Some complications for Honduran Hong Kong

We've written a bit here before on Honduras's planned Región Especial de Desarrollo -- a planned free enterprise zone with its own legal and judicial institutions set up along the lines of economist Paul Romer's "charter cities" concept.

Last Tuesday, the Honduran government took a major step toward making the project a reality by signing a memorandum of agreement with an international group of investors:

The "model cities" will have their own judiciary, laws, governments and police forces. They also will be empowered to sign international agreements on trade and investment and set their own immigration policy.

Congress president Juan Hernandez said the investment group MGK will invest $15 million to begin building basic infrastructure for the first model city near Puerto Castilla on the Caribbean coast. That first city would create 5,000 jobs over the next six months and up to 200,000 jobs in the future, Hernandez said. South Korea has given Honduras $4 million to conduct a feasibility study, he said.

There seems to be some trouble behind the scenes on the project, however. Last Friday, Romer -- along with fellow members of a transparency commission appointed by the Honduran government -- sent the following letter to President Porfirio Lobo:

Since the report of our appointment as members of the Transparency Commission for the Special Development Regions (REDs) appeared in December 2011, we understand that a constitutional challenge to the legal framework for the REDs has made it difficult for you to publish the decree giving legal validity to our appointment. Thus the conditions have not existed to permit the Transparency Commission to play the role envisioned for this ambitious and important project.

As you continue to work to attract foreign investment under the RED framework in this period of uncertainty, we feel it would be wise to release you from any sense of obligation to proceed with publication of the decree and thus with our formal appointment.

You should know that we, as individuals, continue to believe strongly in the vision behind the Honduran RED initiative, and we stand ready to be of service when the impediments to the full establishment of the institutional framework of the REDs have been resolved.

Romer also told the Guardian that he had been surprised by the MKG investment deal and that the members of the transparency commission "do not have any information, or means to check or look into any aspect of the negotiation."

It was just last May, that Romer was working closely with the Honduran government to promote the idea, co-authoring an op-ed with Lobo's chief of staff to promote the project. 


The Election 2012 Weekly Report: Conventions Close

Democrats flex foreign-policy muscle

At their convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, this week, the Democrats weren't shy about touting their rare advantage on national security in this year's election. Speakers mentioned Osama bin Laden 21 times during the three-day event, and Barack Obama ridiculed Republican challenger Mitt Romney's foreign policy in his acceptance speech on Thursday evening.

"My opponent and his running mate are new to foreign policy," the president asserted. "After all, you don't call Russia our number one enemy -- not al Qaeda, Russia -- unless you're still stuck in a Cold War mind warp. You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can't visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally."

At a campaign stop in Iowa on Friday, Romney defended the critical comments he made while visiting London during this summer's Olympic Games, calling it the kind of "straight talk" Obama avoids. "I think it would be appropriate if the president would talk to China in a straight talk manner," he said. "They have manipulated their currency for well over a decade, taken American jobs, and I think it's totally appropriate to show backbone and strength as we deal with other nations around the world, there is nothing wrong with telling people the truth."

Jobs report

On Friday morning, shortly after the Democratic convention wrapped up, a much-anticipated jobs report revealed that that while the unemployment rate had fallen from 8.3 percent to 8.1 percent, the economy had added only 96,000 jobs in August, far below the 125,000 that economists had forecasted and the revised figure of 141,000 that the economy had added in July. The Romney campaign pounced. "If last night was the party, this morning is the hangover," Romney noted, adding that the president had "yet to keep his number one promise to fix the economy."

Saluting the troops

Democrats seized on the controversy surrounding Romney's failure to mention the war in Afghanistan during his acceptance speech last week -- an effort that was no doubt aided by the optics of Obama addressing the troops at Fort Bliss, Texas, the very next day. "No nominee for president should ever fail in the midst of a war to pay tribute to our troops overseas in his acceptance speech," Senator John Kerry (D-MA) declared on Thursday evening in the most substantive foreign policy speech of the convention. (Romney, for his part, points out that he mentioned Afghanistan during a visit to the American Legion a day after the convention.) A Gallup poll in August showed Romney leading Obama 55 percent to 38 percent among veterans.

Platform politics: Jerusalem

Of all the controversies surrounding this year's Democratic platform, none was more consequential than the debate surrounding the decision to not include language affirming that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel in the document's section on Israel. The wording had appeared in the party's 2008 platform, but drafters reportedly removed it to indicate that Jerusalem will remain a so-called final-status issue in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Party leaders ultimately reinstated the language during a chaotic and contentious voice vote after facing heavy criticism from the Romney campaign and others.

Immigration reform

Talk of immigration reform figured prominently in the Democratic convention. San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, the first Latino to deliver the keynote address at a convention, praised Obama's executive order this summer to halt the deportation of young illegal immigrants. "The president took action to lift the shadow of deportation from a generation of young, law-abiding immigrants called ‘Dreamers,'" Castro noted. Benita Veliz, an undocumented immigrant and a leader of the Dreamers movement, also addressed the convention. The GOP convention also featured several Latino speakers, including Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and New Mexican Governor Susana Martinez.

Climate change

Global warming wasn't a major topic of conversation at the Republican and Democratic conventions -- beyond a debate about whether caring about the rise of the oceans is a good thing -- but Romney did make headlines this week by adjusting his stance on climate change, albeit in a rather confusing fashion. "I am not a scientist myself, but my best assessment of the data is that the world is getting warmer, that human activity contributes to that warming, and that policymakers should therefore consider the risk of negative consequences," he argued. "However, there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue."

The latest from FP:

Over the last couple weeks, there's been an extended debate on between Peter Feaver, Charles Kupchan, and Bruce Jentleson over the merits of Barack Obama's and Mitt Romney's foreign policies. Check it out here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Alex Massie explains why he's sick and tired of U.S. political conventions.

Uri Friedman explores the surprising Republican reset with Pakistan.

Aaron David Miller makes the case for why Barack Obama will win reelection.

John Kerry outlines why the Republicans can't be trusted with national security.

Joshua Keating tells us what a Polkian presidency might look like.

Foreign Policy releases its list of the 50 most powerful Democrats on foreign policy.

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