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Court Battles and Murder as "Privatized Cities" Push Continues in Honduras

Common Dreams staff

"Murders" the sign reads. Following the gunning down of prominent human rights lawyer Antonio Trejo Cabrera, Honduran opponents of land grabs and "private cities" say Trejo was "killed for defending the rights of the dispossessed."

Lo mataron por defender los derechos de los más desposeídos

A proposal to build so-called "charter cities" in Honduras has hit a potential snag as a chamber within the nation's Supreme Court this week ruled that the creation of privately run cities—with their own security forces, government and tax structures—would be "unconstitutional".

The constitutional judges argued that "the foreign investment expected to be received by the state of Honduras implies transferring national territory, which is expressly prohibited in the constitution," according to a copy of the ruling obtained by the Associated Press.

The proposal for the cities—which has been endorsed by rightwing President Porfirio Lobo, who came to power in a military coup in 2009—will next face a the judgement of the full Supreme Court. Following deliberations, a decision is likely within the next two weeks.

"The project is opposed by civic groups as well as the indigenous Garifuna people," reports the AP, "who say they don't want their land near Puerto Castilla to be used for the project."

Defeat of the plan would be an obvious win for opponents and would come on the heals of the murder of Antonio Trejo Cabrera, a prominent human rights lawyer representing indigenous and peasant groups fighting the proposal, who was gunned down by masked men on September 24 in Tegucigalpa.

Predicting his own demise following a series of death threats, Trejo said that if he were killed it would be because of his advocacy of landless workers and at the order of Miguel Facusse, one of Honduras' richest men, owner of the prominent Dinant Corporation, and also a backer of the private cities plan.

As the Associated Press recently reported: "Just hours before his murder, Trejo had participated in a televised debate in which he accused congressional leaders of using the private city projects to raise campaign funds."

Regarding the proposed cities themselves, the Guardian previously reported:

... the idea has provoked controversy in a country already suffering from one of the worst levels of inequality in the world.

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.

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