Thursday, October 30, 2014

Ebola – your questions, our answers

Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres counters the media scare about the Ebola epidemic coming to the United States as they continue their humanitarian work to curb and defeat this disease:



Dear Friends,

We are hearing many kind words of encouragement from our supporters, as well as some questions and concerns. I would like to address these concerns, and also update you on our safety protocols and our current work to contain Ebola in West Africa. 

As you likely know, Dr. Craig Spencer, a physician from New York who spent over a month treating patients in our Ebola project in Guekedou, Guinea, was diagnosed with Ebola on Thursday. He is currently receiving care at Bellevue Hospital in New York City.  Although MSF is not in charge of his medical treatment, we are monitoring his progress, and hoping for his full recovery. 

Prior to developing Ebola, Dr. Spencer used public transportation in New York City and visited several locations. This activity has been treated by some media and viewed by many people as irresponsible. Both MSF and Dr. Spencer have been criticized for putting New Yorkers at risk. For the thirty years we have been managing Ebola outbreaks, we have found our protocols effective at preventing the spread of the disease back to the homelands of our volunteers. In Dr. Spencer’s case, he followed MSF’s strict safety protocols and was placed in isolation before he was  contagious. Dr. Spencer is a highly experienced medical professional who knows Ebola well. He would not put others at risk for a disease that he had just watched ravage his patients.

Ebola is frightening, but much more help is needed on the ground to stop this outbreak. Unnecessarily punishing healthy aid workers with mandatory quarantineupon their return home does not serve the public interest, but does make the commitment to go to West Africa more difficult for those who are willing and able to help. Combatting the disease at its source is the only way to curb this outbreak and prevent from spreading worldwide. MSF protocols governing returned health workers are driven by science and based upon the guidelines of international health agencies, notably the World Health Organization (WHO), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Diligent health monitoring of returnees from Ebola-affected countries is preferable to coercive isolation of asymptomatic individuals, as happened recently to one of our returning staff, Kaci Hickox.

The medical facts about how the Ebola virus is transmitted are validated by our own experience in the field and Ebola scientists around the world.  Before an infected person is symptomatic, their viral load is too low for them to pass on the disease.  Of the more than 700 international staff members who have worked in our Ebola projects during this outbreak, Dr. Spencer is the first, and thus far the only one who has shown symptoms after returning home.  

As of October 23, MSF is operating six Ebola case management centers across Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, and providing some 600 beds in isolation, more than any other organization is today.  Since the beginning of the outbreak in March 2014, MSF has admitted more than 4,900 patients to its treatment centers. Around 3,200 were confirmed as having Ebola and 1,140 Ebola patients have survived. 

We ask you to stand by us as we call for a rational approach to handling the return home of medical staff from all organizations who volunteer to fight Ebola. Please read our Q&A to answer some of your questions about how we respond to Ebola outbreaks and the current situation in West Africa.

Also, please join us on Thursday, November 13 at 8:00PM EST for a webcast about the Ebola crisis and our response, featuring MSF leadership and field workers recently returned from West Africa. You will have the opportunity to ask your questions directly to our staff and panelists via an interactive chat feature. You can register here: https://ebolacrisiswebcast.eventbrite.com

Thank you again, sincerely, for your support.  

Sophie Delaunay, Executive Director, MSF-USA

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Revictimization Relief Act Targeting Mumia Abu Jamal to Take Away 1st Amendment Rights from Prisoners & their Supporters

Adapted from the International Action Center campaign.

Last week the Pennsylvania Legislature fast-tracked the "Revictimization Relief Act" to give virtually unlimited discretion to District Attorneys and the PA Attorney General to silence prisoner speech by claiming such speech causes victims' families "mental anguish." The act targets both prisoners' speech and supporters who distribute the speech.

PA Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montogomery) called this law "the most extreme violation of the First Amendment imaginable." In seeking to silence the legally protected speech of prisoners the state also damages the public's right and freedom to know, at a time when more attention is being focused on mass incarceration and police brutality. It is an attack on a freedom that must be guarded especially when and if officials do not agree with the content pf the speech they hear. 

Protest PA Gov. Tom Corbett bill signing
 Tues., Oct. 21   @ 12 Noon
at 13th & Locust in Philadelphia
Join the Campaign Wed., Oct 22 for
our press conference at Local 1199C
at 1319 Locust, Phila. at noon & again
at 5:30 pm for a town hall meeting.

This legislation emerged as a politically-charged response, on the part of the Fraternal Order of Police and its political allies, when they were unable to stop PA prisoner and radio journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal from delivering his October 5 commencement address at Goddard College in Vermont, where Abu-Jamal earned his BA in 1996 while on death row. Students at Goddard collectively chose Abu-Jamal as their commencement speaker and the college administration supported the invitation. In this case, this law would deny the school the right to hear from its alumnus, Abu-Jamal. 



Monday, October 6, 2014

Facussé's Private Security Terrorizes Campesinos in La Panama, Aguán Valley, Honduras

Our human rights delegation visited with the Movimiento Refundacional Campesino de Gregorio Chavez in the small village of La Panama during our August 2013 trip to Honduras.

The community asked us to accompany them to de finco Paso Aguán, a huge African palm plantation owned by the land tycoon Migel Facussé's and where campesino Gregorio Chavez was found murdered.

We did not cross the barbed wire fences of Facussé's property, but below you can see footage of his private security guards wielding huge guns and a wearing face covering.


It was a terrifying moment but we kept the camera rolling. Four months prior, in April, Facussé's guards or possibly the Honduran military had shot at people occupying the church.

The bullet holes are still visible in the church's walls.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Stop Harassment of Guatamalan Victims in Hudbay/CGN Criminal and Civil Lawsuits

The following was sent by Rights Action to Hudbay Minerals and CGN (Compania Guatemalteca de Niquel) on behalf of victims, plaintiffs, and witnesses in the El Estor region of Guatemala who are participating in the lawsuits and a criminal case against the companies and Mynor Padilla, former head of security of Hudbay/CGN.  

On the fifth anniversary of the murder of Adolfo Ich, the shooting-paralyzing of German Chub and the wounding of at least seven other Mayan Qeqchi men by armed security guards working for Hudbay Minerals and CGN, we - the undersigned individuals and organizations - write to insist that your companies – separately and/or together - stop the harassment in Guatemala concerning the nickel mining related criminal and civil lawsuits.

German with his parents, wife and son, 2012. [Photo Credit: Grahame Russell]

We write you with our informed concerns about ongoing harassment of community members connected to criminal and civil lawsuits against your companies. Many of us have spent time in El Estor, Izabal and neighbouring communities to meet with mining-affected community members.

We write you to demand that you take all steps necessary to ensure that no one related to Hudbay or CGN, in any way, is harassing or pressuring the Mayan Q’eqchi’ victims/ plaintiffs/ witnesses, and their family and community members in the El Estor region, from participating in the lawsuits in Canada and Guatemala.

Our Concerns in Detail
On July 22, 2014, a Guatemalan Judge ruled that Mynor Padilla - former Army Colonel and former head of security for Hudbay Minerals/CGN – could not get out of jail on bail.  Padilla’s lawyers had petitioned for his release pending his criminal trial for the murder of Adolfo Ich, the shooting-paralyzing of German Chub, and the shooting-injuring of seven other people.

We the undersigned believe this was the proper legal decision to what had likely been an improper petition on behalf of Padilla’s lawyers to have him released from jail.

On August 11, 2014, two people showed up uninvited at the tiny home of German Chub, along a muddy track, on the edge of the town of El Estor.  The pair said they were there on behalf of Mynor Padilla and asked if German would meet with the lawyers of Padilla to discuss ‘what it would take’ for German to stop participating in the Guatemalan criminal trial, as a victim-witness, and to stop participating in the precedent setting “Hudbay Minerals/CGN” lawsuits in Canada as a plaintiff-victim.

On August 16, 2014, two different people showed up again uninvited at German’s home, to continue with the same message on behalf of Mynor Padilla.

These are not the first times that German has received what, in Guatemala, are threatening and highly inappropriate visits from people representing your former employee Mynor Padilla.

On March 28, 2014, a man and woman came to German’s home, telling him they were there on behalf of the lawyers for Mynor Padilla.  They urged German to drop the lawsuits in Guatemala and Canada, stating that Mynor Padilla was willing to offer him Q11,000,000 to do so.  On March 29, 2014, other local people phoned German’s brother and told him to bring German to a meeting.  That night, they met in a home in El Estor with people who apparently had employment with CGN.  They repeated the same offer of money from Mynor Padilla in exchange for abandoning the legal actions in Guatemala and Canada, but were more aggressive in their manner.

None of above referenced “offers” has ever been put in writing.  None of the people who arrived uninvited to German’s home ever presented themselves by name or left contact information.  No one else was present at these exchanges, beyond German and some family members.  Offering or attempting to pay a complainant to withdraw accusations in a criminal lawsuit is a criminal offence both in Canada and in Guatemala.

In April and August, 2014, Rights Action twice sent letters to you (Hudbay Minerals and CGN) to denounce these threatening visits, and asked you to take all measures to ensure that your companies have nothing to do, directly or indirectly, with these visits.  Rights Action heard nothing back.  In August 2014, Dr. Catherine Nolin sent a similar letter to you and has not received a reply.

The Lawsuits
In Guatemala, there is a long-delayed but on-going criminal case against Mynor Padilla, former head of security of Hudbay/CGN (owned by Hudbay 2008-2011), for the murder of Adolfo Ich on September 27, 2009, the shooting-paralyzing of German Chub that same day, and the shooting-wounding of other local men that same day.

In Canada, there are three over-lapping civil lawsuits against Hudbay and CGN (the “Hudbay Lawsuits/CGN”) for the killing of Adolfo Ich, the shooting-paralyzing of German Chub, and the 2007 gang-rapes of 11 women from the village of Lote 8.

Moreover, CGN is embroiled in another legal investigation related to the suspected murder of three Guatemalan university students, in early 2012, on CGN property, by people allegedly employed by CGN at that time.  The students were participating in a formal University del Valle de Guatemala - CGN biology exchange program that had been going on for years, including when Hudbay owned CGN.  While this suspected murder of the three students occurred after Hudbay had sold CGN to a Cyprus-based company, many of the CGN employees – management and employees – were the same as when Hudbay was the owner and in control.

Why Threatening?  Who Is Mynor Padilla?
German Chub feels threatened by these repetitive, uninvited visits.  Long before the violent events of September 27, 2009, Mynor Padilla was well known in the region as a former Colonel in the Guatemalan Army, and as head of security for Hudbay/CGN.  In the context of historical and on-going militarism and repression, racism and impunity in Guatemala, Padilla has been known and feared as a powerful man in the El Estor region.  When people arrive uninvited at your home, saying they represent Mynor Padilla, no one in the El Estor region – let alone, an impoverished, physically very vulnerable and indigenous man like German – can ignore the implicit threat.

On-going Relationship Between Mynor Padilla and Hudbay Minerals/CGN?
It is possible that Hudbay and/or CGN continue to maintain direct or indirect connections to Mynor Padilla.  Padilla remained on the Hudbay/CGN payroll for at least three years after the September 27, 2009, repression and violence, even as he was in violation of the law, avoiding arrest for the criminal charges.  It is rumoured Padilla has remained on the CGN payroll since September 2012.

Moreover, some of Padilla’s lawyers have represented CGN and worked for Hudbay.  Carlos Rafael Pellecer Lopez represented both Padilla and CGN in Guatemala, and was a witness of Hudbay and CGN in the civil lawsuits in Canada.

Patterns of Pressuring and Harassing the Victims/ Witnesses/ Plaintiffs
This is not the first time inappropriate pressures have been brought to bear on victims-plaintiffs in the Hudbay/CGN Lawsuits.  On August 21, 2013, Rights Action sent a letter to Hudbay and CGN, denouncing similar harassing communications and pressures against the women plaintiffs from Lote 8.  In November 2013 and March 2014, Klippensteins Barristers and Solicitors sent letters to various offices of the Guatemalan government, addressing these issues related to their clients, the women of Lote 8.  There has been no response from Hudbay and CGN to Rights Action’s letter.

Precarious Health
It is close to 5 years since the shooting of German left him close to death, paralyzed from the chest down.  He lost the use of one of his lungs; the bullet remains lodged precariously close to his spinal column.  Since September 27, 2009, when he was shot by Mynor Padilla, then head of security for Hudbay/CGN, German has suffered on-going pain and extreme vulnerability, all the while trying to re-build his impoverished life.

German has not received any financial support or compensation, neither from Hudbay, CGN nor the Guatemalan or Canadian governments.  We believe that Rights Action, with funds from North American donors, is the only organization to provide German with on-going relief funds to address some of his most pressing short-term health needs.

Even as he was receiving the harassing visits on August 11 and 16, German was extremely sick; he remains in unstable conditions and needs more x-rays to determine if the bullet lodged near his spinal column, has moved, and he needs x-rays of his remaining healthy lung to see if there is infection.

Holding Hudbay and CGN Responsible
While there is no doubt in our minds that Hudbay and CGN should be held accountable for the harms and violations they caused (some of which are being dealt with in the criminal and civil lawsuits), and that reparations should be paid to German and the others who suffered the harms and violations, we understand that Hudbay and CGN have the right to defend themselves in court.

However, Hudbay and CGN have the responsibility to ensure that no one directly or indirectly associated with their companies is, in any way, pressuring or otherwise interfering in any way against any people, plaintiffs or otherwise, involved in the Guatemalan and Canadian lawsuits.

Questions for Hudbay

  • Do either of your companies have any knowledge of, or role in the efforts by Mynor Padilla to pressure any of the victims/ witnesses/ plaintiffs to stop their participation in the criminal trial or the civil 
  • Is Mynor Padilla still on CGN’s payroll and is CGN and/or Hudbay paying for Padilla’s legal fees in his criminal trial in Guatemala?

We hold Hudbay and CGN accountable to take steps necessary to prevent any undue interference, tampering, or direct or indirect harassment or repression against German Chub and all victims/ witnesses/ plaintiffs, and their family and community members, in the civil lawsuits in Canada and the criminal lawsuit in Guatemala.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

ZEDEs Violate Basic Rights of Hondurans


In early 2013, the National Lawyer's Guild were asked to witness the elections in Honduras by Honduran colleagues and allies and to document their findings. NLG organized a delegation of credentialed election observers to serve as “International Accompaniers” under Honduran election law. Their delegation concluded that there were serious problems that significantly undermined any assertion that the election was “free and fair” or “transparent.”

As a result of the contested elections, Juan Orlando Hernandez assumed the Presidency. Since then, Hernandez and the Honduran legislature have enacted a number of laws that provide for the concentration of executive and legislative powers at the expense of individual rights and freedoms and they have implemented policies that privatize state resources and functions. 

Photo Credit: Congress’ Last Stand: Privatizations among New Laws in Honduras by Sandra Cuffe (http://upsidedownworld.org)

In early 2014, our colleagues in Honduras asked us to examine the controversial laws and constitutional amendments that facilitated the establishment of Zones for Economic Development and Employment (ZEDEs), also known as ‘charter cities’ or ‘model cities.’

ZEDEs represent a significant expansion of free trade zones in that they facilitate the creation of autonomous privatized city-states  designed to exist independently from the legal, administrative and social systems of the Honduran state. They are investor-friendly enclaves governed by their own laws, courts and tax systems. The ZEDEs, proposed to spur economic growth and jobs, provide the legal basis for the corporate takeover of land within Honduras, in many cases without any prior consultation from citizens and communities that currently occupy those lands.

Given the contentious nature of land titling issues in Honduras and the historical abrogation of citizens’ land claims, many observers fear that the ZEDEs will further erode the rights of marginalized groups in Honduras and escalate repression against those who resist being dispossessed. By relinquishing control of key state functions to domestic and foreign investors, the arrangement allows corporations to circumvent local laws and business practices.

On September 6th, 2013, the National Congress of Honduras passed Decreto No. 120-2013, which created a novel legal structure for Zones for Economic Development and Employment, or ZEDEs. The ZEDE law represents an attempt by nationals and foreigners who support the liberalization of trade and labor rights to introduce an especially aggressive and expansive model of  Special Economic Zones, or SEZs, even more flexible than those that exist in Shenzhen or Singapore. 

ZEDES embrace trade liberalization beyond simple tax and infrastructure incentives: they enable the corporate entities, organizations and individuals who will fund and participate in the zones to structure the social organization itself. This process includes the content of laws, the tax structure, educational, labor and health care system, security forces and other basic elements typically managed by the state.

Many fundamental rights of Honduran citizens who live within the borders of ZEDEs are not protected under the new ZEDE law. These rights include:

  • Article 183 - the right to Habeas Corpus or Amparo20,
  • Article 65 - the inviolability of a right to life,
  • Article 68 - guarantees of human dignity and bodily integrity,
  • Article 69 - the guarantee against the extraction of forced labor,
  • Article 72 - freedom of expression,
  • Article 73 - protections for a free press,
  • Article 77 - freedom of religion,
  • Article 78, 79, & 80 - guarantees of assembly and association,
  • Article  81 - freedom of movement,
  • Article 82 & 83 - the right to a defense, to court access, and to counsel for indigents, and
  • Article 84 & 85 - freedom from non-legal detainment

Chapter I, Article 1 of the ZEDE law, however, does state that Articles 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, and 19 of the Constitution are fully applicable. These provisions define the territorial limits of Honduras, obligate Honduras to international treaties and forbid the ratification of treaties that damage Honduras’ territorial integrity or sovereignty. The remaining sections of the Honduran Constitution, a document of 379 articles, will have only the effect that they are given by an agreement between the Committee for the Adoption of Best Practices (CABP), the independent governing board of the ZEDEs and the corporate promoters seeking to develop the land.

The 21-member CABP, which was announced in February 2014, includes nine US citizens, three Europeans and only four Hondurans. The CABP is dominated by neoliberal and libertarian activists, several with close connections to former President Ronald Reagan. Numerous questions remain concerning this body. It is unclear, for example, if members of the CABP receive a salary or other compensation for their work.

There is no apparent prohibition on CABP members from investing in the ZEDEs themselves or having personal or business relationships with investors, raising conflict-of-interest concerns. The CABP’s broad unchecked powers are also cause for concern. Among other duties, the CABP is charged with appointing (and removing) the Technical Secretary (the executive officer of the ZEDE), who wields both executive and legislative power over the zones. The CABP is also charged with ZEDE planning and development,approving all internal regulations of the ZEDES, and even filling their own vacancies.

Given the lack of oversight by any branch of the Honduran government, the unrestrained powers granted to ZEDEs create a serious barrier to any future challenges. Another problematic provision of the ZEDE law involves the adjudication of legal disputes. The ZEDEs’ autonomous courts have the discretion to adopt legal systems from outside Honduras. Under the ZEDE legal regime, hired jurists who serve at the recommendation of the Judicial Council of Honduras.

A further particularly troubling aspect of the ZEDE law relates to the provisions that allow for the placement of ZEDEs in areas of “low population density,” and in municipalities in the departments adjoining the Gulf of Fonseca and the Caribbean Sea, without prior consultation with the affected communities.

The website identifies 14 areas as potential areas for ZEDEs in Honduras: Punta Castilla and Suco Paulaya, Colón; Puetro Cortes and Bajamar, Cortés; Cuyamel, Cortés; La Cieba, Atlántida; Quimistán, Santa Bárbara; Ocotepeque, Ocotepeque; Gracias, Lempira; Palmerola, Comayagua; Santa Maria de Real, Olancho; various municipalities of the Gulf of Fonseca; and El Triunfo and Choluteca, Choluteca. It is not clear whether any proposals for the creation of ZEDEs in these zones have been received or accepted.

The website also contains information related to the natural and human resources of many of the potential zones. Many communities believe they are being targeted for such investment. For example, the community historic Garifuna community of Rio Negro of Trujillo was knocked down in 2009 for investment, and the ZEDEs have created an increased the fear of such incidents in the future. 

The opacity of the manner in which ZEDEs are being promoted does little to diminish fears. President Juan Orlando Hernandez has recently announced its plans to create an “industrial mining park” in El Corpus, Honduras. There has been no official announcement that this area would is being considered for a ZEDE, the language suggests a special development zone, potentially placing the shelter and livelihoods of residents at risk. These provisions, discussed in greater detail below, represents a significant departure from well-known economist Paul Romer’s original charter cities proposal, and violate international law.

A. The Special Economic Zone

Modern Special Economic Zones, or SEZs, began appearing during the second half of the 20th century. In general, SEZs rely on business and trade regulations that are independent from those of the country in which they are located, with the goal of encouraging commerce and trade. They may focus on a variety of economic initiatives, including ports, production, exportation, resource extraction, and tourism.(Amegual & Milberg, 2008) The primary SEZ of the last two decades is the Export Production Zone, or EPZ, which is mostly dedicated to export-oriented manufacturing and development. The premise behind the creation of these zones is that developing countries will attract export and production oriented corporations through legal, economic, political, and administrative concessions to businesses. (The economic 'mindset' of countries that engage in the robust use of EPZs prioritizes export-processing activities as a way to escape the long-term economic subversion of the global south.)These areas can be specifically limited to a certain, distinct piece of real property, a set of properties owned by a company with an EPZ-type agreement with the local government, or to land owned by the local government. More expansive SEZs include Shenzhen and Hainan in China and the SEZs in Dubai. Honduran SEZs have historically not extended far beyond the “fenced in” model of an EPZ.

Honduras began to experiment with Export Production Zones in 1976 by creating a free zone at Puerto Cortes. (McCallum, 2011) The first zone was created under the authority of the government, which then privatized it in 1987. In 1998, following Hurricane Mitch, the Honduran government declared all of Honduras a Free Trade Zone or FTZ. In the FTZ or EPZ’s, which can be located anywhere in the country, companies are not required to pay import duties on goods and capital equipment, surcharges, selective consumption taxes, or sales taxes. Production and sale of goods inside the FTZ are exempt from federal and municipal taxes. Further, companies do not pay Honduran income tax for 20 years and are not required to pay local municipal taxes for 10 years. Finally, there is no restriction on the use of foreign exchange or the repatriation of capital profits. In 2006, Honduras joined the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) that continued the trend towards opening up the Honduran economy to more foreign products. Under CAFTA, Honduras began admitting 80% of US products without tariffs. Within 10 years, nearly all tariffs will be eliminated. (Griswold & Ikenson, 2004) As part of the agreement, 98% of Honduran goods to enter the US duty-free. 

B. The Predecessor to the ZEDEs: Charter Cities and REDs

Paul Romer is a well-known economist who promoted the idea of charter cities as an innovative economic development strategy in his 2009 TED Talk. (Romer, 2009) Romer explained that a charter city contains three elements: 1) a charter to set out the rules of the city; 2) a substantial area of uninhabited land; and 3) partnerships with other nations, including a designated body to control the administration of the city. Romer’s ideas were met with a period of generally positive press coverage, (The Economist, 2011) and he encouraged Honduras to use charter cities to promote economic growth. The post-coup Honduran government was receptive to this suggestion, and passed Honduras’ Special Development Regions law (Regiones Especiales de Desarollo or RED) in 2012.

REDs were to be administered by an oversight board known as the Transparency Commission that would have almost absolute control over the creation, management and policies of autonomous political zones within the country. The REDs were to be funded and managed by investors leveraging foreign capital in order to spur investment, to create development opportunities, to construct the necessary infrastructure, and to streamline the cumbersome process of doing business in Honduras. However, in December 2012, the Constitutional Chamber of the Honduras Supreme Court ruled that the RED law was unconstitutional, a decision that prompted former Honduran President Porfirio Lobo to label the Constitutional Chamber as “traitors.”

Less than two months after ruling on the RED law, the Honduran Congress voted to dismiss the four justices on the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court who had ruled against the law. (Phillips, 2014) The same four justices had also alienated the government with their ruling on a police reform law. Many legal observers, including both Honduras’ own Minister of Justice and Human Rights and the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers characterized this ouster as a second coup given its failure to comply with procedures set out on the Honduran Constitution. (El Heraldo, 2012) Nonetheless, the Supreme Court upheld the removal of the four judges in a later decision. (El Heraldo, 2013)With the National Party in control of Congress, President Lobo selected the replacements for the four ousted judges based on their adherence to a number of free market and other reforms. (Cuffe, 2014)

Meanwhile, despite the Honduran government’s agreement to create a Transparency Commission that included Romer as a member, the government entered into a memorandum of understanding with an investor group without first consulting the Commission. Romer protested, and the government claimed that due to a legal technicality, the Commission was never officially created. As a result, Romer withdrew from the charter cities initiative in Honduras. The current plan for ZEDEs is distinctly different than Romer’s vision, excluding several safeguards he deemed critical to their operation. (Malkin, 2012)

C. Comparison of the Legal Structure of REDs and ZEDEs

ZEDEs are no longer being marketed as the embodiment of Romer’s charter cities. Rather, Mark Klugmann, a former speechwriter for presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, describes them as “LEAP” zones that provide distinct legal, economic, administrative and political protections for corporations. (Fund, 2014

Regardless of the nomenclature, there are at least three areas in which the ZEDE model raises greater concerns than Romer’s charter cities model: 

  1. ZEDEs do not present Hondurans with authentic choice because they can be imposed on unwilling communities without any referendum. 
  2. The ZEDE legal regime does not provide for a transition to democratic governance. 
  3. The ZEDE legal regime is based on unprecedented lack of transparency.

1. ZEDE Can Be Imposed on Unwilling Communities

Romer’s vision of locating charter cities only in areas free of inhabitants is absent from the ZEDE law. Romer has stated that “[i]n a charter city, legitimacy derives from residents’ decisions to opt-in to the new rules . . . .” (Fuller & Romer, 2012) To achieve this legitimacy, Romer proposed finding about 1,000 square kilometers of “uninhabited land” on which to locate the city. (Romer, 2009) In his words, “[p]eople can come live under the new charter, but no one is forced to live under it.”

The ZEDE legal regime, however, expressly contemplates establishing zones in inhabited areas. The law specifies that the designation of a ZEDE requires the approval of two thirds of the Congress, and is subject to a local referendum of the area’s existing inhabitants, except in certain designated areas. If the Honduran National Statistics Institute declares the area to have a lower than average population density for a rural area, Congress may impose a ZEDE on any existing communities in that area without even the basic protection of a referendum. This grants the National Statistics Institute the ability to decide when to strip Honduran citizens of their human right to self-determination through democratic governance. 

Further, even a referendum does nothing to protect the “choice” of those who vote against having a ZEDE imposed on their community, not to mention those convinced to vote in favor of a ZEDE through a campaign of misinformation. In addition to low population density areas, areas contiguous to the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Fonseca, including the islands of Zacate Grande and Amapala that are currently undergoing ZEDE feasibility studies are excluded from the referendum process. Both islands are the home to significant longstanding communities.

Additionally, the legal structure of the ZEDE allows land with unclear ownership to be seized by the state, which will hold all land in rural ZEDEs, and contemplates the appropriation of land from owners do not want to sell their land. In short, ZEDEs can be imposed on inhabited areas, undermining one of the basic principles of Romer’s charter cities: the ideal that everyone who lives and works there has chosen to do so.

2. ZEDEs Provide for No Transition to Democratic Governance

The original RED law required the eventual return to democratic governance. Romer appeared to justify the period without democracy by advocating a “vote-with-your-feet” concept instead, whereby all residents of the charter city would have chosen to live there, and thereby chosen to sacrifice whatever democracy exists outside the city for the economic development inside it. The ZEDE law goes even further than the RED law in that it does not provide for any return to democratic governance short of abolishing the ZEDE altogether. Rather, the ZEDE will be permanently governed by the CABP, which its residents have no power to elect. Simply put, an unelected committee will govern the daily lives of Hondurans living in ZEDEs, and residents will have no democratic control
over local governance.

3. ZEDEs Present a Near Total Lack of Transparency

A major distinction between Romer’s charter cities model and the ZEDE legal regime is that the latter dispenses with a Transparency Commission. Romer and others stated that such a Commission would exist under the RED law and they were so certain of its existence that they named its members. (Cowen, 2012) Shortly after Romer left the RED project, Octavio Sanchez Barrientos and Mark Klugmann, current members of the ZEDE CABP, argued that this Transparency Commission never officially existed because the decree naming Romer and four others to the Commission never completed the publishing process in the Honduran Gazette. (Malkin, 2010)

The RED governance structure was based in significant part on the Transparency Commission. The Economist magazine described this body as “[p]erhaps the most important feature” of the model cities project in Honduras. (The Economist, 2011) The ZEDE regime replaces this Commission with the CABP.

In addition, decreased transparency has coincided with increased domestic political support for model cities in Honduras. This may be because the lack of transparency has allowed proponents of model cities to shift their messaging regarding the ZEDEs depending on the audience. Any agreements related to the ZEDEs are not public information (an agreement with the South Korean government to undertake a feasibility study was leaked, and was not presented to the public as a matter of right), so the government can represent to Hondurans a message focused on job creation. At the same time, the government can represent to potential foreign investors a message centering more on the stability of the ZEDEs and the relative difficulty to alter or eliminate them once they are in place.

Though Romer now maintains no formal affiliation with the ZEDE initiative, his previous involvement with the model cities project brought it publicity and lent a degree of legitimacy that the Honduran government needed to bring in international investors. Indeed, Klugmann now seems to suggest that Romer’s involvement was merely a strategic choice by the Honduran regime. (Klugmann, 2013)

Subsequent to passage, a group of more than 50 NGOs challenged the ZEDE law and ZEDE-related constitutional amendments in the Constitutional Chamber of the Honduran Supreme Court. (Peralta, 2014) Lawyer Adeline Ávila Sarmiento presented the case for the plaintiffs in early 2014, offering 16 arguments for unconstitutionality. Sarmiento asserted that the ZEDEs would impact Honduras’ territorial sovereignty and integrity, the nation’s form of government and the public interest. She also contended that only the Honduran Congress has the authority to establish taxes and to create a monetary system. (Peralta, 2014) The challenge was heard by the Constitutional Chamber – the same court that was installed by the conservative National Party as a result of the judicial coup in January 2013 – and not surprisingly, the Chamber unanimously rejected the challenge. 

Guillermo Peña Panting, executive director of the Honduran liberal policy institute, Eleútera stated, “With this decision, the investors, national developers, and interested foreigners…now have the legal backing necessary to proceed forward the project implementation.”

Many of the communities we met with expressed profound concerns as to how ZEDEs would impact their right to vote and to participate in local governance. Community members reported that a number of local mayors had been taken on an all-expenses-paid trip to South Korea to learn about ZEDEs. Members of these communities have not been informed about important realities ZEDEs present: for example, community members asked us if they would still be able to vote for their mayors under a ZEDE, and if so, what power their mayors would have. The answers to these questions are unclear, though it appears unlikely that the position of mayor – or, indeed, of any local elected official – will exist under a ZEDE. Government functions will likely be performed by administrators appointed by the corporations that control the ZEDE and the corporate interests represented in the CABP, stripping the citizens of these communities of their right to democratic governance. What is very clear is that both Honduran society in general and the communities likely to be affected by an eventual ZEDE have not been given information about how and where the ZEDEs will function, and how their civil and political rights will be affected.

D. Conclusion

Conditions for ordinary Hondurans have deteriorated precipitously since the 2009 coup. The government and security forces are plagued by corruption, poverty is pervasive, and Honduras sits at the apex of the global per capita murder rate. Drug, domestic and gang related violence has claimed thousands of lives. At the same time, state-sponsored repression against those organizing in opposition to government policies that contribute to widespread suffering has escalated, creating a climate of fear and impunity. These harrowing conditions are inter-related. Until Honduran citizens can access jobs and a secure livelihood, they will push back against a government that does not democratize economic and social opportunities. In response, the Honduran government will employ lethal tactics to enforce its priorities and suppress dissent.

Honduras is in desperate need of economic development, but development policies cannot replicate decades of neoliberal initiatives that have done nothing to alleviate the suffering of the majority of Hondurans, and served only to enrich the country’s economic and political elites. Against this backdrop, the prospect of ZEDEs raises considerable alarm about the future for the hundreds of thousands of Hondurans for whom the government already fails to provide security, stability and basic human needs. The rough contours outlined by the law itself ZEDEs will deprive citizens of rights guaranteed by Honduran and international law, and the implementation of these zones threatens to encroach on an even broader range of internationally protected rights. Instead of fulfilling its obligations to care for its citizens, Honduras is relinquishing those duties to international investors who are focused on increasing profits, not providing for economic and personal security. The international community must monitor for a potential human rights disaster created when the Honduran government privatizes the state functions that serve as its core organizing principles and obligations.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Peace Activists Missing from Dialogue to Stop Endless Wars in Middle East

The real struggle ahead is not against evil, but against ignorance.

As President Obama and other nations sound the drums increasing aerial bombardments in Iraq against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and training “moderate” Syrian rebels and possible air strikes against the Assad regime, these same moderate rebels have now struck a ceasefire deal with ISIS to fight against the Syrian government.

Additionally, the family of slain freelance journalist, Steven Sotloff, whose barbaric murder was broadcasted by ISIS, claim that these so-called moderate rebels sold him to ISIS as a hostage for somewhere between $25,000 to $50,000.

How has this terrorist group been able to wield so much power in Syria and Iraq? Since 2011, armed opposition groups in the Middle East, such as ISIS, have received weapons and money from a coalition of countries that include the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, according to the ANSWER Coalition.


Only a couple of protesters in Lubbock, Texas take to the streets following President Obama's announcement to increase military strikes Sept. 12, 2014

But where are the mass protests against these continued military interventions in the Middle East? Against the covert operations by the US to arm these terrorist groups? Against preemptive military strikes against Syria and Iraq?

National peace organizations such as the ANSWER Coalition and MoveOn.org have been slow and absent to educate and mobilize people against the dire situation in the Middle East.

Pope Francis has now called the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, occupied Palestine, Ukraine and Africa World War III.  And which country is most responsible for the manufacture and trade of weapons all over the world?.. None other than the USA.

Peace activists are now fighting on a global scale to promote and support peace, as human rights abuses do not just impact the Middle East, but also are happening on almost every continent in the world.

Only a movement by the people of the US, whose tax money funds this military industrial complex, will be able to stop the war machine and bring peace to the world. Not an easy feat considering the massive amounts of war propaganda put out by the main stream media and level of misunderstanding that Westerners have about the Middle East, as well as the sale and manufacturing of weapons, all of which has made us complicit in our government's actions.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

My Iranian Wedding


Iran is a country where modernity meets tradition. It is a country of contradictions where the extremely religious can co-exist with the utterly skeptic. Belly dancing, alcohol, men and women dancing together, live music with a female artist – all of this took place in Tehran, the capital city of the Islamic Republic of Iran, on the night of our wedding.

People celebrating at our wedding in Tehran

The wedding industry sector in Iran has partially gone underground due to the strictness of the Islamic republic. For weddings, people have two options – mixed or separated. Separated weddings are fully legal and usually take place at a hotel, where the men and women will be separated on different floors, with the only exception being the groom who can be present with the bride in the women’s section. This is the only allowance in Iran for a man to legally see women in public without their head scarves.

While suits and ties are the standard attire for men, the women usually come wearing carefully tailored dresses made from an assortment of colors, fabrics, and lace and spend most of the day at the beauty salon getting their hair and makeup done. The problem with separated weddings is that the men get bored very quickly, as all of the dancing and lively conversations take place on the women’s floor.

We decided to have a mixed wedding, meaning that we were taking a risk, as it is known that the police can show up anytime during a mixed wedding to shut it down or to take a bribe.

My parents, who got married in the US is 1979, never had a wedding. There aren’t even any photographs of the event, so our wedding couldn’t have been any more different from theirs.

My husband and I met while I was living with my aunt in Iran. He was my friend’s brother. Almost unheard of in Iran and with much consternation from my parents, three years later before our marriage we decided to live together in the small college town in the US where he was studying.
When we decided to get engaged, we had to forgo the proposal ceremony, known as khastegari, because his parents lived in Iran while mine lived in California. Khastegari is a customary ceremony to ask for the daughter’s hand in marriage. Unlike in the US, it’s not just the man who is proposing, it’s his entire family.

The man will come with his parents and close family members to the woman’s parents’ house, usually with flowers and fresh pastries. There will be the first introduction of the families together, and that is when the woman officially accepts the man’s proposal for marriage. The future bride will serve everyone tea, and they will eat and drink while discussing the future wedding plans.

Unofficially, however, the bride and groom have already made up their minds. Unlike in the past, young people in Iran have many resources, such as the Internet, university classes or even cruising down the streets, to meet and get to know each other before the khastegari.

But in the past, the khastegari used to be the first opportunity for the future bride and groom to meet each other. It is said that the bride would be so nervous during that initial meeting that she would sometimes drop the serving tray with tea and spill everything onto the floor. As times are changing, however, this scenario is becoming less and less common.

Since we were living in the US, my husband’s family did most of the arrangements for our wedding, including preparing the invitations and finding a private villa outside Tehran for the wedding.

Most brides in Iran wear the latest western fashion, and my gown was no exception – it was a lace, ivory-colored mermaid gown by Justin Alexander that I purchased with my mother before coming to Iran. My husband, on the other hand, waited until we arrived in Iran two weeks before the date to find a tuxedo.

One week before our wedding, I received some shocking news. The date would have to be changed as one of the owners of the villa had given away the date of our wedding to one of his family members. Apparently, there had been a dispute between the owners, and this was one of the ways to get his revenge. We had no other recourse but to comply, as our contract would not be recognized by any court since it is technically illegal to have a mixed wedding. Also, the religious month of Ramadan was soon approaching which bars anyone from having a wedding.

Our best option was to postpone the wedding for one day, moving it from Thursday to Friday. At first I was very worried, but the others around me, including my husband, didn't seem as bothered. They assured me that the guests would understand since they were used to the uncertainty that goes with living in Iran.

Less than one week before the wedding, we went to sign our marriage certificate along with our parents, an uncle, an aunt and a cousin. An official read from the Koran and when asked whether I would accept, I was obliged to say, “With the permission of my mother, father and elders, yes,” and although I minced my words in Farsi, everyone clapped.

I would have to repeat those same words at the wedding, but only after I was asked three times. The first two times the bride is asked, she is obliged to stay silent while the guests respond that she went out to pick flowers.

Two days before the wedding, we held a henna bandaan ceremony. This ceremony represents the start of the bride’s new life as she leaves her parents’ house to live with her husband. The bride’s family hosts the party, and my aunt had arranged live music and catering for about 70 guests in all.

When the ceremony began, we placed our right hand on top of our heads facing up. My father gave us each a hundred dollar bill which we held in our open hands. Then, my grandmother scooped henna onto the bills. Traditionally, the bride and groom throw the henna-stained money into a group of gathered children, but in our ceremony even the married people participated. One cousin from each of our sides caught the money (and both were married). Following that, we went around to the guests and put a dab of henna on their hands as they wished us well and gave us money.

Our wedding day had finally come, and I woke up early and went with my sister-in law to get my hair and makeup done. When my sister-in-law was getting married the previous year, we went to a beauty salon in the windowless basement of a shopping mall where something like ten brides were being worked on at the same time, along with a hundred other women. This equated to a nauseating amount of hair spray, makeup and driers being run all at the same time. After that experience, I had asked her to arrange a private session, so she took me to the home of the makeup artist.

Another concern I had was that my makeup would make me look unrecognizable, as brides in Iran are infamous for caking on makeup in order to stand out from the other guests. Instead of highlighting their natural beauty, the stylists tend to treat their faces as blank canvases.

But I made it very clear that I wanted the most natural look possible, and during our session twice I had to insist that the stylist not make my lips larger than their natural size. While I had never worn quite so much makeup before in my life, the stylist told me that it was simple for Iranian standards.

Getting my makeup done in the home of my stylist

When my hair and makeup were complete, I put on my gown and the groom came to pick me up. He stood there in the front yard of their home in his tuxedo, neatly shaven with his hair done, and I even detected very subtle makeup on his skin.

But there was no time to waste. The next stop was our photo shoot, where we shot a short film and took pictures in a studio and a large garden in the middle of Tehran. Six o’clock came when we finally finish and went back to the studio to rest before the big event.

A picture from our photo shoot at a garden in Tehran

Around seven we were finally on our way to our wedding. The groom had rented a BMW convertible, and we drove with the top down. Every time we passed cars on the road the people would honk and wave to us, and some would even dance in their cars. I didn’t have to cover my hair with a veil because brides the police don’t bother brides and grooms in their car. Miraculously, my hair kept its form, a testament to the amount of hairspray in it.

We drove to a small town about an hour outside of Tehran. We passed some factories on the highway and some small stores where people were sitting outside on the lawns watching the cars drive past and recounting the day’s events. We turned down a dry, dirt road with a long stretch of walled properties that were impossible to see over.

When we entered one of the gates, an oasis appeared and everyone was there to greet us as we stepped out of the car and entered the garden.

A view of the garden as we entered

We passed under an arch of pink and white flowers and greeted everyone that lined the path in the garden. Then we were given esphand to burn over hot coals to bring us good luck and ward away any curses. We made our way over to the altar, or sofreh, which had different items that symbolized marriage and good luck, such as our rings, the Koran, a mirror, candles, fruit, honey and other sentimental things.

Burning esphand to ward off the evil eye

The guests surrounded us as we sat at the head of the sofreh. A long cloth was held over our heads as my uncle read from the Koran and married women ground sugar over our heads in order to bring sweetness to our marriage.

The altar that we sat in front of for our wedding ceremony

When I whether I accepted, I had to stay silent the first two times as others answered that I had gone out to pick flowers. A permeating custom in Persian culture is the ta’arof, where one never accepts an offer at first, even if it is marriage.

Both of use accepted and there was a lot of cheering. We gave each other our rings and fed each other honey. My husband then gave me jewelry that his mother bought and I was to wear that night. Then, the guests came to give us their wedding gifts, which were announced out loud. The most common gifts at weddings are gold coins or money.

The rest of the night was filled with dancing, laughter, and food. Every table in the salon had an assortment of fruit and pastries placed on them, while waiters came around with tea, coffee and other fresh fruit juice. And if you could find the right person, then you would also be able to get a shot of vodka.

The whole night was also being filmed, so there were times when we had to excuse ourselves from the dancing to shoot a scene. One scene involved a shower of fireworks going off as we walked along a path, which I was scared would catch my dress on fire.

Our wedding manager, who wanted to make up for cancelling the original date, told us that there would be a surprise. One of the surprises was a belly dancer, which everyone gathered to watch. The other was four people dressed up as gold and silver human statues like the ones you see standing motionless at Union Square in San Francisco. Only these statues also became the back up dancers of the band.

The cake cutting ceremony has some modern twists such as the knife dance where a young woman dances with the knife to cut the cake, and she will not hand it over until the groom gives her enough money. We had five knife dancers at our wedding.

When the knife dances were over, we still couldn't cut the cake until we danced to a song with the lyrics, “Should they cut it or not?” while the audience responded, “No!” so that we had to keep dancing until permission was granted. Finally, we counted down and as we began to cut the cake -- more fireworks, which made it a very epic event indeed.

Cutting the cake as fireworks explode

After more dancing, people were directed to an open buffet where we served beef and chicken kebab, grilled lamb, and different types of traditional stews, rice, salads and desserts.

After dinner, the party started to wind down and even though some still wanted to dance, most guests started to leave. The studio had printed out copies of a photograph from the photo shoot on hardboard and we distributed them to guests to take home as a souvenir. They had also displayed two enlarged photographs of us which were displayed during the celebration.

And like the blink of an eye, it was all over. I was exhausted, and my head hurt from taking probably over a thousand photographs. But, everything had been spectacular and no one had really complained. It seemed that everyone had left satisfied, and only after did people call to thank us and say that it was one of the best weddings they had ever been to.