Damming Hope: PPP Comes to Guatemala

Date: Thu, 24 Oct 2002

Background on Santo Choc and PPP:

Santos Choc

Santos is currently the vice president of the Junta Directiva of the Cooperativa Union Maya Itza (aka "La Quetzal"), in the northern Peten rain forest of Guatemala. Prior to serving as vice president, Santos was the Director of Education, managing the schools in La Quetzal. Currently he is also employed by the Association of Forestry Communities in the Peten (ACOFOP), supporting the development of forestry products and marketing for the 19 organizations in the Peten that do forestry management. He is a very bright, articulate speaker with extensive background on the struggles Guatemalans faced in returning to their land and the current major challenges that the Peten will face under Plan Puebla Panama (PPP). The PPP is especially concerning to La Quetzal since their community is one of a number of small rural communities facing the very real threat of being flooded from the proposed building of dams on the Usumacinta River. Dams that would create hydroelectric power for the maquiladoras!

General Background on La Quetzal

During the 36 years of civil war in Guatemala over 300,000 indigenous Mayan people fled to Mexico. As the Peace Accords were being reached, many of these refugees organized new communities and negotiated to acquire new land in Guatemala in order to return to their homeland, restart their lives and seek justice for the atrocities. They asked international groups to assist in this return by providing human rights accompaniers (observers) to live with them, hear and tell their stories of the tremendous suffering in the war and to support them in their work as they begin new lives in their homeland and seek a new future of peace and justice.

In association with NISGUA's Guatemala Accompaniment Project (G.A.P.), the UU Central America Network in the Pacific Northwest has partnered with sister community, the Cooperativa Union Maya Itza ("La Quetzal"), in the Peten rain forest of northern Guatemala since 1996.

The Plan Puebla Panamá (PPP)

What is it?

The PPP is a 25-year, $10 billion, development plan that seeks to physically and commercially connect the southern region of Mexico with the rest of Central America. It consists of 28 mega projects designed to increase investment and trade according to the neo-liberal model, thereby laying the groundwork for the U.S. goal of achieving a Central American Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and, by 2005, a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). The PPP includes projects involving construction of highways, ports, airport expansion, a multitude of dams, electrical lines, telecommunications, oil pipelines, and investments in biotechnology and tourism.

Who is backing it?

Mexican president Vicente Fox initially proposed the PPP, although it has now received backing from the governments of all 7 Central American countries, including Guatemala. Financial donors include the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in conjunction with the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and others.

How Will the PPP Harm Guatemala?

  1. The possible exploitation of the natural resources of the northern Petén region by the biotech industry as part of its drive to exploit the coveted "Meso-American Biological Corridor".
  2. An electrical interconnection agreed upon by Mexico and Guatemala. A corollary to this project is the very worrying plan to build
  3. 5 hydroelectric damn in the Usumacinta River, which would result in environmental damage and displace communities alongside the river.According to studies, these proposed damns would flood 10-12 million square kilometers, roughly one third of the Petén.
  4. The plan calls for an oil pipeline to be constructed between Mexico and Guatemala, which would go through the protected Maya Biosphere, and possibly as far as Costa Rica.
  5. Although Guatemala has 21,000 square miles of rainforest, almost half (9,000 square miles) is threatened by the PPP. Already, nearly 60% of the Laguna del Tigre National Park has faced adverse affects from construction of a highway. A road built in the 1980s to facilitate oil exploration also created an opening for a large-scale illegal logging operation.
  6. The PPP would displace many indigenous people throughout Central America from their rural homes to cities. No doubt, it would also result in factories (maquiladoras) mirroring those that exist along with U.S.-Mexico border as a result of NAFTA. There would be little environmental and safety standards and workers would be subject to long hours with low pay.
  7. Land privatization is a key component of the development plans of the PPP, facilitating the shift to a maquiladora development model in which indigenous populations are displaced and their former lands sold to large multinational corporations.

How do the Communities feel about the PPP?

One of the most troublesome aspects of the PPP is that much of it is being planned in secret. There has been very poor consultation with the communities affected by the plan, or with environmental activists concerned about its impact on a biologically diverse ecosystem. In fact, the Guatemalan government had planned an open forum to include community input on the plan, but cancelled it two days prior to the event.

The poor, largely indigenous communities, which the plan supposedly seeks to help, oppose the PPP. Their sentiments were reflected in the statement of Zapatista leader Marcos: "The isthmus is not for sale." In Guatemala, numerous indigenous and environmental groups have voiced strong opposition to the plan.

LS: MONDAY, Oct 28 - Damming Hope: PPP Comes to Guatemala


Below this event announcement is some additional information on the speaker and PPP.

7:00 P.M.

Government officials and international bankers say that Plan Puebla Panama's dams, roads, and pipelines will bring prosperity to the people of Central America. But they neglected to ask the returned refugees of La Quetzal and their neighbors, who stand to loose their newly established rain forest homes and sustainable forestry projects to a hydroelectric dam that would flood the Mayan Biosphere.

Mayan leader Santos Choc will discuss his community's spirited grassroots opposition to the Usumacinta river dam, and to a plan which would sacrifice Central America's ecological resources to advance globalization.

Monday, October 28, 7:00 p. m .
Trinity United Methodist Church
2362 Bancroft near Dana
(across from U.C. Berkeley recreation center)

Requested donation of $8-$20 (sliding scale)
No one will be turned away for lack of funds.

This event is a benefit for the Grassroots Guatemala Fund of the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA ).

Sponsored by: Guatemala News & Information Bureau (GNIB).

Events will also be held on 10/25 in Marin: and on 10/27 in San Francisco, 10/23 in Davis and 10/24 in Sacramento.

For information: Josué at (510) 526-7177 or Carolina at (415) 647-8126.

Co sponsors:International Development Exchange (IDEX); International Rivers Network (IRN);
East Bay Sanctuary Covenant (EBSC); Grupo Maya Qusamej Junan; Comité
Guatemala Nunca Más; CONGUATE; Global Exchange; Mexico Solidarity Network;
Berkeley Ecology Ctr.; Grupo Quetzal
Guatemala News and Information Bureau (GNIB)

3181 Mission St., # 1 2 ,
San Francisco, CA 94110

Plan Puebla-Panamá | Guatemala | www.agp.org