Protecting the Island

October 1st, 2004
by Thomas Tomczyk

[private] v2-12-Interview-Dr. Jose Guillermo FloresDr. Jose Guillermo Flores Rodas, 59, holds a degree in BS in Forestry, MA and PhD in Natural Resources Economics from University of Washington in Seattle. In 1975 he was one of the founding members of the National School of Forest Science in Ciguatepece. He was the head of the Honduran Corporation of Forest Development (COHDEFOR) between 1979 and 1981. He worked with UNDP and FAO in 10 different countries before coming back to Honduras in 1994 to take a job as consultant in natural resources policy for CHEMONICS corporation. Since 1998 he has been the director of PMAIB and shares his time between Tegucigalpa and Roatan. He is also the director of National Program for Sustainable Tourism and commissioner of COHDEFOR.

Bay Islands VOICE: Where did this new law proposal for the Bay Islands originate?
Dr. Jose Guillermo Flores Rodas: This is a reformulation of a previous law “Acuerdo No.2” that has been in effect since 1990s. Many of the things that have realtors, investors worried were in place before. There is nothing new about that. Whatever you do on the coast and whatever you do on the lagoon affects the very fragile ecosystem, the reef. Our [PMAIB] studies have shown that this is something that should worry all Bay Islanders and all Hondurans. You need to put some rules so that reef is sustainable and future generations can continue to enjoy it. The law attempts to put some order and some limits to development projects. Of course, this worries realtors. But realtors should also be worried about the future value of the land. If the reef deteriorates more rapidly because of undue development practices, the future land value will be zero. Sustainable development is whatever development you can do today without sacrificing the opportunities of tomorrow and this is precisely what this law is trying to do. Until now, the development practices have been very permissible. You see roads being washed away every winter and all that sediment affects the reef. We have seen the lack of sanitation systems. Before, when there were few people on the island, this had little effect on the reef, but now when you have a tremendous growth in development you need to put some rules on the ground. Otherwise, everybody will suffer the consequences of the reef deteriorating.
B.I.V.: Are similar land management laws in other departments of the country to follow?
Dr. J.G.R.: “Ley de ordenamiento territorial,” this is a brand new law that attempts to put land use planning at the center of development and growth. It’s an extremely good measure that Honduras has taken. These things are happening quicker in some places. For example, Sula Valley has some 19 or 20 municipalities that produce almost 50% of the national GDP. The law has originated a regional land-use planning board constituted by municipalities and civic organizations. They are adopting rules for development and conducting in-depth studies. (…) There are other areas that will come very soon into this law, especially land from La Ceiba to Omoa, Cortes. These are things that have happened in Europe a long time ago, land use planning and controlled growth for sustainable development.
B.I.V.: Is there another Centro American country that has adopted similar land laws?
Dr. J.G.R.: Costa Rica has adapted a law like this for the last 10-12 years. Being the most successful tourist destination in Central America, there was a lot of not very well controlled development. Manuel Antonio National Park had one of the most beautiful beaches in the country. It no longer is. Primarily, this is because hotels were allowed to be built right on the beach and that destroyed that beach. It is an example of something that really went bad in less then 20 years.
B.I.V.: How did that affect land values on Manuel Antonio beach?
Dr. J.G.R.: From being probably the most successful and most highly valued land in Costa Rica in early 1990, it has came down to very, very low prices. You see a lot of low income tourists coming onto that. This is a perfect example what we need to avoid here.
B.I.V.: During the working session in making a framework of this law the business people have been left out. Even Governor Clinton Everett wasn’t invited to that session in Tegucigalpa. Why?
Dr. J.G.R.: The four mayors were invited. CANATURH was there. Chamber of Commerce was there. You can’t invite everybody. You assume that you have representative organizations. Both CANATURH and Chamber of Commerce are representing businesses and investors. (…) This was a meeting organized by minister of tourism because there were a lot of problems. There are two agencies in control of the environment: Fiscalia del Ambiente and Procuradoria del Ambiente [attorney general and procurator general of the environment] and there were a number of lawsuits against developers and they were increasing every day. So the minister of tourism said ‘We can’t have this. Why don’t we lay down some ground rules’. (…) Sometimes good intentions are misinterpreted and those were very good intentions on the part of minister of tourism. Environmental laws have been in Honduras since the 80s, and why not have regional laws that are adapted to regional environment. A lot of this [confusion] is due to the lack of knowledge of the legal system amongst developers. But ignorance is not an excuse. You have to know the legal system of a country where you are investing.
B.I.V.: Should the business community be involved more intimately in creating the framework of the law?
Dr. J.G.R.: In retrospective, everything is so much clearer. And maybe this is a case where this should apply. I think if it was a mistake, it was an honest mistake. These laws are restrictive, but the environment requires that. We all live on this planet and it is a very small planet. The environment is a public good, not a private good. (…) A lot of these things cannot be consulted, because nobody is going to say ‘I accept that. I want to put restrictions on what I can do.’
B.I.V.: The ‘migration’ chapter in the law could be the most explosive. Why wasn’t it outlined in the draft?
Dr. J.G.R.: The law of the land is the constitution. No law can violate the constitution. The constitution establishes the freedom of movement to all Hondurans. So any law that provides restrictions to that movement is unconstitutional. I’m not involved in formulating this law, but I’m sure if this [migration] law was included then the whole law become unconstitutional. (…) San Andres is a protected area. If you call something a protected, you will need to have even more restrictions on growth. We discussed this one time and this what I expressed as my opinion: ‘If you want to, we can propose the Bay Islands as a protected area. But then you better watch out, because there are others laws that put much greater restrictions on growth and development.’ If you take one, you have to accept the other. [/private]

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