Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom

Prosperity on the Horizon?

Erick Brimen, in front of Próspera’s first “beta test” building near Crawfish Rock.

A Large, Potentially Huge Development Project Breaks Ground on Roatan

Despite the Roatan COVID-19 economy shut down a large, perhaps the biggest project the island has ever seen was announced. Próspera, a company with $17.5 million capital and 58-acre site on the north shore aims to change Roatan’s future. Próspera, has built a team of first-class associates with architectural design by Zaha Hadid Architects, evaluation by Ernst & Young, and business interest from CEMESA Hospital.

Próspera’s website states that by 2025 the project will have a “foreign direct investment of at least $500M and new jobs created (direct) of at least 10,000.” On an island of 100,000 people theses numbers are staggering. If Próspera’s goals will ever be achieved they key will lie in tying the project to Honduras’Zonas de empleo y desarollo económico” [ZEDE] – Zone for Employment and Economic Development. Próspera is the first company to take advantage of this ZEDE laws passed in 2015. While many islanders dismiss the legislation as irrelevant to their lives, some see its potential as an opportunity for a business boom and others see it as threat to property ownership in Honduras.

The man behind Próspera is Erick Brimen, the company’s Venezuelan born and US educated CEO. His 2005 thesis in Babson College was “how one could direct market forces to solve social problems,” and he sees Roatan Próspera doing just that. While Brimen has been coming to the island since 2016, he has been thinking about Roatan since high school.

“Foreign direct investment of at least $500M and new jobs created (direct) of at least 10,000.” 

In 2002 Brimen heard a high school friend talk about Roatan and describing the island’s potential as being held back because of the lack of legal infrastructure that Cayman Islands had. That friend was Tristan Monterroso, a Roatanian pastor who now sits on Próspera’s council. “When Honduras past the ZEDEs law and the Supreme Court ruled it constitutional it clicked on me that that could be a delivery mechanism for a place like Roatan to have more prosperity,” said Brimen. Two islanders are now part of the project: Tristan Monterroso and Duane McNab, owner of Max Communications and Próspera’s Council Member.

Próspera has begun on an elongated, meandering 58-acre property just east of Crawfish Rock. The site has about 300 feet of beach but its 750-acre master plan calls for 1.2-kilometer beachfront. “Real estate is heavily financed with debt and other sources of capital.” Many of buildings on the master plan are five to seven stories tall being by far the highest buildings on Roatan. Próspera aims at housing a Marine Center, a University and a Hospital that would provide jobs and create a hub and an “economic development platform” for entrepreneurs from around the world and Honduras. “A platform like PRÓSPERA is the future of the island,” said Duane McNab.

Próspera aims at not to be limited to one location on Roatan, and Brimen sees his project not only expanding around Crawfish Rock, but thought the island and beyond. “The idea is to have multiple hubs thought the island that voluntarily annex,” said Brimen. “We don’t own it all; in fact we don’t have to own it for it to become incorporated.” Brimen says that Próspera has already raised $17.5 million from investors and aims to secure another $30 million in a couple years.

“The idea is to have multiple hubs thought the island that voluntarily annex.”

The project’s direct neighbors in Crawfish Rock seem to be supportive of Próspera, but deeply apprehensive of ZEDE laws and it is impossible to separate the two. Próspera wouldn’t have been formed and the capital couldn’t have been attracted if it wasn’t for ZEDES. “I’m in favor of Próspera. I believe they will take our island and Crawfish Rock out of the hole we’re in. I lived over 13 years in Crawfish Rock before I could get running water,” says Virginia Cecilia Mann, resident of Crawfish Rock. Mann says that 95% of Crawfish Rockers are worried of being displaced by the ZEDE laws.

One of the attractions of becoming part of Próspera and ZEDEs are the lower overall taxes: income tax of 10%, land tax of 1 to 2.5%, and 5% VAT sales tax.  “Those are the taxes you pay to Próspera ZEDE. A percentage of these taxes are then paid to five destinations including central government and the Municipality,” said Brimen.  

Launching of a company that as a first takes advantage of ZEDE legislature caused plenty of stir, pushback and questions from locals. A petition organized by “Alliance for the defense of the Bay Islands Territory” and in part by Irma Brady of BICA aims to repeal the ZEDE legislation. Using a platform the group launched a appeal that has gathered 16,000 signatures by September 24. “We don’t aspire to become theoretical experiences of supposed libertarian investors,” stated the petition. “Expropriation (…) to expand the ZEDE territory, for its (sic!) Eventual delivery to foreign investors is unacceptable.”

While some opposing Próspera and ZEDE have put their discontent in words, others have escalated to physical action. A September 18 Brimen’s meeting with Crawfish Rock residents was interrupted by Roatan’s Municipal Police. “My security was threatened because I was seeking to explain how and why ZEDEs and in particular Próspera ZEDE cannot expropriate,” Brimen wrote on public Roatan Whatsapp security group. “I have been threatened by people in powerful positions so if something happens to me, please know it was not an accident.”

Próspera and Roatan are set for a bumpy ride during unpredictable times on a global scale. Honduras is increasing becoming a country of many laws and people who know how to use and interpret these laws are at an advantage. On Roatan alone there are PMAIB laws, ZOLITUR laws, COVID-19 laws, and now there is the ZEDE.  Seeing the big picture in all of this is not easy, but some try to see the positive. “Big projects like this going on despite the pandemic are a good signal,” said about Próspera Dino Silvestri, Governor of the Bay Islands.