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Plan Puebla Panama: Another “top-down” neo-liberal agenda
James Smith
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Initiative is seen as viewed as another branch of US integration strategy.

Created in 2001 by Mexican President Vicente Fox as "an instrument of cooperation that aims to integrate the Mesoamerican region, coordinating actions of the seven Central American countries and nine states that make up the south-southeastern region of Mexico," Plan Puebla Panama (PPP) has never fully took off.

The PPP — championed by Washington —was presented as an initiative to improve the quality of life for the 68 million residents of Mesoamerica — 28 million Mexicans and 40 million Central Americans — of which 41 percent currently live in poverty. Twenty-seven percent of the 46 million residents of Colombia, which joined PPP in October, also live in poverty.

Attracting of foreign corporate investment by creating, modernizing and privatizing transportation infrastructure, industrial zones and energy markets is high on the PPP’s agenda. Another key goal is the privatization of land, water, and public resources and public services, the promotion of regional control of Mesoamerica by North American interests; and the shift of locally-owned farming, industry and forestry businesses to corporate-ownership, according to Celia Davis of the Mexico-based Association of Indigenous Communities in the Northern Zone of the Isthmus.

In the five years PPP was launched, public and private resources have been used to create, extend and modernize infrastructure projects for transportation and energy across the region.

In March 2005, Vince McElhinny, a former representative of the US-based InterAction, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations, co-authored the paper "Plan Puebla Panama: Recipe for Development or Disaster?" which shows that US$21 billion of proposed PPP financing is directed toward four of the eight initiatives within PPP (transport, energy, trade facilitation, and telecommunications) that represent the private sector-oriented agenda. Proposed funding for the other four initiatives — sustainable and human development, tourism, disaster mitigation and communication — is only $3 billion.

Mesoamerican community-based organizations have effectively resisted several PPP projects. Some project proposals have been abandoned, some postponed, and others modified. In August 2002, the communal land owners of San Salvador Atenco, Mexico were able to cancel the construction of a new airport near Mexico City. The indigenous communities of Oaxaca have modified plans or halted roadway construction in several places. The Mexican Alliance for People’s Self-Determination (AMAP) formed in March 2002 to unify efforts among PPP affected communities throughout the south of Mexico; the Alliance’s last forum was held on Nov. 25.

Meanwhile, in Peten, Guatemala, organizing against the PPP has been particularly effective. The Peten Anti-Dam Front, Alliance for Life and Peace and ACOFOP (a forest concession federation, supported by an assortment of national and international NGOs) have all grown stronger in recent years by coordinating resistance to perceived threats posed by PPP in affected communities.

In El Salvador the construction of an 8-kilometer (5-mile) segment of the Anillo Periferico (Urban Beltway) around the urban area of San Salvador has so far been fended off through a campaign of combined mass mobilization, legal strategies and solid community organizing by the Association of Communities Affected by the Anillo Periferico and Bypass, or ACAP.

In Central America, this popular pressure has forced the Inter-American Development Bank to delegate the financing of some of the most sensitive social and environmental projects to the Central American Bank of Economic Integration (CABEI "Because it has much less rigorous oversight, rules and accountability, CABEI can more easily fund socially or ecologically controversial projects," Davis says.

The resounding criticism of these anti-PPP organizations is that the plan advocates a "top-down" economic integration.

The PPP "is about no less than a denationalization of the strategic assets, which entails the risk that the government’s prerogative to sketch out an economic policy becomes a thing of the past and that the government" becomes little more than "a simple country manager for the neo-liberal project directed from the United States," wrote Manolo García, of the Guatemalan organization Legal and Social Services in August.

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