<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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Ulises Ruiz, Plan Puebla Panamá, and the August 5 Oaxaca Elections

Connecting the Dots on a Local Election that May Not Be All that Local


By Nancy Davies
Commentary from Oaxaca

July 29, 2007

I met Flor on the street yesterday and the conversation went like this:

Me: How’s it going?

Flor: giggle giggle No pasa nada, giggle giggle. We have more customers now in the middle of the day. That’s good. And how’s it going with you?

Me: giggle giggle No pasa nada.

Flor: I can’t believe how many candidates there are for deputy! And they’re all liars, and all politicians are criminals! Why so many? Everyone wants to try their luck to be rich. They should play the lottery.

Me: They sense the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) is going down.

Upcoming elections for the state legislature on August 5 are wide open and complex. PRI control of all three branches of government might finally crack. Non-PRI deputies could: support Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO); or rein in URO; (I don’t have much hope for removing him, but he might take a leave of absence); they could be allies of neoliberalism or they could be allies of the people. Some from the Movement opposed to participation in the elections still speak out; others point out that the lower the voter turnout, the better the chance for PRI victories, because the hard core always votes.

But there’s no doubt that with or without the PRI, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz has become both a terror and laughing-stock. So what if URO is naked? Who cares? If the PRI fades in Oaxaca, will the PAN (National Action Party) take over instead? Will another alignment work for or against the neoliberal project?

In October of 2006 the nation of Panama, supported by a public referendum, voted to widen the Panama Canal to become more competitive via passage for bigger ships and less time lag. The canal is the economy of Panama. And whether or not it’s true that the Panamanians will benefit in some trickle-down fashion, or the government will undergo some moral transformation and allow money to go to social programs, how does the Panama Canal decision affect the Plan Puebla Panama? It separates the two power blocks involved, the northern US dominated and the southern Venezuela dominated.

On September 12, 2000, Vicente Fox , then president of Mexico, announced the industrial development plan which we now call Plan Puebla-Panamá (PPP). It affects nine states in Mexico — Puebla, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Veracruz, Tabasco, Chiapas, Campeche, Quintana Roo and Yucatán — and seven Central American nations; Belice, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guetamala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. On March 12, 2001 it was approved by Mexico.

Two presidents, Fox and Calderón, although elected by the PAN in opposition to the PRI, have permitted various PRI governors to run their business-as-usual repressive states without intervention. In Oaxaca, two governors, Jose Murat and Ulises Ruiz Ortiz have been tolerated, first by Fox and now by Calderon. One can think of them as enforcers, doing the dirty work of the gentlemen. Calderón now supports Ruiz in the on-going 2006-2007 repression.

I believe this is because of the necessity of controlling local populations who oppose the Plan.

On April 10 in Campeche, in Yucatán, the Plan was revitalized as Mexico, Colombia and seven Central American nations held a 24-hour summit. Security was tight. Police and military troops cordoned off the hotel area. Sharpshooters on rooftops. Nonetheless, some 150 protesters from the Broad Progressive Front (FAP, in its Spanish initials) and other organizations protested. April 10 is also the anniversary of the assassination of Emiliano Zapata, and marches held in commemoration elsewhere in Mexico denounced the PPP.

Why? Public control over natural resources implies opposition to corporate control of economies which strip benefits to residents and workers of the affected countries.

Protests were also held in Mexico City, where campesinos from Veracruz, Oaxaca and elsewhere marched on the Government Secretariat and blocked traffic. Representatives of the Asambleas Populares de Pueblos participated, most prominent among them the APPO (Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca) and the APPM (Assembly of the Peoples of Mexico). The Zapatistas have sought local indigenous control of land and natural resources since 1994, and deeply oppose the PPP.

What is it?

Plan Puebla-Panama is an avenue of development from north to south-east. The Plan intends to construct or widen 8,977 kilometers of highways, run 1,830 km. of new electric lines to support distribution of energy generated by gas, wind and dams, and build six massive “development zones” for manufacturing and processing plants.

Propaganda calls it “a regional strategy for economic development, to reduce poverty.” The PPP consists of eight initiatives:

  • Energy Sector Integration
  • Transportation Integration
  • Telecommunications Integration
  • Trade Facilitation
  • Sustainable Development
  • Human Development
  • Tourism
  • Disaster Prevention and Mitigation

According to the Presidency of Mexico the percentage of funding allocated for each of these projects is: Transportation, 85.2%; Electrical, 11.1%, Tourism, 1.3%, Human Development, 0.8%, Disasters, 0.7%, Trade, 0.6%, Sustainable Development, 0.4%; and Telecommunications, 0.03%.

These projects are planned for five principal corridors of development, the one concerning us in southern Mexico being the Mexico Trans-systemic Axis, crossing of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico.

According to a study by the US-based nonprofit InterAction, (a non-governmental organization based in Washington), $7.7 billion in funding for the Plan Puebla Panamá was designated as of March 2005; the amount is expected to rise as high as $50 billion. Of this funding, 35% comes from national governments in the region, 24% from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), 15% from the private sector, 7.5% from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE), 5% from the World Bank, 6.3% from unknown sources.

From the outset the PPP was viewed as a plan to serve the interests of the big transnationals and to create an atmosphere in which tariffs would be reduced, and communication and special infrastructure created, using cheap manual labor. The assumption has always been that the USA would control the regional resources, the regional market, and the regional energy supply. Calderón ratified his backing of the PPP. The summit to further its progress, in 2007, was part of the Campeche meeting.

Calderon’s stake in Oaxaca involves the USA, transnational corporations, and the fate of neoliberalism in Mexico.

Public discussion and information was mostly just for show. Now, in 2007, we see the pueblos of the regions affected moving into open revolt. Communal (ejido) lands have been taken and some towns face drowning for dams.

The people whose lands and lives would be affected won’t gain any benefit beyond the manual labor of the initial road construction, and the possible maquiladora plants which from experience we may suppose may be badly paid, with bad working conditions.

The proposed Isthmus transportation system involves superhighways which will not connect towns to markets at the local level. Nor are superhighways environment friendly. The program for electrification depends largely on natural gas and on hydroelectric dams. Wind farms on the Isthmus have been built and more are scheduled –surrounded by army troops to keep out the protesters. Dams have been announced for the length of the Río Usumacinta, between Mexico and Guatemala. No environmental impact studies have been done. Trees in monoculture, especially eucalyptus have been planted, damaging supplies of fresh water. Indigenous and communal lands have been privatized, usually involving agents of the transnational corporations. Private control of vast swaths of land contradicts campesino history and usage since the Mexican revolution, favoring the pre-revolutionary “plantation” system.

A research article by Carlos Fazio published in La Jornada on Monday, April 23 of 2007, states that the plan as proposed by Felipe Calderón in Campeche coincided with a new line of credit from the Inter-American Bank for Development (IABD) to Mexico for $2.5 billions for infrastructure, which would benefit the biggest capitalists. Calderón claimed that the country has “fresh conditions” for investing in energy, highways, airports, tourism and the “infrastructure for development.” The president of IABD, Luis Alberto Moreno, who is promoting investment in renewable energy in Latin America, confirmed that the agreement would “encourage” private investment in the projects. Together with several corporations linked to the energy sector, among them the USA’s AES Corp., Costal de El Paso, Constellation, Duke Energy, PP&L, and Ormant; the Spanish Endesa, Iberdrola and Unión Fenosa; and the Canadian HydroQuebec, another beneficiary of the PPP will be Carlos Slim, the wealthiest man in the world. He could monopolize fiber optic cable for telecommunications from southeast Mexico to Panama.

At the same time (Fazio continues) Slim’s business Swecomex, which has shown interest in participating with the international players to build the infrastructure for petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico, could finance the refinery in Central America brought back to life by Calderón.

Two of Slim’s businesses, Promotora del Desarrollo Económico de América Latina and Promotora Inbursa will construct highways, which coincides with the announcement of highway re-privatization announced by the secretary of the industry, Luis Téllez. The construction of another port in Salina Cruz, along with modernization of the existing port, will happen simultaneously with the improvement of the ports of Coatzacoalcos and Pajaritos, Veracruz, of the railroad and the regional airport of the Isthmus Tehuantepec, and of the highway Acayucan-La Ventosa.

The wind-generator park in La Venta, Oaxaca, was built by Iberdrola on 800 hectares of communal land There are funds from the IBD for construction of a hydroelectric station La Parota, in Guerrero, suspended after strong community protests.

A new priority for the PPP is consolidating the Electric Regional Market (MER), through opening the energy sector to direct foreign investment. According to the IBD, the MER will link with a transmission line of high capacity to unite all electric systems from Panama to Mexico, and from Mexico to the United States.

The treasury department of the United States defines MER as “a commercial regional space in which enabled agents can freely engage in transactions of buying and selling of electricity within or outside their country, accessing freely any of the networks of transmission, with the payment of a toll.” Furthermore, the system “will facilitate convergence of future development of the natural gas industry in the region,” on promoting “the installation of electrical generation plants with advanced technologies, creating the incentive for the construction of gas ducts, and broader energy integration with neighboring countries like Mexico and Colombia, potential suppliers of natural gas for the region.” (These quotes of the US Treasury are given by Fazio).

In accordance with facts from the Cepal (Economic Commission for Latin America) and InterAction, MER will be considered as a done deal when more than 50% of state-generated electricity in Central America has been transferred from governments to transnational corporations. Control of the entire productive chain of energy permits reducing costs and taking out more profits. Apparently corporations also want to appropriate everything which generates energy: rivers, water, reservoirs, coal, monoculture of plants for the production of ethanol, gas, and technology.

One of the most visible parts of the PPP is the creation of supranational “juridical forms” which permit creation of mechanisms such as MER and the Siepac, and include the ratification of laws, norms and regulations between member countries to correspond to a US format.

As Vicente Fox before him, today Calderón promotes a geo-strategic project based on the energy needs and national security of the United States. The militarization of Mexico complements the mega-projects underway.

Another Jornada article, written on April 12 of 2007 by Octavio Velez Ascencio, attributes to UCIZONI (Unión de Comunidades Indígenas de la Zona Norte del Istmo) a denunciation of Carso and Iberdrola as the only beneficiaries of the plan.

The PPP as a supposed option for Central American development, the article points out, only benefits the fiber optic telecommunications industry and the petroleum investor Carso Group, along with the hydroelectric businesses. Carlos Beas Torres (UCIZONI leader) points to the complicity of the World Bank in the militarization, and government repression against the civil population, as is the case with Ulises Ruiz in Oaxaca.

Felipe Calderón, Beas Torres has said, “does not hide his true intentions (with the PPP), which are precisely not to combat poverty, but to assure a business in infrastructure, in the south-southeast of Mexico, and to extend the businesses of the powerful to Central America by despoiling lands and violating human rights among the indigenous and campesino populations of the region.”

According to Beas Torres, the president has no program to aid the commercialization of corn and beans, while the populations of Oaxaca Mixteca and Puebla go hungry.

The enormous stake for Calderón, and what is at stake for the pueblos who now stand opposed – whatever that “opposition” entails — is becoming more clear. The race is on to industrialize the Central American isthmus via the PPP, led by Washington-allied neoliberal Calderón, and ALBA, led by “21st century socialism” advocate Chávez. The other ALBA nations are Cuba and the Bolivia of Evo Morales. The respect for local populations is variable. The popular movements in both blocks must each evaluate and/or oppose their own projects.

In Oaxaca, UCIZONI undertook a massive education campaign in the Isthmus. The struggle emerging this past six months reflects the work of the APPO as well as local groups such as UCIZONI; opposition to the PPP has been made visible in its various aspects (mines, woods, land, etc.) in every part of Oaxaca and is reported frequently in the newspaper Noticias, along with reports of militarization.

One impact of neoliberal development is that campesinos with no land to feed themselves, emigrate to cities, breaking up their communities. The lands that sustained the peoples for centuries are lost, and the national and local patrimony passes into foreign hands. The people do not better their lives for all that; usually their lives are worse, as urban poverty is often accompanied by anomie and crime.

Not unexpectedly, many Oaxaqueños want “progress .” Some Oaxaqueños have never seen a big hydroelectric project, nor a massive dam, nor lived in a city, nor traveled many kilometers from their own pueblo. Other Oaxaqueños promptly rejected massive programs and seek locally controlled projects, especially for water and forest management. The smaller projects lead to sustainability – especially for the many cultures and peoples.

The question might be put, do Mexico and Oaxaca benefit from integration into northern markets? The World Bank and NAFTA-CAFTA-IBD don’t include public local benefits; on the contrary, they seeks to limit social spending in favor of privatization, often where public spending is most needed. All financial profit in private hands by-passes the local people. Even when a Mexican like Carlos Slim is involved, profits leave the area, despite the “watch Slim for philanthropy” game now mounted. Philanthropy is not local control, in fact it’s quite insulting. And of course the majority of investors who are foreign take their profits out (and Slim invests wherever in the world he can maximize profits).

The APPO’s impact preoccupies us in the city of Oaxaca, along with the teachers union. It is the city where the big assemblies and marches take place. But this is not where the most urgent and profound events are happening. The state’s disaffected indigenous and rural population is confronting the massive Plan Puebla Panama. .

URO standing around naked, trying to buy votes with chickens, cement and tickets to the Guelaguetza, may not be a very significant aspect of the struggle in the bigger picture. So here is Flor’s street-corner conclusion: everyone wants their own piece of the pie. And here is mine: even some politicians take the side of the people who elect them. In any case, beating the PRI will affect URO’s ability to rule by force.

Calderón must decide if all-out military repression is worth it, or not. He must wait to see how the election goes on August 5, at which time he’ll get a better sense of whether any of the elite remain who can be counted on for the PRI-PAN coalition (and he’ll know if the election was fraudulent) in support of neoliberal policies. Then his choices will be to either keep or ditch URO, whose use as a PRI bargaining chip might be over. Calderón may push ahead with the PPP regardless of local opposition. But if Calderón believes all of Mexico is on the edge, he has to worry about whose side the army is on, (especially the rank and file who come from poor indigenous families) even though he just threw a huge pay raise their way. If he thinks investors are on edge, he has to worry about losing the whole neoliberal game. The Mexican president and governors by their militarization and repression acknowledge pressure from below.

Will the Popular Movement of Oaxaca hold back the tide of neoliberalism? That’s not so far-fetched a possibility – think Latin America, the big picture. The Mexican Alliance for Peoples’ Self-Determination (AMAP), representing various indigenous and campesino groups in Puebla, Veracruz, Guerrero, Oaxaca and Chiapas, charged that development projects advance “without even minimal consultation with indigenous peoples and campesino communities.” Their examples are expansion of the Benito Juarez hydro-electric plant in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, and construction of the Oaxaca-Huatulco super-highway. In response, Oaxaca is educating and mobilizing.

I don’t confuse anti-neoliberalism with anti-development. There are many intelligent people among the Oaxaqueños who see that Oaxaca can move forward by cooperation among pueblos, and with, not against, the environment. Selling and destroying all that makes Oaxaca and its peoples lovely means throwing aside communality, and few want to do that. It has maintained the peoples for five hundred years.

Local Oaxaca elections may not be all that local.

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