Honduras loses thousands of its citizens to the United States every year, with a total of one million emigrants to date. In February 2011, the Honduran National Congress passed landmark legislation to create a special development region (SDR) modeled as a charter city) As described by Paul Romer, professor of economics at New York University, charter cities allow for "cross-national government partnerships that facilitate the transfer of working systems of rules to greenfield locations." (2) Romer believes that importing good rules from elsewhere can trigger development, so long as the rules apply to all residents equally, and only to those who choose to live under them. (3) For Honduras, this means allowing a piece of its own sovereign territory to be developed and administered by a body beyond the control of the country's central government and allowing its citizens to move in and out as they choose. Octavio Sanchez Barrientos, the chief of staff to Honduran President Porfirio Lobo Sosa, is leading the charter-city initiative in Honduras. He discussed the project's development with the Journal's Ethan Wilkes. (4)
Journal of International Affairs: What inspired the Honduran government to consider building a charter city?
Octavio Sanchez Barrientos: The government wasn't talking about a charter city initially, which we are calling a special development region, or SDR. The idea originated during the administration of President Rafael Leonardo Callejas Romero, who was in office from 1990 to 1994. First, the American company Bethlehem Steel was trying to manage and develop a shipbuilding industry in the area of Trujillo, which has the third-deepest natural bay in the world. Second, before Hong Kong was returned to the People's Republic of China in 1997, there was uncertainty about that city's future; some businessmen were talking about the possibility of building a similar city here in Honduras instead. But neither of those initiatives took hold at the time. Still, during the Romero administration, we were looking for a strategy to divorce our economy from our political instability. One of the ideas that we discussed was the SDR.
Journal: Can you fast-forward twenty years and describe your grand vision for Honduras's charter-city project today?
Sanchez: Eventually, the SDR can become the place to do business in this part of the world. Obviously it will take a very deep commitment, a lot of work and a lot of patience to achieve this. Currently...