Honduran Free Cities vs. Rogue Government

by | Nov 27, 2023 | Blog

Two of the most autonomous Free Cities in the world are Próspera and Ciudad Morazán in Honduras. As Zones of Employment and Economic Development (called ZEDEs for their Spanish acronym), they have faced fierce opposition from the new Honduran government for the last two years. While this is nothing new, the propaganda against the ZEDEs has increased dramatically in the last few weeks.

Honduras is, unfortunately, infamous for its political instability and corruption. Politics in the country is messy to the point of literal fistfights breaking out in Congress. The socialist party LIBRE won the last election by making a deal with the second-biggest opposition party. When it reneged on the deal, it lost the votes to pass many of the laws it had promised, and politics got even messier.

The President, Xiomara Castro, is the wife of Manuel Zelaya, the President who was ousted by a coup in 2009. They have been attempting to consolidate executive power since they came into office in January 2022. The ZEDEs have been useful as a political football, precisely because they are unimportant to anyone in power. They represent a vague threat to the vested interests of all the political parties, but they are still too small to matter enough to be defended by any large faction.

The cause of the recent attacks on the ZEDEs has nothing to do with the ZEDEs themselves but with a quirk of Honduran procedural law. The Castro administration has been battling Congress to appoint their preferred Attorney General, but they ran up against the official end of the Congressional session on October 31. Every year, the official session is extended until the following January, but part of Congress refused to extend it, causing the administration to miss its deadline for appointing the Attorney General.

By chance, the end of the regular session was also the deadline for ratifying the repeal of the constitutional amendment authorizing the ZEDEs. Some disaffected members of LIBRE accused their party’s leader of not keeping her campaign promise to get rid of the ZEDEs, although that is only one of many campaign promises she hasn’t kept. Therefore, the administration issued a paper reminding everyone that the ZEDE law was repealed, complete with all the propaganda used to justify the repeal last year.

As the administration missed its opportunity to ratify the repeal of the constitutional amendment, its remaining option against the ZEDEs is to have its hand-picked Supreme Court declare them unconstitutional, a legally questionable move. Previous Supreme Courts have already found the ZEDEs constitutional multiple times.

Legal or not, there is a chance the Court will declare the existing ZEDEs unconstitutional, but that won’t end Próspera and Ciudad Morazán because of constitutional guarantees and international treaties. The Court would have to say that the unconstitutionality is retroactive, a nuclear option that would turn a large percentage of the politicians in the country into traitors for having voted for an unconstitutional law. That would be completely unprecedented.

Propaganda campaigns on television and social media may be aimed at justifying pressure on the Supreme Court to rule the ZEDEs unconstitutional. If one looks at the comments on X/Twitter, for example, it appears there is overwhelming opposition to ZEDEs among Hondurans. However, the few Hondurans on X are mostly elites, who feel most threatened by the prosperity the ZEDEs could bring to Honduras. The few regular Hondurans on social media at all tend to use Facebook and Instagram, which have little political discourse.

On the chance that the Supreme Court justices could be influenced by posts on X, friends of the ZEDEs have been posting proof of the falsehoods. For example, unbiased surveys have shown that fewer than 30% of Hondurans are even aware of the existence of ZEDEs. Of those people, 77% say they would work for a ZEDE if given the chance. Only about 12% of them are opposed to the ZEDEs (meaning about 4% of the whole population).

Another common falsehood about Próspera is that the residents of Crawfish Rock, the village located next to Próspera, didn’t know the ZEDE was going to be built and didn’t have any chance to object to it. A photocopy of the referendum where the inhabitants of Crawfish Rock signed the document welcoming Próspera to Roatan has been posted as a response:

In addition, some of the Honduran residents of Ciudad Morazán have been posting about their positive experience of living in the ZEDE.

The future is uncertain because a rogue government that is willing to repeatedly break its laws can’t be trusted, but there are Hondurans as well as friends of Hondurans resisting the injustice of the current administration. The ZEDEs Próspera and Ciudad Morazán continue to build their Free Cities.