ricardo dominguez on Tue, 26 Mar 2002 11:41:50 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> "the Isthmus is not for sale!" - chiapas.indymedia.org

>From March 20th to 24th, representatives of indigenous communities,
local civil society and Non Governmental Organizations from Mexico,
Central and South America, Europe and the USA will be meeting in
a small village near the Mexican Guatemalan border to plan how to
resist dam projects in the Plan Puebla Panama (PPP). This will be
the first time such a broad a range of groups will be meeting to
organize against a specific aspect of the PPP.


"If we look at the State of Chiapas, for instance, the majority
of the potential sites for the generation of hydroelectric power
are located within the Conflict Zone. It's calculated that over
40 potential sites are located in the Conflict Zone, where
Zapatista Autonomous Communities are located. What this
would do is dislocate the majority of the population in that
region and could, essentially, create more conflict. If the
projects within the PPP were eventually realized, they could
flood up to 800 archeological sites within the Peten and
Chiapas. In fact, up to one third of the Peten could be flooded
if all these dam sites were put into place. Would the benefit
be going to those communities that are dislocated and destroyed?
No, it would be going to the people who are investing in the
creation of that hydroelectric energy, and most of the hydroelectric
energy used would then be exported and sold. So investors
would probably make a bundle on the projects, while the local
communities would suffer."

-Chris Treter, Global Exchange

"the Isthmus is not for sale!",

-Subcomandate Marcos, EZLN

>From March 20th to 24th, representatives of indigenous communities,
local civil society and Non Governmental Organizations from Mexico,
Central and South America, Europe and the USA will be meeting
in a small village near the Mexican Guatemalan border to plan
how to resist dam projects in the Plan Puebla Panama (PPP).
This will be the first time such a broad a range of groups will be
meeting to organize against a specific aspect of the PPP.
Little know outside the region, the Plan Puebla Panama was
proposed last year by President Vincente Fox of Mexico as a
way of bringing "the fruits of globalization" to the region South
and East of Mexico City along with the countries of Guatemala,
Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.
It is an ambitious combination of infrastructure projects, tax and
legal incentives designed to expand the Maquiladora (assembly plant)
concept, where manufactured US goods are assembled in low wage
factories in Mexico before being returned to the US, from the North
of Mexico to the South, and to facilitate the shipping of those products
to Asia.

A centerpiece of this will be a series of 'dry canals' from the Caribbean
to Pacific, including one across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, near
the border of the Mexican States of Chiapas and Oaxaca. This would
cut out 2,500 miles from the present journey that goods have to take
through the Panama Canal when they go by sea from the US East
and West Coasts, and over 1000 miles from the journey that goods
would have to take to go from the US East Coast to Asia. Given that
some 80% of US manufacturing takes place on the East Coast,
this would represent a massive cost savings to American, and
increasingly European, multinational companies. The 'dry canal'
would consist of a new port in Gulf of Mexico, a major freight
railway to Salina Cruz on the Pacific side, a new highway network,
and improvements to the port in Salina Cruz. This railway would
be flanked by Maquiladoras to assemble the unfinished goods
being manufactured in the US and Europe before they would
be reshipped out to the Asian and West Coast markets for sale.
And, in addition, there are plans for industrial shrimp farms,
tree plantations, oil refineries, and smelters along this corridor.

To power this and other mega-projects, the PPP envisions
some 70 new dams in the Chiapas, Mexico/Petan, Guatemala
region. These dams would have the additional effect of helping
to dislocate and disrupt the Indigenous populations of the
region which have a long history of resistance against the
exploitation of the Governments and businessmen of Mexico
and Guatemala. Further, these displaced populations would
provide a convenient workforce for the Maquiladoras in the
Industrial Centers being envisaged by the PPP. Carlo Fazio,
an Uruguayan writer, has concluded that the PPP represents
a counter-insurgency strategy to undermine and eliminate
the largely Mayan resistance in the area.

In order to respond to the challenge posed by PPP, NGOs,
representatives of civil society and indigenous communities
have begun to hold regional conferences. The first meeting
was held in Tapachula in Chiapas in May, 2001, with a
follow-up meeting in Quetzaltenango in Guatemala in
November, 2001. During those meetings it was decided,
given the broad nature of the PPP, that aside from general
organizing against the Plan, it would be necessary to start
to make action plans against specific elements of the PPP.
As such, the Foro por la Vida in La Quetzal, Guatemala was
planned to focus specifically on the question of dams and
their impact.

Dams have a checkered history, particularly in Latin America.
Anti-dam activists in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador,
Colombia, Brazil, Chile have repeatedly been harassed, beaten,
disappeared and murdered. In 1982, almost 400 people were
murdered by the Guatemalan Military and Paramilitaries for
resisting the World Bank sponsored, Chixoy Hydroelectric
Project. Hundreds of thousands of Indigenous peoples have
been displaced and 'resettled' across Mexico and Central
America in the last century, often resulting in near total
destruction of communities and cultures. On the subject
of large hydroelectric projects Balakrishnan Rajagopal, a
professor of law and development at MIT states, '"development
cleansing" may well constitute ethnic cleansing in disguise,
as the people dislocated so often turn out to be from
minority ethnic and racial communities.' In order to learn
from other experiences in resisting dams, the first day
of the conference will be devoted to presentations from
activists from Guatemala, Colombia, Bolivia, Honduras,
El Salvador, and, possibly, Ecuador and the Mexican
State of Guererro.

La Quetzal, near the river Usumacinta, on the Guatemalan
side of the Mexico/Guatemalan border is particularly well
situated to reflect the complicated context of the PPP. Having
survived a civil war in which more than 100,000 Indigenous
people were murdered, in April, 1995, after spending almost
15 years in refugee camps in Mexico, 200 families of
Guatemalan refuges crossed back over the border into
Peten to found the Union Maya Itza, as the La Quetzal
finca is called. Within days, they found that they had
been abandoned to their fate, lacking access to any
real government aid or NGO assistance, and only
through their own self organization were able to survive
the first year in the jungle. Drawing on their experiences
as refugees in Mexico, they organized their own health
and education, and proceeded to develop a viable
community in their new lands, with an economy based
on agriculture, animal husbandry and sustainable forestry.
Now, having lived through the upheavals of the past two
decades to rebuild their lives in their homelands they
face having their lands inundated and, once again,
being displaced by the flooding of the Usumacinta
river due to the PPP dam projects.

La Quetzal is remote and isolated, the 15 km trek
from the town of Bethel on the border taking 1  hours.
Electricity is sparse, and there is only limited satellite
phone available from the village. Bringing several
hundred people to this spot is an attempt by the organizers
to make the conference more accessible to the people
living in the region, even if it represents added
hardships for conference participants.

As Chris Treter of Global Exchange says, "One
of the most important things we are trying to
do in organizing conferences is to get local
support for what's going on. It is important for
educating the communities which are going to
be affected and to have the communities play
a large part in the process of creating an organized
resistance to the projects."

by Francisco Rojas,

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