How Do You Create the Labor Force for the Maquiladoras and to Work in the Gardens of Rich Americans?
Above: Honduran sweatshop workers, i.e., people with histories
One of the worst parts of the debate on the globalization of production is the discussion of workers. For promoters of uncontrolled capital mobility, workers are just sitting there in horrible poverty, waiting for the gift of a low-wage job. But that totally ignores the history of those people, including how American agricultural policy is culpable for that. So often, these workers actually lived on farms and would prefer to live on those farms still, but agricultural policy, land concentration, the dumping of cheap American agricultural products on foreign markets, and the growth of high-cost specialty crops to return to the United States all lead to farmers unable to survive on the land any longer. I go into this issue in some depth in Out of Sight. These aren’t just people waiting for a nice American corporation to provide them with a job. They are people who have already been screwed over by both their own government and American corporations, forcing them into a situation where they are in fact desperate for that industrial job, or in the case of Mexicans and Central Americans, become willing to undergo the significant risk to their own lives it takes to cross the American (and Mexican) border without documentation.
This leads us to Honduras. In 2009, a right-wing coup against President Manuel Zelaya, who among other things was going to give land titles to people farming the land where they lived, took place. It was not supported by the United States government, but the right-wingers in Congress cared about this more than the Obama administration, and the latter eventually recognized the government. Honduras has since become the nation with the worlds’ highest murder rate, with the American military engaging in widescale operations in the country to fight the drug trade, which just fuels even more violence.
The kleptocrats who run Honduras are now creating a larger labor force for the maquiladoras in their country (and once again, the people who point to Asia for why globalized production works need to explain why it does not work in Central America if they want to make an honest argument) by engaging in widespread land theft:
Ortiz and his neighbors, however, are part of a new chapter of that fight. Their community of Playa Blanca is one of 10 longstanding communities engaged in a protracted fight between the peninsula’s campesinos — a term for peasant farmers — and wealthy landowners who are snapping up territory as the area is primed for a government orchestrated transformation. That struggle, in turn, is part of a larger one taking place across Honduras as the country embarks on a radical free market experiment.
In more than a dozen areas dotted throughout the country, including the region encompassing Zacate Grande, the government has designated swaths of land as possible sites of Zones for Employment and Economic Development (known by their Spanish acronym ZEDEs) — semi-autonomous cities allowed to write their own laws and field their own judges. The ZEDE project is overseen by a 21-person committee comprised of free market libertarians, and the projects will be beholden to their investors, not the Honduran people. Only a small handful of the committee’s members are Honduran, amplifying fears of foreign control in a country whose fertile land, cheap labor, and natural resources have long been exploited by transnational capital while its masses languish in poverty. Honduras’ congress passed a law authorizing ZEDEs in 2013. After a similar “model city” measure failed to pass constitutional muster the previous year, the four Supreme Court justices opposing the law were replaced with judges who supported the concept. Construction is expected to begin in the next several years, though no one knows for sure when.
As many of the sites are in territories occupied by marginalized indigenous and rural communities, the kind of land grabs that Ortiz described may only become more common as the ZEDEs are developed. The ZEDE law gives eminent domain powers to the government, allowing for unchecked land expropriation for private development if owners choose not to sell. Though information about the implementation of ZEDEs is shrouded in confusion and beset by rumors, the stories of those living on the front lines highlight the hardship they are already causing.
This is how you create people who have no choice but to either a) involve themselves in the drug trade, b) move to San Pedro Sula or Tegucigalpa to work in the maquiladoras, or c) flee north to find work in the United States. And who is supporting this land centralization? You’d better sit down before reading further because it is truly shocking:
The ZEDEs, however, are not without their defenders. Libertarian and neoliberal policy advocates have supported them as a pathway to economic growth by importing successful development models from elsewhere. Mark Klugmann, a political strategist who served as a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, is on the ZEDE oversight commission. He claims that ZEDEs would create investor-friendly enclaves that would circumvent corruption, entice foreign investment, and foster the good governance and economic development that is impeded by weak state institutions. According to a 2014 interview with Klugmann in World Post, the project, “if it accomplishes what it’s capable of doing, will demonstrate inside of Honduras and to the world that capacity of solving problems and creating jobs in particular can go forward with a velocity that very few people have been expecting.”
A former Republican speechwriter is supporting stealing land from the poor? To the fainting couch! If there’s one thing we can be sure of, it’s that creating libertarian enclaves within Honduras will truly create paradise for the poor….