Honduras model cities plan ruled illegal

I've written about Honduras' model city plan several times, most recently here.
The idea, championed by the government, was to create new, privately owned cities from scratch. The owners would make their own laws and set up their own schools and police forces and courts. It would be like a do-over for the country, separate states within Honduras. The tacit admission was that Honduras couldn't fix its problems.
But the Supreme Court of Honduras ruled this week that the model cities law was unconstitutional, in part because it violated sovereignty by creating a country within a country. 
The idea is, for now, apparently dead.
The politicians complained about the decision. They argue that new, secure cities would result in investment and jobs.
As I've written, model cities have great risks. Owners are naturally going to make laws in the interests of big investors, not citizens, and basic principles of democracy and accountability are at risk.
But after nine months in Honduras, I was a lot more open to the idea than I would have been a year ago. As Bob Dylan wrote, when you ain't got nothing, you've got nothing to lose.
One of the big problems is that a country trying the idea out of desperation likely lacks the skills and mechanism to provide proper oversight.
The first city was to be developed with no track record. A promised international oversight commission to ensure all was legitimate and rights were protected was never put in place.
Given the way the project was proceeding, the court decision was probably good for Honduras.

The freedom to create a building out of buses

The freedom to build a bus walkway

Blog posts on Honduras can gets a little gloomy. 
OK, a lot gloomy.
But there are always upsides. When there are no rules, for example, people can enjoy a certain crazy freedom unknown in a place like Victoria, where opening hot dog cart turns into a regulatory ordeal.
The view from the highway La Prensa
People like Manuel de Jes�s Cardoza, who has built a sprawling, four-story building out of old school buses and other scrap. (La Prensa wrote about him today.)
Cardoza, who says he�s an engineer with a degree from the �university of the streets,� has used more than 40 old school buses, old machinery, iron wheels, train tracks and other scrap to build the complex beside the highway at La Lima, near San Pedro Sula. He learned to weld and build things as a child workers in a lot of small workshops.
It�s been a 13-year-project, and judging by the pictures, there�s still a lot of work ahead. He�s spent $150,000 so far, and figures another $50,000 will finish the project,
Cardoza told La Prensa he started out thinking it could be an entertainment  centre, with a nightclub and pool. But two years ago he became a Christian and now only wants to hold religious events and weddings.
La Prensa says it�s pretty luxe, with �areas the envy of any luxury hotel,� including a terrace where people can watch the highway sitting in comfy chairs that were once the drivers� seats in luxury buses.
The whole thing is supported by pillars made of bus wheels welded together and filled with concrete.
The use of a bus as a pedestrian overpass is a particularly stylish touch.
It�s all a bit crazy looking. But the freedom to follow your dream - even if it�s an odd one - is worth something.
Creativity in action
And if you�re looking for a really different wedding venue, think about the Cardoza�s castle




Food prices, hunger and climate change

Pretty interesting juxtaposition of two stories on the El Heraldo website this week.
The cost of the basic food basket in Honduras - the food needed for a family of five for a month - has risen to 6,950 lempiras, or a little under $350, the newspaper reported, citing a report from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.
The second story reported that the minimum wage might go up in December, depending on the inflation rate.
A little less rain, and the crops fail
But it also noted that the current minimum wage schedule ranges from $230 a month to $355 a month. (The minimum wage schedule varies depending on the nature of the work and location. Farmworkers and others doing similar work are at the bottom; urban office workers get the higher minimums.)
The laws aren�t actually enforced. But even if employers are paying minimum wage, the stories highlight how tough life is for Hondurans.
If there is just one parent working at minimum wage - common enough - then the total income covers less than two-thirds of food costs, leaving no money for anything else. (A family of five is about average. Women start having children early - abut 18 per cent of women between 15 and 19 had children, according to the 2000 census. The Roman Catholic church oppose contraception. Sex education is lacking. And cultural factors support large families.)
Even someone earning the top minimum wage would see the entire amount go for food.
Of course, it�s not that straightfoward. Nothing is here. About half the population is rural, and many grow beans and corn, the staple foods. A tipico meal - breakfast, lunch or supper - virtually always includes corn tortillas and beans. 
But there was bad news on that front as well. Catholic Relief Services, along with a couple of expert food production groups, released a report on climate change and bean and corn production in the CA-4 countries - Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
The forecast is disastrous. By 2020, Honduras is predicted to see a 12 to 30-per-cent drop in corn production, depending on soil quality. Bean production is forecast to decline by 15 per cent.
That�s not surprising once you�ve seen Hondurans farms. About 70 per cent are on steep slopes, with poor soil and no irrigation potential. Farming follows a pattern that�s hundreds of years old - plant corn in May, in anticipation of rain, and add beans in September, when rain increases again. It takes only a small change - rain that comes late, or temperatures that are too high - and the crops fail. 
And in rural communities, that means hunger. Even today, the World Bank reports 29 per cent of children under five are stunted - shorter than the range for their age because of malnutrition. I�ve given up on guessing kids' ages - six-year-olds are the size of four-year-olds in Canada.
Cuso International and its partners are doing a lot of work on improving food production, diversifying crops and increasing cash incomes. But it�s a huge challenge when people are focused on having enough corn and beans for the next 12 months, and worried that any experiment that goes wrong will mean daily hunger.

Footnote:
Canadians shouldn�t get too smug. The Dieticians of Canada do an annual report on food costs, and found a family of four needs to spend $868 a month in British Columbia. A person working for minimum wage makes $1,666 a month, leaving not much for everything else.
A disabled person in B.C. trying to raise three children - it happens - gets $700 for rent and $672 for everything else - 77 per cent of the amount needed for food alone.

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