New Corporate Development from Southeastern Mexico to Panama

PLAN PUEBLA PANAMA: The Linchpin and the Achilles Heel of Economic Globalization

When
Vincente Fox, in early 2001, announced his comprehensive plan
for a major transportation and industrial corridor from Puebla,
Mexico all the way to Panama, it immediately drew fire from
the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. Subcommandante Marcos
denounced the plan saying, "the Isthmus is not for sale!"

The
plan, which calls for vast displacement of native communities,
rampant and uncontrolled ecological devastation, and massive
industrial development will irrevocably damage this region–rich
in culture, biodiversity and natural wealth.

Plan
Puebla Panama, the name given by Fox to this disastrous scheme,
has already seen tremendous alliances built to oppose it. Because
of the PPP’s critical role in providing the infrastructure necessary
for the continual expansion of global trans-oceanic trade, it
also provides the anti-corporate globalization and global justice
movements with a uniquely possible opportunity to effectively
halt the expansion of free trade.

Background: Central America as Key to Trade

Central
America has always been an important resource colony for both
the United States and the world, offering rich resources and
cheap "expendable" labor on the narrowest strip of
land separating Atlantic and Pacific. Central Ameria is also
critical as the land bridge connecting North and South America.
With the globalization of free trade, the aging Panama Canal
can no longer sustain the increasing volume of goods from Pacific
Rim factories bound for US and European markets.

This
growing ship trade can be traced back to the establishment of
extensive networks of sweatshops in Asia. Partially assembled
products from a low paid work force in Asia need to find their
way to the gluttonous Eastern U.S. and Western European markets. Economic globalization
drives the need for transportation alternatives to the clogged
and obsolete Panama Canal. For over 100 years, the expansion
of capitalism has led to proposals for cross-isthmus dry canal
mega-projects for trans-oceanic movement of goods. These mega-projects
involve the construction of massive deep-water ports on both
coasts, capable of hosting the largest ocean freighters. These
ports will be connected by high speed rail lines and highways.
This massive transportation corridor will open the region to
further exploitation of the region’s forests, minerals and oil
and lead to the development of extensive networks of maquiladora
sweatshops (where components manufactured in Asian factories
can be assembled into finished products). The dry canal megaprojects
will also involve the construction of industrial shrimp farms,
oil refineries, smelters and vast industrial development, leading
to wide swaths of ecological and cultural devastation along
the Isthmus.

At least
five such dry canals are proposed along Central America’s isthmus,
including southern Mexico, Nicaragua, Colombia and elsewhere.
In Mexico and Nicaragua the canals will obliterate some of the
richest, most biodiverse rainforest lands, home to indigenous
communities.

Plan
Puebla Panama

Although
these transoceanic mega-projects have been planned for years,
President Fox of Mexico has packaged these plans in a new "regional
integration" proposal: the Plan Puebla Panama (PPP). The
PPP will include all seven Central American countries and southern
Mexico, a region encompassing 102 million square kilometers
and 63 million citizens. In Mexico, this region contains the
most cultural and biological diversity in the country. The PPP
proposes to link the trans-oceanic megaprojects with the development
of a north-south industrial and transportation infrastructure.

Funding is anticipated from the World Bank, Inter-American Development
Bank and Central American Development Bank. The funds would
be invested in new highways, port and airport expansion, tele-communications,
and gas and oil pipelines.

Fox
touts the PPP as bringing "the fruits of globalization"
to Southern Mexico and Central America, advancing Bush’s Free
Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA-ALCA) south to the Darian peninsula
of Panama. Here, Plan Colombia kicks in to complete US dominance
over this critical region and to open the Free Trade "gateway"
into South America.

The
geographical scope of the PPP includes important petroleum assets,
34 million hectares of virgin timber, spectacular fresh water
reserves, 30 million low-wage workers, and the World Bank-created
"Meso-American Biological Corridor," a much-coveted
gold mine of biodiversity.
In its essence, the PPP has three goals: (1) increase the transportation
and industrial infrastructure in the region, improving the capacity
for export industries, (2) catalyze a shift of the region’s
economy from agriculture to assembly plant maquiladoras and
manufacturing, and (3) expand private control over the vast
natural resources in the region. Land privatization is key to
all of these goals and underpins the PPP.

The
PPP is clear about its plan to remove rural and indigenous communities
from the lands that have sustained them for thousands of years,
and to place them in urban slums located adjacent to sweatshop
factories.

Managed
Land Degradation

What will happen
to the land when the people are removed?
Alfonso Romo serves as a PPP advisor and directs Grupo Pulsar,
one of Mexico’s most important transnational corporations. Romo
is a biotech seed giant and Grupo Pulsar currently has tree
plantations in Chiapas (nearly 50,000 acres). More plantations
are planned. These chemical-intensive, non-labor-intensive operations
will irreparably damage the land without even offering significant
local employment. With Romo’s ties to biotechnology there is
certainly a future possibility of genetically engineered tree
plantations being developed throughout the Central American
Isthmus. The World Rainforest Movement has reported that the
development of primarily non-native tree plantations in the
region is directly due to the demand for raw materials for packaging
for sweatshops.

The development of
roads through the North Atlantic Autonomous Region of Nicaragua
and around the Lacandon Rainforest of Chiapas have led to dramatic
increases in the logging of the native forests in those regions.
Forests on indigenous lands and in protected reserves alike
are being ravaged, legally and illegally, by national and multi-national
ventures. Indigenous peoples in forested areas often act as
the last line of defense of their forest homeland. With the
expansion of road construction throughout the Isthmus and the
removal of indigenous peoples from the remaining forested lands,
the forests will be opened wide for unchecked clearcutting and
high grading.

This transformation
of the land from forest to clearing has other impacts on the
people and ecosystems. When Hurricane Mitch struck Central America
in October of 1998, the most devastation occurred as a result
of the massive mudslides and floods that ensued. The areas that
suffered the most devastation and the highest losses of life
were those areas that had been ecologically damaged and deforested
years before. Where the rainforests still stood, the damage
was minor, because the soils were able to retain the heavy rains,
but where the land was bare, the rain had nowhere to go except
into huge river floods, and without tree roots to hold the soil
in place, the saturated earth slid off of the hillsides over
the communities below.


Militarization

The United States
military has a long and disastrous history throughout Latin
America. Currently, US military presence is strongest in El
Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. After Hurricane Mitch, many
American troops that were sent to the region for relief efforts
never left. It has been reported that 12,000 U.S. troops will
be deployed in a joint operation in Guatemala. The PPP both
opens a corridor and provides a new excuse for militarization
by the U.S. all the way from Mexico to Colombia. US factories,
refineries and smelters in such an "unstable" region
will require the heavy and on-going presence of the American
military.

Indigenous activists
in the region report an increase in military operations in Central
America since September 11. George Bush’s "War on Terrorism"
is being used as an excuse in the region to crack down on activism.

The on-going US Navy
bombing of Puerto Rico’s island of Vieques and the presence
of the Southern Command of the U.S. military in Puerto Rico,
is also key in the overall military dominance of the region.

Indigenous

The PPP is potentially
the greatest threat to indigenous communities and culture since
the landing of Columbus as neoliberal economics is pitted against
indigenous thought and wisdom.

As described above,
one of the main goals of the PPP is the privatization of land
and displacement of indigenous communities from their homelands.
Indigenous culture and language is intimately tied to the land.
Indigenous communities and culture in the region are already
under assault by the increasingly dominant American capitalist
consumer culture, and the loss of their land base will almost
certainly sound the death knell for the remaining traditions
that the indigenous communities still retain.

Uruguayan-born writer
Carlos Fazio states that geo-politics are key to the PPP. To
Fazio, the Plan represents a counter-insurgency strategy directed
at the rebel, largely Mayan, Zapatista Army of National Liberation
(EZLN) and other armed groups in southern Mexico and Central
America. The Zapatistas’ goals of indigenous autonomy and the
collective use of land and natural resources are "antithetical"
to the PPP. In La Jornada, Fazio stated, "The father of
this plan lives in Washington…" describing Fox’s neoliberal
affinity and the U.S. strategic, economic, and energy ambitions
in the region.

Resistance: Finding
the Achilles Heel

This massive remaking
of the region is key for the continued expansion of globalization.
Without this new transportation infrastructure, global trade
cannot continue to expand. The Central American region remains
a linchpin for the expansion of global trade. However, because
of this critical importance to economic globalization, it is
also its Achilles Heel.

If these mega-project
developments can be stopped, a serious problem arises for the
multinational corporations who need to ship capital goods from
ocean to ocean, from South America to North America or who dream
of cheap assembly plants throughout the region.

Civil Society
Rises Up

The forces against
corporate economic globalization are on the rise. Opposition
to the PPP has already started in southeastern Mexico and Central
America. This spring, some members of civil society organized
their own consultation: a meeting about the PPP in Tapachula,
a city on the Chiapas-Guatemala border. Present were over one
hundred organizations, including groups from most of the southern
Mexican states, as well as Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador.
The group met for nearly three days and emerged with a common
strategic response to the PPP. At the end of the meeting, the
group issued a statement reading, in part:

"Given that any development plan must be the result of
a democratic process, and not an authoritarian one, we firmly
reject the Puebla-Panama Plan…. We condemn all strategies
geared toward the destruction of the national, peasant and popular
economy, [and] food and labor self-sufficiency."

Opposition is also
mounting in the U.S. In Washington, DC, on October 1, 2001 approximately
fifty people representing 21 organizations gathered to discuss
Plan Puebla Panama (PPP). The meeting was called for by ACERCA
with Mexico Solidarity Network, Global Exchange and CISPES to
build the foundation for a broad US-based movement against the
PPP in solidarity with the global south.

The meeting brought
together many U.S. based NGOs and representatives from Mexico,
Honduras, Panama and Colombia. The afternoon meeting resulted
in an informal coalition that will work to support the inhabitants
of the region that will be affected by the PPP.

We, in the anti-corporate
globalization movement have the opportunity to join with our
southern allies in exploiting this Achilles Heel. It is also
our responsibility to listen to and support development plans
that come from the people of the affected region while dealing
a major blow to corporate economic globalization. As one of
our southern allies said, "it is time to build corridors
of resistance to the PPP."

Author: ACERCA

News Service: ACERCA

URL: http://acerca.org/plan_pueblo_panama.html