead ends, and that fanaticism only impedes progress. In this case, I realized that certain sectors have spread deliberate misinformation to incite hatred towards vulnerable Honduran populations.

And now we have a date for the formal unveiling of Honduras’s first ZEDEs, due to be built on the Pacific coast in the region of Valle, it seems more pressing than ever to revisit some of the prevailing myths.

Many of these were distilled in a striking article in the US magazine New Republic, published on December 14, in which ZEDEs were damned in the headline alone as “horrific,” and labelled the biggest threat to the country in decades.

It was striking in that it provided consistently erroneous information, or conjecture, about the project: including about US economist Paul Romer, who first created the idea of ZEDEs, and the local and overseas individuals backing the project.

Journalists, both foreign and national, have an important role to play in scrutinizing public policy. But to deliberately, or carelessly, spread misinformation as part of an ideological stance against ZEDEs is inexcusable. The project should instead be evaluated on its merits and drawbacks, rather than speculative nightmare scenarios.

Commentators who pick sides without examining the evidence fairly only serve to deepen the political fault lines that divide Honduras, particularly since the removal of former President Manuel Zelaya from office in 2009.

ZEDEs are a unique project never seen before in the world, and their implementation will be a learning process based on trial and perhaps a degree of error. But the innovative project, grounded in a measure of economic freedom never seen before on these shores, is a direct response to the failure of decades of ineffectual top-down policies to bring prosperity.

The current system has failed to give us a better life. So why not give ZEDEs a chance? If we’re responsible enough to try and understand the bigger picture, and avoid blinkered proselytizing for and against, we might discover a model which could unlock long-term development in Honduras, and a better life for all of us.

Translated by Thalia C. SiqueirosEdited by Laurie Blair.

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