Independent corporate towns in Honduras: creating employment or violating sovereignty?

In an interview with Contracorriente, Eduardo Facussé, president of the Cortés Chamber of Commerce and Industry, talked about the country’s political outlook ahead of the November 2021 elections, and gave his thoughts on Employment and Economic Development Zones (ZEDEs).

By Allan Bu
Photo provided by CCIC

In less than three months, Honduras will elect a new president. But instead of hope, the prevailing feeling in the country is one of unease. Legislators haven’t done anything to ensure that the November 2021 presidential elections will be conducted in a transparent manner.

The Hernández administration is also heavily promoting the controversial Employment and Economic Development Zones (Zonas de Empleo y Desarrollo Económico – ZEDE), which are independent towns that provide tax benefits for investors. 

The government has positioned the ZEDEs as a solution to the country’s high unemployment, but others have denounced them as unconstitutional. Even though the origins of the ZEDEs date back to 2013, ZEDEs are just now attracting more public and media attention on the home stretch to the elections.

Eduardo Facussé, president of the Cortés Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Cámara de Comercio e Industrias de Cortés – CCIC), is critical of the ZEDEs and other government initiatives. Facussé describes the ZEDEs as a “con job.” He believes that successful job creation must be preceded by the necessary conditions, but it seems that [the government] believes a dog-and-pony show will generate jobs. 

“The government doesn’t create jobs, but it does need to establish the right conditions for private sector investment, or it won’t come. It has destroyed the country’s credibility because there is no respect for the rule of law here,” he says.

Contracorriente interviewed Eduardo Facussé about the country’s current situation and his vision as a business leader in northern Honduras.

Contracorriente (CC): What do you think will happen if the ruling party wins the presidency?

Eduardo Facussé (EF): I think it would be sad for two reasons. One is that if the same people stay in power, the country will deteriorate even more. But I’m optimistic that this won’t happen. I’m hopeful that people will carefully consider how they vote, and this will produce change through democratic political processes. That is the right way to go.

But if the same people stay in power, it would make me very sad to acknowledge that people weren’t clear on the best way to vote. That’s the saddest part. Even after being repeatedly trampled upon, they continue to vote for the same people. If this happens, our country will move even further away from any solutions to our problems. I hope the Honduran people will wake up and see the evil in our politicians, and will give a new generation of political leaders a chance, because the ones we have now are a disgrace to Honduras. They are government parasites that are sucking the life out of our country.

CC: You have a very critical approach.

EF: It’s not that I’m critical. It’s that nothing is working and the country isn’t doing well. We can’t be praising something that isn’t right. That would be hypocritical and even more damaging to our country. The trade associations, guilds and unions have a responsibility to speak up and point out what’s bad and what’s good. Not everything is bad, but many fundamental things are not good and continue to get worse. You just can’t remain silent.

CC: How do other sectors of the business community view the CCIC’s positions?

EF: If you’re elected to a leadership position in a trade association, guild or labor union, then you take on certain responsibilities. You’ll have to ask them what they think, but I believe that in general, things have gone quite badly ⎻ this is obvious. I don’t think the country is booming. I believe that people are suffering in many ways. It would be lying not to acknowledge this. The right thing to do is to make proposals for change so the country can find a way forward. It’s not enough to just criticize ⎻ that’s easy.

CC: And are your opinions on the various issues the country faces supported by those you represent?

EF: I think so. I feel that the San Pedro Sula business community is more progressive. People here (in San Pedro Sula) who have been successful did so through their own efforts and hard work. Nobody here has big government contracts ⎻ that’s the main difference. In Tegucigalpa, people live, sleep and eat thinking about the government contracts they’re going to get ⎻ it’s a different environment. The business community here in San Pedro Sula is healthier because [success] is based on work and tenacity. There’s an obvious difference. I hope that in Tegucigalpa they understand the effort made by the country’s industrial region and that they properly appreciate it, because I feel that the Sula Valley has been abandoned.

Think about the government investment in the Palmerola airport and the Government Civic Center. They’re very nice public works, but I wonder if they truly were national priorities. I think we could have done without them. They haven’t prioritized the productive sector, and instead want to show off their new clothes. It’s not right. What about dams, hospitals and schools?

CC: Do you think the ZEDEs will be successful?

EF: No, that’s not going to happen. There won’t be any significant foreign investment because the [ZEDE] mechanism lacks legitimacy. Credible companies have investment protocols, so a U.S. company isn’t going to come and say, “Look, there’s some rinky-dink law here that will let us take over a country.” So far no major company has invested in a ZEDE because they’re a con and no serious company is going to invest in a con. It’s nothing but political dealmaking.

Last October, President Hernández went to Santa Barbara and said that ZEDEs would create jobs. And what do we have today? More unemployment. He also said that they’d build a four-lane highway to western Honduras and where is it? All lies. You can’t create jobs by executive decree or through ZEDEs. If the rule of law doesn’t exist, investment won’t come. These big companies are probably laughing at us.

CC: Social media is full of indignation over the ZEDEs, but this doesn’t seem to translate to many street protests.

EF: Hondurans are good-natured people and aren’t confrontational. A Honduran will pack their bags and go elsewhere rather than get into a dispute. That’s why you see this exodus from the country. It’s not just the government ⎻ it’s a societal failure. We are all responsible for failing to create the opportunities that our young people need for a decent life. This exodus is sending us a message but we don’t want to listen. Politicians are so callous that they don’t allow people who have been forced to leave the country to vote in national elections, and they don’t recognize their efforts to sustain the economy. That’s where you see the true evil of these politicians. I’m astonished by how evil they are.

CC: What could provoke a public uprising like the 2015 protests by the indignados, the outraged public?

EF: I think that people are tired and just want the elections to be over. But God help us if the electoral process is disrupted in any way, because I don’t think the Honduran people will stand for that. It would spark massive outrage.

We have to ensure that elections go forward with transparency, and that we use this as an opportunity for change. I also think we have been irresponsible in thinking that our only duty is to cast a vote. Our duty includes sitting at that table until all the votes are counted and officially recorded so that we can verify the true results. 

This time around we have to look after our democracy and accept the results no matter who is elected. If the process is transparent, then there should be no problem. If this happens, then I really believe that every sector of society has to put their differences aside and acknowledge that, “So and so won, and we’re going to fully support the winner because the country is in such ruin that it’s going to take everybody to help [rebuild].”

CC: Are there any assurances of [electoral] transparency?

EF: That depends on the Honduran people. That’s why I’m calling for citizen participation [at the polling stations]. A polling station observer can be bought off, but if there are 20 of us observing the process, not everyone can be bribed. We all have to be at the vote-counting tables, and if we do that throughout the country, I can assure you that there will be no cheating and the will of the people will be respected. Let’s invite everyone to stay until the end of the party. Don’t leave early ⎻ stay until dawn. Looking after our democracy is not up to the political parties ⎼ it’s up to us, the Honduran people.

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