By Luis E. Aguilar. Co-edited and translated by Colectivo Morazán
The manner in which people commute is another indicator of the structural violence lived every day by the working class in Honduras and throughout Latin America. Amid high prices, pollution, theft and immobility, grants are given to transport media owners and not to the user. Millions of people in Honduras cannot commute regularly to and from their home or even go to their city’s downtown because of the extreme poverty in which they are immersed.
An Inter-oceanic Train: The Imperial White Elephant in Honduras
A few weeks after the "Honduras is Open for Business" (HOB) conference in May 2011, Porfirio Lobo, in his capacity as Head of State, signed a contract with the English consortium K Group Inc. to conduct a study on the feasibility of an inter-oceanic railway, one of the infrastructure plans included in the list of projects announced at the HOB conference. The proposed project estimates costs to be more than US$ 6 billion, an overwhelming amount if we take into account what has been received as foreign investment or international aid during the last decade in Honduras.
According to news reports after the signing of the agreement, the railway line, as imagined in Honduras, will cross the country from San Lorenzo to Puerto Castilla across the departments of Choluteca, El Paraiso, Olancho and Colon. Wherever the railway would pass through, it would be traversing some of the most depopulated areas of Honduras, most likely in order to transport and provide access to goods and commodities to the "charter city" that would be established at one of the ends of this route, while ignoring the transportation needs of the vast majority of the Honduran population living in the strip between San Lorenzo and Puerto Cortes.
The Lobo administration has entrusted the feasibility study for the project to a “consortium” from England, a nation that in the nineteenth century granted an irresponsible multi-million dollar loan to the corrupt Honduran government to build a similar railroad project that was never completed. That infamous failure sets a historical precedent for this new project, which is formulated from the same imperial interests that serve transnational trading schemes rather than the people of Honduras.
Let us remember that the current rehabilitation of the woeful Latin American railway system is a cause being championed by the continental left, with Venezuela installing a network that covers extensive regions of the country, Cuba updating its rail network with technical assistance from the Chinese government and Argentina trying to recover a system that is currently in pretty bad shape.
Metro Bus or Metro Train?
Similarly, Tegucigalpa Mayor Ricardo Alvarez recently announced the construction of a “Metro Bus” line that would run between the National Stadium and the Colonia Kennedy section of the city. This would necessitate the creation of a new lane that would run alongside the streets and avenues and be exclusively reserved for buses that are assigned to that system. It would be comprised of slightly elevated and separated bus stops that would give the sensation of being in a Metro Train or subway, hence the name “Metro Bus.”
To the delight of oil companies and global automobile industry, which in turn are the true rulers of the world, the capital cities of several countries proudly aligned with neoliberal capitalism have already installed these types of systems, as is the case of Bogota, Guatemala City and Jakarta. However, even for a country like Venezuela, where oil prices are extremely low, the use of Metro Trains and subways as a means of transport represents independence, social inclusion and a solution to structural problems. The neoliberal proposals continue to create hotter and more polluted cities, where desperate drivers stuck in traffic are idiotically happier to have their own space, away from crowds of people and protected by the glass and metal of their own cars as opposed to using public transportation, requiring people to make contact with each other, collectivizing instead of individualizing our society.
Of course, a society battered by violence facilitates this process of individualization, hence the boom in post-coup violence and the use of taxis in Tegucigalpa, to the point that the ruling elite have decided to subsidize the process with the purses of the people. "If they can’t buy cars they might as well get used to using them," one can imagine the elite’s saying in their private meetings.
Among other benefits, large scale collective means (the subway or commuter rail) have a much longer life than vehicles such as trucks or buses, they promote local industry and the transfer of the technological know-how is almost inevitable, and for these reasons imperialism finished erasing them from the continent at the beginning of the neoliberal period or in the best of cases they halt supporting advancements in technology and research as happened in North America.
Tegucigalpa is about to introduce one more detail to the anti-poor, anti-environment neoliberal transportation infrastructure, where it is not clear what the goal is: if transporting the passenger or the passenger having to arrive to his or her destination however they can.
Charter Cities or "How to Live the American Dream in Honduras"
As announced by several analysts, the charter city project in Honduras clearly falls within the framework of the anti-union strategies. It could be interpreted as the last scream of globalization, and the plan is to use (per usual, a Latin American country) Honduras as a guinea pig for one of the most nefarious conspiracies of Western imperialism on the working classes.
On the other hand, Honduran labor laws would not apply in these proposed autonomous cities, where authorities could sign their own treaties and international free trade agreements. They could establish their own privatized security forces and courts, while offering the typical tax-exemptions, among other neoliberal policies. The charter city is clearly a physical barrier that offers a legal framework coveted by transnational capitalists. This experiment, which in essence breaks down the structure of the Nation State, is put in place to join the global system of tax havens, duty-free export processing zones (maquilas) and other as yet defined schemes that place the desires of corporations above all else.
In the aftermath of the coup, right-wing politicians have been filled with a desperate desire to turn Honduras into some sort of model of development. They have not only compared charter cities favorably with the development strategies of the rest of the region, but have wildly predicted that charter cities will spur economic growth in Honduras similar to that experienced by countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea – the Asian Dragons or NICs (Newly Industrialized Countries) – which never were and are not now charter cities as the golpista politicians are trying to portray to the public that they are. Even though much of this sounds surreal, it is occurring in real time. The most visible politicians of the ruling party (National Party) appeared last March by video conference from Singapore on Honduran TV stations friendly to the resistance (paying who knows how much money) to tell the people in resistance that they have a brilliant new solution to the problems of the nation. Nevertheless, they haven’t convinced anyone thus far.
Currently, we do not know with exact certitude what the master design for Honduras is or whether it is being prepared in Tegucigalpa in association with Washington or exclusively in Washington. However, we can link the plan by Stanford professor Paul Romer of "Charter Cities" and other projects proposed in the HOB, which are estimated at over US$14 billion dollars, including the Inter-Oceanic Railway. The issue is not whether all of these projects could actually be implemented or if they are simply being used as “development” bait for public consumption. The issues at stake are the relationship between the proposed projects and the history of “development” strategy in Honduras as well as the cynicism with which the circles of power in the country plan and present a substantially ambitious model to the Honduran society, which is clearly contrary to the collective welfare of Hondurans.
Nevertheless, time is running out for the (trans)national coup leaders in Honduras. The clock is ticking ever faster in their ears, as it will serve nothing to invest $14 billion plus in a country that is about to close a page of history and begin an era of decolonization and social revolution. Yet given how the established economic and political order is giving way to change, and especially at a time when the Arab world revolution has forced the G8 to channel an investment of over $20 billion dollars in Bush’s "Greater Middle East," while other regions, including Europe, are joining the great emancipation as announced by Atilio Boron in his article entitled ¿Comienza una revolución anticapitalista (Is an anti-capitalist revolution starting?).
One of the elements that can be drawn from this is that counseling for the projects comes from abroad and in close collaboration with pro-market liberalists and the right wing which functions as a transnational network society. To attack a problem that is temporary in their eyes, they respond with even more elements of the neoliberal agenda that they hadn’t introduced in Honduras before, and even creating a particularly new element such as the charter cities.
The dollar amounts for the investments are obviously absurd, and with the clear intention of producing a mirage of the eternally golden dreams of development, which ironically began with the construction of an inter-oceanic railway. Since then, this view has framed the formula that has been always used in different historical periods of the nation, but more pronounced when modernity offered to the third world appeared early in the post war era.
This is an anthology of new stories; however, it accounts with ancestors of the likes of peripheral ring roads, dry canals and hydroelectric dams. Projects with more than 15 years of planning and execution, but none properly finalized.
Written by Luis E. Aguilar. Co-edited and translated by Colectivo Morazán
(1) See theory of World System of Immanuel Wallerstein
(2) Atilio Boron. 2011. ¿Comienza una revolución anticapitalista?
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