Honduras recently defined a new legal entity: la Región Especial de Desarrollo. A RED is an independent reform zone intended to offer jobs and safety to families who lack a good alternative; officials in the RED will be able to partner with foreign governments in critical areas such as policing, jurisprudence and transparency. By participating, Canada can lead an innovative approach to development assistance, an approach that tackles the primary roadblock to prosperity in the developing world: weak governance.
According to Gallup, the number of adults worldwide who would move permanently to Canada if given the chance is about 42 million. Although Canada can’t accommodate everyone who’d like to move here, it can help to bring stronger governance to many new places that could accept millions of new residents. The RED in Honduras is the place to start.
Honduran congressional support for the RED reflects a clear understanding of the challenges the country faces. Inefficient rules are the major obstacle to peace, growth and development. These rules are difficult to change, especially in a society that suffers from fear and mistrust. Building a new city on an undeveloped site, free of vested interests, with trusted third parties, is one way to fast-track reforms that might otherwise take decades to achieve.
Canadians are increasingly aware of the limits of traditional aid but remain committed to the principle that supporting international development is not only in Canada’s national interest but is the right thing to do. Recent trade agreements with Peru, Colombia, Panama and Honduras demonstrate that Latin America remains high on Canada’s development agenda.
The RED offers a new way to think about development assistance, one that, like trade, relies on mutually beneficial exchange rather than charity. It’s an effort to build on the success of existing special zones based around the export-processing maquila industry. These zones have expanded employment in areas such as garments and textiles, with substantial investment from Canadian firms such as Gildan, but they haven’t brought the improved legal protections needed to attract higher-skilled jobs. By setting up the rule of law, the RED can open up new opportunities for Canadian firms to expand manufacturing operations and invest in urban infrastructure.
By participating in RED governance, Canada can make the new city a more attractive place for would-be residents and investors. It can help immediately by appointing a representative to a commission that has the power to ensure that RED leadership remains transparent and accountable. It also can assist by training police officers.
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