In October 1998, Hurricane Mitch devastated Choluteca, an impoverished province in rural Honduras. The hurricane claimed human lives and damaged homes, agriculture, and industry. But Mitch’s effect on Choluteca was unusual, because economic revitalization followed this destruction. The Washington Post
recently detailed how investors and developers have seized on Choluteca’s advantageous location—between El Salvador and Nicaragua, and close to the Pan-American Highway and a Pacific seaport—to transform it from an underdeveloped agricultural region into a hub for international trade
So far, Honduran entrepreneurs have achieved considerable success in the region, finding foreign backers to invest in new high-tech melon and shrimp processing plants. Choluteca’s formerly sleepy capital has become a bustling town, attracting businesspeople with expensive tastes, as well as symbols of American capitalism: the local Wendy’s is packed every day for lunch.
Some ordinary farmers and workers’ lives have improved since the hurricane. For instance, the influx of post-hurricane foreign aid provided many working-class people with better houses than the ones the hurricane destroyed—the floors in their new homes are made of cement, rather than dirt. However, the gap between the rich and the poor has not narrowed since the hurricane. In fact, for the most part, it has widened.
The continuing poverty of the majority of Cholutecans will likely be exacerbated by plans for a new free-trade zone, nicknamed “Zip Choluteca.” This spring, the Honduran government and developers signed an agreement to keep wages below the legal daily minimum for 5 to 10 years, in an effort to make this economically underdeveloped region more attractive to investors and entrepreneurs.
Although natural disasters cause great damage to societies and individuals, they are not always as disastrous in the long run as we might think. Natural disasters can revitalize economies, as in Choluteca, and can encourage peace, as in Aceh after the 2004 Asian tsunami. Yet economic success in Choluteca can only truly be accomplished if the Cholutecans whose work fuels the region’s growth benefit adequately from their labors.