By Celia Davis
The Puebla Panama Plan continues to exist, it continues to deprive rural and indigenous communities of land for the construction of large infrastructure works and continues its progress without the authorities of the eight countries that participate in the PPP making legitimate consultations for the opinion of those affected.
The Puebla Panama Plan exists and Mesoamerica resists
Summary: The following text is an update on the progress of the PPP. The PPP continues to exist, it continues to deprive rural and indigenous communities of land for the construction of large infrastructure works, and continues its march without the authorities of the eight countries that participate in the PPP making legitimate consultations for the opinion of those affected. Governments have given the PPP a low profile, in order to deflect, diminish or eliminate the social protests that its advance has caused. This profile has been successful as journalists, opposition politicians, and even some progressive academics related to the PPP issue, think that the Plan has died. The following writing, written by long-term activists Celia Davis, Wendy Call and Carlos Beas, brings us up to date and explains why the fight against free trade agreements cannot be separated from the fight against the PPP.
This small work is dedicated to those men and women without faces, who in a simple, silent and often heroic way resist in all Mesoamerica, the attacks of big capital and global power. So that your fight is not forgotten nor your effort remains hidden.
Union of Indigenous Communities of the North Zone of the Isthmus.
On March 12, 2001, the President of Mexico Vicente Fox officially announced the execution of the Puebla Panama Plan (PPP); Under the pretext of taking development to a "backward south" and seeking Mesoamerican regional integration, during these more than 4 years public resources have been used to create, expand or modernize communications and energy infrastructure, actions that mainly benefit to the large transnational corporations, which operate in the logic of free looting, also called commercial openness.
The governments of the region, concerned about the growing mobilization and citizen organization concentrated against the PPP, decided to make it invisible. Since late 2003, government officials have been instructed not to make public statements or disseminate progress in the implementation of the PPP in the mass media; At the same time, it has become clear how its budget allocation has been disguised. What does not exist, is not consulted and what is not consulted is imposed.
The invisibilization strategy has been successful to some extent, since journalists, opposition politicians and even some progressive academics related to the PPP issue, think that the Plan has died and place among one of the main causes of this death, the lack of agreement between Governments and Multilateral Banks to free up investments and resources. How wrong they are. The PPP advances throughout Mesoamerica in a silent and hidden way.
On the other hand, the failure of the ministerial meeting on the FTAA held in Puebla, Mexico, at the beginning of 2004 was evident. This failure was also expressed emphatically in the open confrontation that occurred at the last Summit of the Americas held in Mar de Plata, Argentina in November 2005. There was clear and open the growing opposition of the countries that make up MERCOSUR (The Common Market of the South - an economic integration project between Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) and Venezuela in against fundamental chapters of that treatise.
The PPP and Free Trade walk hand in hand
One of the main objectives of the PPP is to consolidate a vision of neoliberal development in Mesoamerica that includes:
- Privatize land, water, resources and public services.
- Attract foreign investment through the creation, modernization and privatization of transport infrastructure, industrial zones and energy markets.
- Promote control of the area in favor of North American interests.
- Shift forms of local ownership in agriculture, industry and forestry to corporate ownership.
The PPP has been an effort to jointly promote a series of projects, many of them already designed before 2001 and that serve the interests of large multinational corporations. During these 4 years, more than 90% of PPP resources have been allocated to finance transportation and electrification initiatives.
The PPP for its execution has required public resources (via fiscal or loans in the Central American case) to effectively attract to the region, investments from the private sector, mainly transnational.
It is clear that for "free trade" strategists, the Mesoamerican region plays a central role since due to its geographical location it is strategic in the circuits of the Global Market. You cannot think of large flows of merchandise without taking into account the routes and energy to move it quickly and at low cost. In contrast, hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost in Mexico and the United States as a direct consequence of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In Mexico, millions of inhabitants of rural areas and also of cities have emigrated to the North due to the destruction of local economies. The same trends will be reflected with CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement).
The growing popular resistance.
Mesoamerican popular organizations have been effective in their opposition to some of the PPP projects. Several projects have been scrapped, others postponed, and some modified. Indeed, popular organizations have managed to stop some projects and put obstacles in the implementation of others. This, in the Central American area, has forced the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to delegate financing of some more sensitive projects on a social and environmental level to the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), which has minimal rules.
For their part, the ejidatarios of Atenco (in Mexico) managed to cancel the project to build a new airport for Mexico City, and the indigenous communities of Oaxaca with relative success in some cases have modified lines or suspended road works. While on the other hand, officials of the Federal Electricity Commission and the Government of Vicente Fox, including Florencio Salazar, the first Mexican head of the PPP, use all kinds of tricks and repressive actions to impose the La Parota dam.
The construction of the La Parota dam in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero is an example of the aggressions and maneuvers that government officials are willing to commit in order to impose this megaproject. In this case, during 2005 violent confrontations were provoked, with a balance of at least 2 dead and more than 50 injured. The resistance of the Guerrero peasants has revealed the authoritarian character of Vicente Fox's government, and how easy it is to ally itself with caciquile groups that belong to the PRI and to use public force and violence in order to impose the aforementioned megaproject.
The two central axes of the PPP are the communication infrastructure works and in particular the highways and the expansion of generation capacity and energy mobilization, mainly electricity.
The Roads of the Great Capital.
The integration of Mesoamerican transport systems is one of the main initiatives of the PPP and it is the one in which they have made the most progress in the last 4 years. Multilateral banking has identified high transportation costs as one of the main impediments to competitiveness in the region. The high costs and times of transportation, consider the banks, are a bottleneck for the proper operation of a free trade model in the region, call it CAFTA or FTAA.
The main objective of the PPP investments in communications infrastructure is to expand, modernize, harmonize and then privatize (through concessions) a substantial part of the Mesoamerican transportation network, totaling 9,450 kilometers. In December 2004 the IDB indicated that rural highways would begin to be considered as part of the PPP.
In addition, this initiative is accelerating the deregulation and possible privatization of some 13 ports, at least 3 or 4 of them regional, as well as the consideration of several "dry channel" routes to transport cargo quickly by land between the Pacific coasts. and the Caribbean, either by truck or by rail.
Resistance to the construction of new highways has been motivated mainly by possible population evictions or by the low price that has been offered for the affected lands; However, in Xalapa, Mexico, the environmentalist citizen movement has mobilized successfully for another reason, the environmental damage that would be caused to the cloud forest by the construction of the so-called "southern bypass."
Energy for the Rich.
SIEPAC (Sistema de Integración Eléctrica de los Countries de Central America), the initiative for the integration of the electricity networks of the 8 PPP countries, is directly financing the creation of a regional energy market, with a new transmission line of 1,830 kilometers extension and 230 kilowatts of power from Panama to Guatemala, thereby connecting the Central American network with Mexico, the United States and South America.
The purpose of this electricity megaprogram is to create a single legal regulation on electricity for the entire region, a single administrator, a single company, and a single integrated network. The indirect effects predicted by the creation of such a market will be around $ 700 million dollars annually of investments in new hydroelectric production, gas turbines, and geothermal power.
The Spanish company Endesa is a SIEPAC shareholder together with the Central American governments. Other large corporations are also involved in the construction of the electricity transmission line, as well as in new projects to generate energy. These companies are the Spanish companies Unión Fenosa, Iberdrola and Gamesa, Mitsubishi, Enel and ABB.
In the Mexican Isthmus, several of these large companies are fighting for the construction of a gigantic wind power park. Which, for the phase called La Venta III, has already obtained an approval of more than 100 million dollars.
In September 2005 the Canadian company Dessau-Soprin won the contract to supervise the construction of the SIEPAC, expecting to finish the project in early 2008.
The diagram presented below shows the current development of the SIEPAC Project in conjunction with different initiatives related to the PPP.
Honduras and El Salvador, the PPP Avanza.
The construction of the Peripheral Ring around the city of San Salvador is part of the PPP. This work is destined to create a macro road infrastructure in the Central American region. This project was an official part of the PPP until 2002, but with the mobilization of the opposition led by ACAP (Association of Communities Affected by the Peripheral Ring and Bypass), the IDB delegated financial responsibility for this work to CABEI and publicly announced that the project was not part of the PPP. The seven-lane highway is estimated to cost nearly $ 1 billion over a ten-year period, money they hope to recoup through future conversion of the ring into a toll road.
The promoters of the Puebla-Panama Plan consider the construction of interoceanic freight corridors as a priority. In Mexico, modernization works are currently being carried out on two sections of the Transistmica highway and there are investments approved to modernize the rail access to the Port of Salina Cruz (Pearson Zone). Also in Panama, works are being carried out for the expansion of the Canal and in different countries of the Central American area there are studies and works in progress. One of the cases where important advances are perceived is that of Honduras. The Atlantic corridor, linking Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador is 1,746 kilometers long. The Honduran part includes parts of the CA-5 highway (294 kilometers) between Puerto Cortés and the main Honduran production and consumption centers around the cities of San Pedro Sula, Comayagua and Tegucigalpa.
There is concern among the population about the impacts of a highway whose main objective is to move goods from one port to another and from a production center to a port. During the VII Summit of Heads of State and Government in Honduras in June 2005 of the Tuxtla Gutiérrez mechanism, popular organizations protested, condemning the plan to build a dry canal, indicating that it represents the privatization of the National Port Company of Honduras.
The invasion continues.
With the data reported above, we can then understand the turn that the governments of Mexico and Central America and international financial organizations such as the IDB and CABEI have made to the Plan Puebla Panama. The works and investments that have already been made are great, however they have made it invisible to the degree that only the peoples who suffer it perceive it. For many progressive politicians and intellectuals in the Mesoamerican region the PPP has failed and no longer exists, which is completely false.
He regularly proceeds silently, but at other times he does so openly. At the IV Summit of the Americas held in November 2005 in Mar del Plata, Argentina, President Fox announced that the second phase of the PPP will require investments in the order of $ 7.5 billion dollars. This second phase will be mainly energy programs. According to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, Luis Ernesto Derbez, this phase "is the culmination of the Plan Puebla Panama."
According to the statement of the leaders of November 7, the four projects are:
1. The construction of a new refinery that processes heavy oil in Central America.
2. The construction of a regasification plant to transform liquid gas, as well as the expansion of the Central American gas pipeline.
3. The construction of an electricity generating plant in Central America, to complete the interconnection with Guatemala.
4. The modification of the Pact of San José, within the framework of which Mexico will support the member countries of the SICA, (Central American Integration System), in a situation characterized by high energy prices and their impact. [Through the Pact of San José, Mexico and Venezuela supply oil to 12 countries under favorable terms].
On December 13, 2005, the Heads of State and Government of Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and the Dominican Republic met in Cancun, Mexico to agree on the so-called Mesoamerican Energy Initiative. At this meeting, they agreed on steps to advance in the discussion and evaluation of the proposed projects.
The heads of government scheduled to hold a new summit in May 2006 to analyze the progress made in the design and preparation of this Initiative, and they hope to make decisions there.
TO way of conclusion.
In December 2005, while the leaders of the area met in Cancun, more than 1,300 delegates from some 600 social organizations were in San José, Costa Rica in the framework of the VI Mesoamerican Forum of the Peoples, in which it stood out as the main axis Central American resistance against CAFTA.
In this Forum, many stories of resistance were told against megaprojects, and of mobilizations against deaf and authoritarian governments and servile and sold-out legislative powers. However, for many of the citizens of our countries the relationship between the PPP and the Free Trade Agreements is still not clear enough. They are still seen as separate actions and not as part of the same policy and the same interests.
For this reason, it is still necessary to build a great front of organizations and peoples from all over Mesoamerica, with a coordination that can promote joint responses, supported by groups from other regions of the world. Responses with which we can confront our own governments, the IDB, and large corporations; responses that allow us to recover spaces and defend our territorial and cultural heritage.
Mesoamerica is a region with a great history of struggle and resistance. Our peoples preserve traits of ancient cultures, which have allowed them to live in extremely difficult conditions and which allow them to renew themselves and constantly continue to build their own projects.
But first and foremost Mesoamerica is a region with its own identity. For this reason, as the Mesoamerican peoples say in their mobilizations, we ended up saying "We do not want and we do not want to be a North American colony.
Long live Free Mesoamerica! !
* Celia Davis, Wendy Call and Carlos Beas
Data Center, UCIZONI, Collective Working Group of the Isthmus and Mexican Alliance for the Self-Determination of Peoples (AMAP)