Utopia in Honduras

Over the last 18 months, as governments around the world used the China flu to diminish already limited freedoms of the ordinary citizens with lockdowns, mask mandates and restrictions for those who do not wish to use an experimental medical treatment, many liberty minded individual are wondering, where can I go to?
The answer could be a Free Private City in Honduras.

The private city concept is an effort let by Titus Gebel to persuade governments officials to allow for autonomous zones where business & employment can develop freely. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this idea is more likely to gain traction in poor countries that have failed their own citizens the most. In 2015 the Honduran government adopted a law that allows for the creation of autonomous zones called ZEDE’s, where taxation is limited to 5% and the owner is responsible for all infrastructure and services including security.

View on Guanaja Island from one of the outer cays

On paper the potential is huge, which business owner doesn’t dream of a low tax, low regulation environment? Yet after 5 years not a whole lot has happened on the ground. Even when the legal framework allows for the creation of little Hong Kong’s, Honduras remains… Honduras.

Latin America is, apart from Africa, one of the hardest places to do business. Contracts mean little, handshakes even less, promises get broken, court cases go to the highest bidder and business partners rob each other without shame or remorse. Latin-American countries are called ‘Banana Republics’ for good reasons.
In addition to that, the ZEDE concept is constantly under fire from left-leaning press eager to defend the vested interest of some of the richest and most powerful men in Honduran society. There is no telling how many ZEDE’s have been tried, but one thing is for sure, only very few will succeed. Two that have broken ground, Ciudad Morazan and Orquidea, both are industrial oriented free zones backed by major Honduran industrialists. A good development, especially for unemployed Hondurans, but not much use for covid refugees. After all, moving to a crime ridden big city in Honduras is not a way to increase your personal freedom.

What about the ZEDE’s out on the Bay Islands, a world-famous tourist spot for divers and popular cruise ship destination? Here we find two groups trying to establish a ZEDE: Prospera on the biggest island of Roatan, and Guanaja Hills, located on the stunning island that goes by the same name where I find myself writing this article. Neither one has buildings you can move into at the point of writing, and it will take a lot of effort and investments to reach that point.

The cliché Caribbean beach including Instagram model

Caribbean islands are the zenith of idyllic relaxation, a dream shared by many living in more northern parts of the world. But as you might have read in one of my previous articles, reality doesn’t always match the dream. First there is the weather: some months of the year are extremely wet, with as much precipitation in a month as continental Europe or North America receives in a year. Other months wind is strong making it difficult to go anywhere by boat, and every ten to twenty years a hurricane trashes the place. As a tourist enjoying the pleasant weather while being spoiled in a resort you would never know and think it is always perfect.
Furthermore, there are practical problems of building remotely: the ZEDE’s will have to built their own water & power systems, docks, roads. Supplies have to come from far, the logistics are complicated and skilled labor is limited. Nothing that cannot be overcome with investments, but it means the end-product will not be cheap.

Which brings me to back to the main question: how good will a ZEDE do for freedom oriented utopia? Truth be told, not much in the near future. You’re looking at a minimal investment of $100.000 to build a small house and buy a boat. If you don’t work online or have some passive form of income you’d be traveling back-and-forth between places which isn’t a joyful experience due to covid-hysteria and increasingly more expensive and complicated. And even if you have your own income, the bay islands are small, it’s easy to get bored, and not so easy to visit friends & family.
Not doubting the good intentions of the investors, they are really trying very hard, but they still risk creating a resort for a small group of wealthy, middle-aged, liberty minded individuals, instead of creating a community for freedom loving people of all stripes.

Perhaps after 5 years a community will have grown here to a size that it can offer more job opportunities and entertainment. But that is of little use if you are in a country where your liberties are being taken away right now. So if ZEDE’s in Honduras can’t provide an immediate need for freedom, what can?

Launched with the best intentions, Galt’s Gulch Chile quickly turned into a scam by one of the group’s founders

Over the years, many libertarian ‘states’ have been tried, from the Minerva project in the seventies to more recent endeavors in Chile and Argentina. It is a list of tragic failures. Only one such project has achieved a level of success: The New Hampshire Free State Project. Unlike any of the other projects, the aim of the Free State Project never was to find sovereignty in some remote and challenging location, but to simply look at a US state that was already fairly free and not too densely populated, so that a small group of libertarians moving in could have a serious impact. The first efforts were made in 2003, and since then at least 5000 people have made the move to the state of New Hampshire. Many of these members since got elected into state- and local legislature, and the impact the group has is huge with events being organized year round.

The main reason FSP succeeded where others failed, is that they launched their project within the same country as their main target audience, in a place that has jobs available, infrastructure, houses and so forth. It wasn’t a huge step for its members (yet it still took a while to attract serious numbers.)

FSP members have upheld gun rights, decriminalized marijuana use, and address a host of other topics in New Hampshire

Considering all other attempts have failed, it stands to reason to copy the FSP model and to apply it in Europe or Asia, with a few modifications. Rather than focusing on a state, we should aim smaller at the municipal level. For no random group of Europeans is going to make an impact on the politics of Portugal or Slovakia. And while it would be great to for example prevent a nationwide mask mandate, it is already a vast improvement when you have no such mandate in your own municipality and can shop and send your kids to (a Montessori) school breathing freely.

Another modification would be to make sure that the location has a more pleasant climate than New Hampshire, which is one of the coldest states in the US. For people from neighboring states which are overtaxed, over-regulated and densely populated but have a similar climate it wasn’t such a big step, but for many Californians, Texans or Floridians that was a big drawback. Therefore a place in Scandinavia would not make it on the list. But something in the south of Europe would certainly appeal.

Three years ago my wife and I spent a summer in central Portugal traveling and doing volunteer work and lived for a while in a village called Santa Comba. The area is fairly pretty but doesn’t attract much tourism. The larger town of Seia has about 20 thousand inhabitants and most of what you need in terms of groceries and materials.
The region has seen an out-flux of people, many have moved to France for work or even further, and only old people remain. When my wife and I started attending mass on Sunday, the old people were delighted and soon started donating fruits, vegetables and homemade wine. We rented a three-bedroom apartment for $150 per month and gave serious thought to living there. However, with no passive income nor luck getting work online the summer eventually came to an end.

Yours for €15.000

Southern Europe is full of such dying villages. But you might wonder wouldn’t a project there suffer from the same limitations as a ZEDE in Honduras? There are several factors that make our village in Europe much more appealing:

  1. Existing infrastructure: most of these places have water, electricity and good internet
  2. Cheap real estate: even people with little money can buy a ruin and fix it up.
  3. Cheap flight or a long car ride away from the rest of Europe. People who have a job elsewhere can still spend a lot of time in the village, or perhaps only keep a small apartment where they work.
  4. Good holiday destination: even if the project fails, it is still a pleasant place to visit so you won’t lose your investment no matter what.
  5. Little political opposition. On the contrary, some countries even have programs to stimulate new residents moving to dying villages.
  6. Not too extreme: people are creatures of habit, most of us prefer something familiar over something exotic. Spain/Italy/Croatia is much more appealing than Honduras for 99% of the public.

We could also choose a village in a central region of Europe, more expensive than Southern Europe but much closer to major industrial and commercial areas. In the east of Belgium for example, close to the German and Dutch border, there’s a village that until 1920 was its own independent country: Moresnet. A historical anomaly that was simply ‘absorbed’ into Belgium after the First World War but never by official agreement. Europe is full of such anomalies and while these places are unlikely to regain full sovereignty, at least you can make a strong case for it and win in the court of popular opinion.

This entire Italian village was listed on E-bay for 300.000. There are more where this came from.

With a large number of liberty loving individuals concentrated in one municipality we would be able to create a parallel economy in the same way the Amish manage to do in their territories: no matter what the federal or state governments decide, the Amish find ways to maintain their lifestyle and protect their members when necessary. It’s a successful model we can copy (without the religious aspects.)

Now imagine we start on a campaign for a European Free State Project, what could we achieve? Would it be possible with a lot of publicity to attract a hundred, two hundred, or even one thousand people to move to one village? I’m confident that out of the 744 million Europeans, we should be able to persuade a few hundred people to make the move to a village which would quickly become a beacon for the liberty movement and an inspiration for others to do the same.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

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