PPP Spotlight #2:
Rumors of the PPP’s Death–
Wendy Call | April 10, 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.
When the Mexican publication Masiosare, a regular supplement to the daily La Jornada, published its predictions for 2003, these were among them:
Mexico and the United States won’t sign any agreement on migration.
There will be war in the Middle East.
There will be no peace talks in Chiapas.
The Plan Puebla Panama will continue on paper only.
So far, Masiosare seems on target. The U.S. government has unleashed a full-force war against Iraq. In part because of the war, there is no serious hope for progress on a U.S.-Mexico migration agreement in 2003. Meanwhile, the situation in Chiapas remains grim, with negotiations at a total impasse and increasing paramilitary violence.
Will Masiosare also be right about the Plan Puebla Panama (PPP)? The day after it printed those predictions, Business News Americas published an editorial with its own prediction: "2003 will be vital to PPP’s future."
The Business News Americas editorial noted that the PPP "was enthusiastically greeted by a number of quarters including international lending institutions, the media, and many regional politicians and business leaders." The current silence from those sectors is noteworthy. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has stopped updating the portion of its website devoted to the PPP, while the Mexican government has shut down its own PPP web page. (A polite message at the old website explains that "the PPP will be the responsibility of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs starting January 13, 2003." At the Ministry’s website, there is no single section on the PPP although some miscellaneous documents related to the PPP are available.)
The Business News Americas commentary noted delays and funding problems with the PPP’s highest priority: road construction. Although behind schedule, road crews continue working throughout the region toward the goal of creating a highway network running down the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of Mexico and Central America, and including several links between the coasts. Most of the construction is slated for Mexico. This reflects overall financing priorities for the region. For 2003, the IDB has committed a total of $1.5 billion in loans to Latin American countries. About 60% of that total is destined for Mexico, although Mexico accounts for only about one-fifth of Latin America’s total population.
This road-building frenzy has impacted communities all over southern Mexico. At first glance, highways might seem a relatively benign element of a mega-development program like the PPP. But the experience of several communities in Mexico’s Isthmus of Tehuantepec shows otherwise.
The Catholic Church-affiliated Centro de Derechos Humanos Tepeyac (Tepeyac Human Rights Center, or CDHT) of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, has been working with communities affected by highway construction since 1997. The CDHT has focused its work on a highway that will connect the state capital of Oaxaca with the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and the Pacific Coast. (See the route map on page 37 of a report by the Texas Center for Policy Studies and CDHT http://www.texascenter.org/publications/englishreports.pdf .) Predating the PPP by several years, the Oaxaca-to-isthmus highway was incorporated into PPP plans in 2001.
This detail illustrates that the PPP didn’t really start with Mexican President Vicente Fox. The PPP is a marketing plan–a way to group together the diverse infrastructure projects needed to implement the Free Trade Area of the Americas in Mexico and Central America. As Mexico PPP Coordinator Herbert Taylor put it in a February 2003 interview with a Mexican newspaper, "The PPP isn’t a proposal, it is the collective determination to build prosperity."
In August 2000, CDHT hosted a meeting of indigenous communities from throughout Mexico’s Isthmus of Tehuantepec–a group whose ideas for "building prosperity" differ greatly from the Fox administration’s. At this meeting, Germán Martínez told the story of road construction in his community, an indigenous Zapotec village on the proposed route of the Oaxaca-to-isthmus highway. Martínez had been elected by his village, San Pedro Leapi, to coordinate work on the problem of a highway passing through their land.
Martínez described how engineers showed up in Leapi in 1997 for land surveying. Without speaking to the local government first, they began working in a forest that is part of the village’s communal lands. He said the Leapi residents worried about the impact of the highway on the aquifer that sustained their agricultural fields, and on forest wildlife. When the authorities of Leapi learned the surveying was for a new highway, they wrote to the state government asking for information. They never received a response. According to Martínez, the silence bothered them almost as much as the thought of a four-lane toll road–that they could not afford to use–cutting across their land. In March 1999 Leapi’s officials sent a formal letter to the Oaxaca governor, with copies to five other government agencies, asking about the highway project. Only one of the agencies responded, saying "We don’t have any such program ."
Most of the official maps that have circulated of the PPP highway network include a four-lane highway connecting Oaxaca City and the isthmus, then continuing south to Guatemala. The maps show a path that crosses very close to, if not through, San Pedro Leapi.
A few days after Germán Martínez told his story at the CDHT conference, Oaxaca’s hotel owners association held a press conference to demand that the Oaxaca-to-isthmus highway project move faster. The president of the association, Rafael Gómez Ruiz, was quoted as saying, "All the municipalities that the highway will cross agree with the project, except for six people [from one town]." (The town mentioned was not San Pedro Leapi.) Five days after this press conference, an editorial in Oaxaca’s main newspaper declared, "With the superhighway, we all win."
Since then, both highway construction and community opposition have continued. In October 2002 the CDHT took the communities’ concerns to the International Labor Organization, charging that the highway construction violated that organization’s Convention 169 on the rights of indigenous peoples, which the Mexican government has signed. San Pedro Leapi’s story has repeated itself in villages and towns all along the Oaxaca-to-isthmus highway route, and elsewhere in the PPP region. (See a February, 2003 Spanish-language article from the Association of Indigenous Communities of the Northern Zone of the Isthmus http://www.mesoamericaresiste.org/primeras/segundas/terceras/boletin2.html .)
Throughout the Mexican state of Puebla and especially around the capital city of El Salvador, communities have stopped the highways. (See PPP Spotlight #1, February 2003 http://www.americaspolicy.org/citizen-action/spotlight/2003/030220.html .) In many more places, the struggles continue.
In February and March, Grupo América Nuestra (Our America Group), a coalition of Costa Rican NGOs and unions, the Foro Indígena de Oaxaca (Indigenous Forum of Oaxaca, Mexico) and all the Caritas chapters in the region reaffirmed their public opposition to the PPP, seeing it as a continuing threat. So far, rumors of the PPP’s death have been greatly exaggerated.
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 < firstname.lastname@example.org >.
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Published by the Americas Program at the Interhemispheric Resource Center (IRC). ©2003. All rights reserved.
Wendy Call, "Rumors of the PPP’s Death–Greatly Exaggerated?," PPP Spotlight #2, Americas Program (Silver City, NM: Interhemispheric Resource Center, April 10, 2003).