Honduran president Porfirio Lobo came to power in a military coup and presides over the most murderous nation on earth. Now he has announced hastily assembled plans to desginate a region in his country to be a "charter city," owned and operated by offshore corporations, a plan inspired by a Chicago-trained economist called Paul Romer from NYU's business-school. The city will have all its laws — labor laws, environmental laws, criminal codes, civil codes — set by a private corporation that is unaccountable to anyone except its shareholders, to whom it will owe a duty of maximum profit. Honduran activists have attempted unsuccessfully to have the nation's supreme court hear their case, which rests on the legality of ceding governance over sovereign territory to foreign powers, and on indigenous land claims.
Critics say it will allow a foreign elite to set up a low-tax, sympathetically regulated enclave where they can skirt labour standards and environmental rules.
"This would violate the rights of every citizen because it means the cession of part of our territory to a city that would have its own police, its own juridical power, and its own tax system," said Sandra Marybel Sanchez, who joined a group of protesters who tried to lodge an appeal at the supreme court.
Ismael Moreno, a correspondent for the leftwing Nicaraguan magazine Envio, compared the charter cities to the banana enclaves, which were run on behalf of a foreign elite. He also spelled out the environmental risks, particularly if one of the development sites is the Sico valley, an area of virgin forest on the Mosquito Coast.
"This model city would end up eliminating the last agricultural frontier left to us," he wrote.
Chicago's economists have a grand tradition of helping military dictators establish unregulated zones where human rights take a backseat to profit, including their enormous contributions to Augusto Pinochet's murderous regime, which established the fundamental kinship between high profits and death squads.