Honduran President Porfirio Lobo on Monday expressed hope to learn how Korea developed its islands in the west coast into model cities of development and trade.
The Latin American country is passing an amendment to its constitution to designate a sizable piece of unpopulated government land for use as a model city where the rules will act as a magnet to attract and sustain investment.
“We came to learn about the South Korean experience in this regard because it has been extraordinary,” he told The Korea Herald in an exclusive interview.
Lobo’s vision is nothing new ― the plan will employ best practice from around the world such as Seoul and Singapore to offer the latest scientific techniques a modern city of this magnitude needs to improve investment and economic development.
|Honduras President Porfirio Lobo (AP)|
“When I look at Incheon, I noticed that is it very well organized and everything is very well developed because of the judicial development that permitted it go grow,” he said.
One strong advantage to attract foreign investors is Honduras’ geographical location, noted Lobo.
“We want to build a hub because we are exactly in the center of the Americas with access to both oceans, plus we have deep sea ports in the Gulf of Fonseca and the sun never hides in Honduras,” he said with a smile.
To attract sun worshippers for a dream vacation, Honduras is out to develop the Bay Islands, which is the only place in the country where English is the first language and the potential is greatest.
Honduras has extensive forest, marine, and mineral resources and is looking to bridge partnerships in this regard with local firms such as Posco.
Lobo explained that his government is implementing legislation that aims to better manage their resources while serving the interests of all parties without having a deep impact on the environment.
Local firms have indicated interests in investing in Honduras’ mining industry.
In general, the Korean government is promoting the commercial activities of Korean companies in Central America and Honduras after doing so in Peru, Chile, and other mining countries.
Metals mining in Africa and Latin America have become a major focus of overseas investment for Korea’s expanding economy.
According to scientific studies, it is estimated that only 10 percent of the minerals within Honduran territory have been discovered, and it is believed that the country possesses vast deposits of iron, gold, lead, silver, zinc, and other metals.
On the other hand, Honduras, with an estimated per capita GDP of $1,829 in 2009, is one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere, with about 65 percent of the population living in poverty.
“The only way to reduce poverty is to generate jobs and the only way to do this is to attract investments,” he noted.
Lobo agrees that education is the key issue when attempting to attract highly skilled foreign investments. That is why he is implementing legislation that aims to focus the country’s youth to study technology advanced courses.
“We want to learn from the Korean experience,” he said. “Korea and Honduras where both poor countries 50 years ago; but today, both countries are very different. The best medicine to fight poverty is education.”
According to the Foreign Ministry, from 1991 to 2007, Korea provided more than $11 million in aid to Honduras with $6 million from that loan going towards a major power grid expansion project.
“Typically, international funds are very well-organized in Honduras,” he said while responding to concerns about corruption within Honduran construction companies and major businesses.
“We recently opened one of the best hospitals in the northern area of the country with the aid of Korean companies,” he said. “This is part of the projects we signed with Korea.”
Honduras had some good plans for Central American cooperation and integration before the Organization of American States suspended their membership as a result of the June 2009 coup.
Before that time, Honduras was working towards the implementation of a regional customs union and Central American passport, which would ease border controls and tariffs among Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.
“We are very interested in getting our membership reinstated but that does not interfere with our desire for American integration. The most important thing is that Dominican Republic and Central American countries involved with us are all integrated as the process moves forward with interest,” he said.
Lobo, in seeking to lay to rest the recent past of the coup and start the process of reconciliation while working with the region to further dialogue in all the different sectors, proposed a National Plan that includes four key objectives: a country without poverty but with social services for all; democratic, safe, and non-violent; productive, with good jobs and a healthy environment; and a modern, transparent, efficient, government.
By Yoav Cerralbo (firstname.lastname@example.org)