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Development or neocolonialism?

Por Daniel Luna (from Green Pepper)

Plan Puebla-Panamá (PPP) is an international megaproject: designed by the USA, mainly promoted by the new Mexican corporate government headed by Vicente Fox, and being applied for in the impoverished nine states of south-southwest Mexico (Puebla, Veracruz, Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatán, Quintana Roo, Guerrero, Oaxaca and Chiapas) and in the neighbouring countries of Central America (Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama).

PPP is presented as something new, however it has clearly documented precedents, in some cases ones from a long time ago. It has arisen as a complementary and intimate part of many other regional programs and projects, some old and some more recent, that pretend to be disconnected, but are in reality, intimately linked. These plans are: the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, the American Energy Plan, System of Electrical Integration for Central American Countries, March to the South, Plan South and Operation New Horizons.

The fact that the PPP hasn't been made public before is because the appropriate political conditions necessary weren't in place to overcome the predictable rejection from public opinion in the region. However, they are currently taking advantage of the illusion of a Mexican democratic transition (designed and agreed upon before hand) and the favorable media image of its leader, the president Vicente Fox. These are ideal circumstances for pushing the plan with a minimum of resistance due to the enthusiasm for the transition. This way his corporate government appears to be the inventor and main promoter of the plan.

In the same way that the PPP and its satellite projects were created, similar processes are being designed in the whole of the American continent to make way for the final grand plan, the FTAA-(Free Trade Area of the Americas). This is an enormous project, of which the PPP itself is just a component.

So we are talking about the FTAA being a huge puzzle formed by different regional pieces. The first such piece to be put in place was the FTA Tratado de Libre Comercio de Norteamérica (TLCAN o NAFTA-Northern American Free Trade Area), and following that, the PPP, the Plan Colombia, the Andean Regional Initiative, and Plan Dignity.

Thus, if we carefully analyse all the elements of the PPP, and the bad experience that we have had in Mexico since 1994 with NAFTA, we have good grounds to predict what the FTAA will mean for the rest of Latin America.

The PPP displays a benevolent facade full of good wishes expressed in the worn-out rhetoric of 'development'- the necessity of opening the region to the global market in order to fight poverty. In doing so it sets the conditions for the transnational piracy of its energy resources, while at the same time assuring a huge cheap labor reservoir to service global capital.

Thus, the PPP operates on two main pathways;

  1. Using the pretext of countering the isolation of the region and bringing to it the benefits of globalisation, the PPP will develop a costly, modern communications infrastructure financed mainly by the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. It is obvious that when it is finished, use of the sophisticated infrastructure will be very expensive and therefore won't be accessible to the impoverished local populations. However, as it is to be financed through the national debt (continuing the eternal cycle of debt), we see the same story again of those who will pay for the sevice not benefiting from it. This modern communications network will be integrated by various infrastructural logistical connections, such as super highways, a network of trains connecting states and countries, three inter-oceanic “dry canals” that will function like the corridors already mentioned, and by three other canals (in Nicaragua, Panamá and one more more to be built outside the PPP region in Colombia). Other planned developments include mega-harbours for cargo ships, airports, optical fiber networks etc.
  2. Under the excuse of this mainly rural area being the most marginal and impoverished of the continent, (its GDP is almost half of the already-low Latin-American average), the PPP pretends to 'activate' its economy through the use of what are called 'comparative advantages', which can be translated as the introduction of a series of modern crops, that clearly will strangle the peasant economy and create total dependency on agro-industry multi-nationals.

It is now that we can begin to see beneath the 'development rhetoric' and see the real purpose of the PPP in facilitating the FTAA. The implementation of the PPP will bring about massive displacements of rural populations by totally suffocating the economy of the indigenous peoples, afro-descendants and peasants (who make up the majority of the population in the region) through the following coordinated set of tactics:

The strategy of forced displacement of the population through the PPP, has at least two fundamental objectives. 1) Rural inhabitants will abandon their resource-rich lands so that they can be seized by TNCs and large land-owners. 2) The displaced peasants will form a cheap labour supply that could then be exploited in the sweatshop/concentration camps known as maquilladoras.

In order to give a better idea of the last point, we can note that the region currently has 65 million inhabitants, most of them working in the agrarian sector. The PPP projections estimate a population of 95 million people in 25 years time, but estimates that only 2 million of this population will still be in the agrarian sector. It's impossible to put it more clearly than that.

In order to understand why this massive displacement strategy of the PPP is necessary, we need to examine each of the parallel or satellite projects benefiting from it.

  1. Biological Meosamerican Corridor. . A World Bank Project initiated in 1993 with 93 million dollars already having been allocated to it. Its objective is the privatisation of the second biggest bank of bio-genetic resources in the world. At the moment, supposedly environmental NGOs, U.S. universities and TNCs are already active in the area, patenting the genetic codes of plants and animals.
    It's widely known that biotechnology will revolutionise all aspects of human life (medicine, nutrition, food production etc). The basic raw materials that industry needs in order to achieve this are the genetic resources contained in areas rich in biodiversity. Displacing the inhabitants of this centre of biodiversity under the PPP will ensure that the economic benefits of exploiting these genetic resources will not have to be shared and that there won't be local inhabitants to speak out against such blatant acts of biopiracy.
  2. Energy Plan of the Américas. Signed at the moment by the governments of Canada, USA, and Mexico, it will create a common, deregulated fossil fuel market for the region, which amounts to the privatisation of the massive oil and gas resources of the region in order to satisfy big business' greed for them. There are grave envionmental implications for this plan.
    An oil pipeline will be built going from Panama to the south of Veracruz, in México; and then to the north, out of the PPP region, towards Texas, conveniently transporting massive amounts of oil out of the region and into the US. There has also been talk of another conection going outside of the region, this time to the south, to the huge reserves in Venezuela and Colombia. Let's keep in mind that Bush's administration is made up of oil businessmen, himself being the first.
    And again, the PPP is necessary to displace those population who live on the land above the huge oil reserves, the indigenous communities, afro-descendants and peasant peoples.
  3. System of Electric Integration for Central American countries (SIEPAC). Financed largely by the Spanish government with the Spanish TNC Endesa as the main beneficiary, it aims to privatise the region's electricity industry, using the argument that the creation of a competitive market will provide a better service to the population.
    This is especially worrying because it involves the construction of a network of 72 hydroelectrical dams, causing the flooding of millions of hectares of land currently inhabited by indigenous, afro-descendant and peasant populations. Moreover it's clear that these dams would cause severe and irreversable ecological damage.
    All this mega-production of energy would go to satisfying the voracious electrical consumption of the US, and also to cover the energy requirements of the March to the South.
  4. March to the South. Profiting from the unique geoestrategic position of the region (with its interoceanic location), and from the practically non-existant labour and environmental regulation, this project consists on infesting the area with many different belts of plantas maquiladoras (sweatshops). It's precisely for the benefit of these sweatshops that the PPP is developing all the modern, sophisticated infrastructure that was mentioned before rather than for the good of the people of the region. This plan includes a network of toxic waste dumps which leads us to suspect that in these maquiladoras will be using highly hazardous and environmentally damaging substances.
    This plan also needs an abundant supply of labour to be exploited, and those displaced populations fit the bill perfectly. Their illiteracy, lack of schooling and economic desperation means that they are forced to sell their labour for an extremely cheap price. It's obvious that the rich cultural diversity would be totally annihilated when removed from its native territory, with thier patterns of social organisation and activities deeply interconnected with their motherland.
  5. Plan South. Already signed by the governments of US Canada and Mexico, this is a filter to avoid illegal immigration from Central American countries to the big nations in the North. The US and Canada give human quotas to Mexico for legal temporary workers for agriculture and industry in the North, effectively creating a trade in human beings. In exchange for this escape valve, Mexico has agreed to lock its border to the south to avoid the illegal inmigration to the US and Canada from its southern neighbours.
    To put it another way, the Mexican goverment is to act as a cheap border patrol, making available to Plan South all its many tools of repression and police corps; the migration police, fiscal police, federal preventive police, federal judicial police, state judicial police, state police, public security police and municipal police, plus the federal army, navy and air force.
  6. .... and finally Operation New Horizons. As we saw the PPP region is invaluable in terms of both its location and its natural resources. The PPP aims to make these resources available to transnational capital. And the evidence suggests that once these resources have been appropriated, the US intend to keep them for themselves through military means. This includes military preparations to respond to the predictable resistanse, peaceful or armed, that will surely come from the displaced populations.
    Using the feeble excuse of the need to protect local populations from natural disasters (earthquakes, volcanos and hurricanes) that frequently devastate the region, they have come up with a plan to install US military bases all across Central America like they have already done in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. This way they “take care of us”, they say by training the Central American armies to face these kind of emergency situations. Note that in South America the excuse they used for militarizing the region was to contol the narcotraffic.

In summing up, we can say that the PPP is a mega-project of a totally neoliberal nature that is a significant step in the process of economic globalisation. It implies the privatisation of the strategic resources of the region in favour of the TNCs and the military and geopolitic interests of the US. And in order to achieve these aims, they want to displace the indigenous, afrodescendants and peasant populations from their land, causing all manner of human suffering, economic deprivation and an irreversible loss of some of the greatest cultural diversity in the world.

Written by
Av. Pichucalco N° 19, entre Av. Tonalá y Diagonal Arriaga, Barrio El Cerrillo, San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, México.
Teléfono y Fax: (967) 678-0784 Correo Electrónico:

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