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Partitioning Honduras: The advent of charter cities

(Image by Peter Oumanski for the New York Times. Accompaniment to Adam Davidson’s article encouraging charter cities)

Following is an excerpt from my latest op/ed for Al Jazeera.

At the end of 2011, an article appeared in The Economist proclaiming “an ambitious development project aim[ing] to pull a Central American nation out of its economic misery”.

The project in question: Charter cities. The nation: Honduras.

The article explains:

“In a nutshell, the Honduran government wants to create what amounts to internal start-ups – quasi-independent city-states that begin with a clean slate and are then overseen by outside experts. They will have their own government, write their own laws, manage their own currency and, eventually, hold their own elections.”

The term “eventually” should raise some warning flags. According to US economist Paul Romer, whose brainchild the charter city concept is, the apparent affront to democracy is not actually problematic because the cities will be inhabited entirely by migrants who have taken up residence of their own volition. The Economist offers an analogy: 

“Migration to Britain gives the legal system there legitimacy in the eyes of those who move there, even if they cannot vote. If the English legal system were enforced on the same person in his home country, Mr Romer notes, that would be colonial rule.”



Puerto Rico's outlaw police force

(Photo: AP)

The following is my latest piece for Al Jazeera.

In February 2011, US congressman Luis V Gutierrez, a Democrat from Illinois, addressed the House of Representatives:

“I want to talk to you today about a part of the world where the rights of citizens of all walks of life to protest and speak their minds is being denied, with clubs and pepper spray. A part of the world where a student strike led the university to ban student protests anywhere, anytime on campus, and where, when the students protested the crackdown on free speech, they were violently attacked by heavily armed riot police… What faraway land has seen student protests banned, union protesters beaten, and free speech advocates jailed? The United States of America’s colony of Puerto Rico”.

Gutierrez was referring to a period of intense crackdowns by Puerto Rican police on peaceful protests that began in response to fiscal austerity measures, the firing of 30,000 state employees, the suspension of collective bargaining rights, and a 50 per cent increase in tuition fees – rendering education prohibitively expensive for many students. Police violence has been amply documented in a new report released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), titled “Island of Impunity: Puerto Rico’s Outlaw Police Force”.


Obama, Bush, and R/rice


During his recent four-hour visit to Puerto Rico—the first by a U.S. president since 1961—Barack Obama mentioned several Puerto Ricans by name aside from Marc Anthony. These included Juan Castillo, currently on the verge of 101 years of age, who participated in World War II and the Korean War on behalf of the U.S. military, and Ramón Colón-López, who in more recent times acquired the U.S. Air Force Combat Action Medal when he and his team “killed or captured 12 enemy fighters” in Afghanistan.

Explained Obama:

…I tell this story because for decades, Puerto Ricans like Juan and Ramon have put themselves in harm’s way for a simple reason:  They want to protect the country that they love.  Their willingness to serve, their willingness to sacrifice, is as American as apple pie –- or as Arroz con Gandules.  (Applause.)  The aspirations and the struggles on this island mirror those across America.”

The American-ness of arroz con gandules—Puerto Rico’s traditional dish of rice and peas—is called into question by the number of times Obama referred to his notes prior to and during pronunciation. It is meanwhile not clear where the mirror idea came from, given Puerto Rico’s colonial status and the resulting improbability that its aspirations and struggles are identical to those of its colonial master.


Boats from Libya threaten Italian identity

Structure in Puglia region of Italy, potentially susceptible to remodeling as mosque by invading Muslims. (Photo by Amelia Opalinska.)

Structure in Puglia region of Italy, potentially susceptible to remodeling as mosque by invading Muslims. (Photo by Amelia Opalinska.)

On May 7, 2009, 227 migrants en route from Libya to Italy were intercepted in the Mediterranean Sea and escorted back to Tripoli by three vessels belonging to the Italian state, two from the Guardia Costiera and one from the Guardia di Finanza. In the online version of the Italian journal La Repubblica, Italy’s interior minister Roberto Maroni applauded the feat as “un risultato storico” in the struggle against clandestini, and a resolution to arguments between Italy and Malta over which nation should have to deal with potential asylum seekers. Maroni reasoned that, since the migrants were intercepted prior to reaching Italian shores, international law did not apply and it was not the “compito del governo italiano”—the duty of the Italian government—to evaluate requests for asylum; not addressed was why it was the compito del governo italiano to redeposit the travelers at their point of embarkation.

Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi was quoted in La Repubblica as supporting the re-depositing based on the fact that, unlike the political left in Italy which wanted to open the doors to everyone, his government was not founded on the idea of a società multietnica but rather on the idea of receiving only those migrants who met the requirements for political asylum. No logistical details were offered on how to determine whether migrants met such requirements if they were forcibly repatriated prior to questioning; defense minister Ignazio La Russa meanwhile deflected potential accusations of xenophobia by explaining in the online version of Il Giornale that opposition to a multiethnic society did not mean that people of different ethnicities could not become Italian. According to La Russa, it was critical not to lose track of the history that made Italians “unici nel mondo”—a history of uniqueness that had included convictions during colonial periods that Libya was not opposed to a multiethnic society.