PPP Spotlight #3:
Roads, Secondary Projects Catalyze PPP Opposition
Wendy Call | June 12, 2003
Editor’s introduction: While the notion of spurring development in the Mesoamerican region may seem, upon initial consideration, attractive, there are numerous questions about the proposed infrastructure development project, the Plan-Puebla Panama (PPP), that remain unanswered. Of particular importance: determining who will benefit from the plan vs. who will be negatively impacted. In order to probe more deeply into the details of the PPP, identify the potential merits and shortcomings of the plan, and provide civil society actors with information they can use to conduct PPP-related work, the Americas Program at the Interhemispheric Resource Center (IRC) has teamed up with journalist Wendy Call to produce the monthly PPP Spotlight.
Speaking to a crowd of several hundred on May 17, Pedro Cortés Vásquez complained about the impact of a new four-lane highway slated to pass through his community. "We haven’t received any support from the government. They only tell us that it will bring employment."
As former ejido (collective farm) commissioner, Cortés Vásquez is worried about the highway that will cut through his seaside town of Morro Mazatán. The four-lane route will connect Mexico City with the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, via Oaxaca City. It will cross within 500 meters of the Pacific beach that has drawn visitors to his town for decades. Though construction has not yet begun in Morro Mazatán, just east of the town a 20-kilometer section is already finished. Running east to the petroleum-refining city of Salina Cruz, Oaxaca, this new toll highway opened on May 14, 2003.
The Salina Cruz link is one of the first completed in a Mexico-Central America highway network–a PPP top priority. Two days after the toll road opened, 400 people, including Córtes Vásquez, gathered in the town of San Juan Guichicovi, Oaxaca, for the National Gathering for Mesoamerican Response and Resistance to Globalization. Held May 16-18, 2003 in an indigenous Mixe town of 10,000, the gathering brought together representatives from most of the Mexican states included in the PPP: Chiapas, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Puebla, Tabasco, and Veracruz, as well as activists from Canada, Honduras, Italy, Nicaragua, Spain, and the United States.
The meeting came just two weeks before top officials from the eight PPP countries met at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in Washington to sign a memorandum of understanding for the "Mesoamerican Sustainable Development Initiative." This initiative includes short-, medium-, and long-term programs and actions the IDB says will "enhance the region’s capacities in areas such as environmental policy development harmonization of environmental standards, norms, best practices and environmental management and governance." A meeting held for civil society organizations in Washington, DC two weeks before the memorandum signing made clear that the PPP focus is on environmental management, not preservation, while issues like renewable energy have no place in the program.
Meanwhile, the Guicicovi meeting discussed very different priorities. The Alianza Mexicana por la Autodeterminación de los Pueblos (Mexican Alliance for Peoples’ Self-Determination-AMAP) sponsored the gathering. UCIZONI ( http://www.mesoamericasresiste.org/ ), an indigenous rights organization in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec hosted it. AMAP is the network of Mexican nongovernmental and community organizations founded in 2001 to respond to the PPP. Representatives of 107 organizations, towns, and media outlets participated in the Encuentro, sharing information about the PPP and discussing strategies for addressing it. Most of AMAP’s active membership–currently about 50 organizations–participated. Some of those organizations have won key victories in the grassroots struggle against the PPP.
Indigenous Mixtec farmers in Tepeaca, Puebla, formed the Unión Campesina "Emiliano Zapata Vive" ("Emiliano Zapata Lives" Peasant Association-UCEZV) in November 2000, when they learned that the state government planned to expropriate 44 square miles of land–much of it productive agricultural fields. The government planned the Proyecto Milenium, or Millennium Project, as a PPP cornerstone. The project was slated to include a golf course, country club, luxury residential developments, and an industrial zone for maquiladoras. UCEZV President Concepción Colotla told participants of the Gathering how UCEZV activists broke down the door to the Puebla state congress during their founding demonstration. They did so because they felt it was the only way to find out what was happening to their land.
Colotla was arrested during that action and beaten by police. Looking back on that experience, he said, "We knew we were going to be repressed, but we weren’t scared, because we knew that without our land, there wouldn’t be any reason to live." UCEZV’s campaign has been one of the most successful in the movement to force PPP promoters–the Interamerican Development Bank, along with the Mexican and Central American governments–to take community needs into consideration.
The Puebla government had purchased most of the land that it needed for the Proyecto Milenium by the time it was cancelled. UCEZV wants that land returned, "so that the project will be definitively canceled," Colotla says. He believes that real success for UCEZV requires much more than stopping a highway and industrial development park. UCEZV has begun working with economists at the Autonomous University of Puebla to develop a comprehensive agricultural development plan for the region.
The AMAP Gathering highlighted the importance of so-called "secondary projects"–those not formally included in PPP plans, but made possible by PPP infrastructure. One such project is the proposed Boca del Cerro dam, slated for the border region of Guatemala and the Mexican states of Tabasco and Chiapas. Representatives of the Red de Defensores de Derechos Humanos (Human Rights Defenders Network, http://www.geocities.com/red_de_defensores/ ) of Chiapas reported that communities near Boca del Cerro have seen construction material arriving in the region, although the dam project has not been officially approved. Though the IDB maintains that no dam projects are included in the PPP, one of the most important PPP programs is a regional energy grid, which would receive much of the energy it distributes from new hydropower projects.
Meanwhile, 25 miles northeast of the new Salina Cruz toll highway, the indigenous Zapotec community of Unión Hidalgo, Oaxaca has been fighting the installation of an industrial shrimp farm for the past two years. Mexico’s Environment and Natural Resources Secretariat (Semarnat) denied the necessary permits for the intensive aquaculture project in April 2003, which should have meant the end of the project. Undeterred, the company, whose investors include the town’s mayor, is asking Oaxaca’s governor to intervene and make sure Semarnat reverses its decision. Meanwhile, the conflict between the community and the municipal government in Unión Hidalgo has exploded into violence, with one person killed by municipal police, nine community members and two policemen wounded, and three local activists jailed on dubious charges. At the Gathering, an appeal for support of the prisoners led to immediate action, with action alerts being posted within days to internet networks all over the world. (See http://www.asej.org/#may20 )
At the closing plenary of the three-day AMAP Gathering, participants agreed to work on several coordinated projects:
At the Fourth International Forum on the PPP (to be held in Tegucigalpa, Honduras in July; see http://www.4foromesoamericano.com/principal.htm ) they will propose Oct. 12, 2003–Indigenous People’s Day–as a continental day of action on the PPP.
Sept. 9-13, 2003, members will join the international mobilization in Cancún, Quintana Roo, Mexico at the Fifth Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organization. (See http://www.focusweb.org/ )
In November 2003, Gathering participants will join the protest of the ministerial meetings of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, in Puebla, Mexico.
Youth organizations present at the Gathering will form the Enlace de Resistencia Juvenil (Youth Resistance Network), a national network of youth organizations confronting the Plan Puebla Panama, and hold their first meeting on Aug. 9, 2003 in Oaxaca City, Mexico.
Wendy Call is a freelance writer who divides her time between Massachusetts and Oaxaca. She is working on a book entitled No Word for Welcome: Mexican Villages Face the Future , about indigenous communities in Oaxaca and globalization. She can be reached at < email@example.com >.
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Published by the Americas Program at the Interhemispheric Resource Center (IRC). ©2003. All rights reserved.
Wendy Call, "Roads, Secondary Projects Catalyze PPP Opposition," PPP Spotlight #3, Americas Program (Silver City, NM: Interhemispheric Resource Center, June 12, 2003).