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PPP back in the spotlight
Inter Press Service
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Summit revitalizes controversial integration plan.

The flagging Plan Puebla Panama (PPP), an ambitious initiative covering an area inhabited by 113 million people which includes productive and development projects, construction of roads and hydroelectric dams, joint management of natural resources, coordination of trade policies, electric power grid interconnection and the installation of for-export assembly plants, received a new boost at a recent summit.

The PPP includes nine states in southeastern Mexico, plus Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. It covers one million square kilometers which have a population of 70 million people, most of whom are poor. Colombia, with its 43 million people, joined the PPP as a full member in October, bringing the population potentially affected by the project to 113 million.

The April 10 meeting in Mexico brought together the leaders of the countries that launched the development plan six years ago: Mexico, the seven Central American nations, and a new partner, Colombia.

Their aim is to revitalize the PPP, which in the last three years has moved ahead slowly and with little transparency.

But some activists and observers believe the leaders have other reasons for backing the plan. With the exception of Nicaragua, where former Sandinista leader and current President Daniel Ortega took office again in January, all countries involved in the PPP have governments that are in favor of the free market policies promoted by the United States.

US-friendly nations
“The PPP seeks to counteract and limit the model of integration that is being built in South America” by center-left and leftist governments that are critical of the free market policies pushed by Washington, said Héctor de la Cueva, spokesman for the Mexican Action Network Against Free Trade.

“It is no coincidence that Colombia, an unconditional ally of the United States, has joined the PPP,” he commented.

Alberto Arroyo, an economics professor at Mexico’s Autonomous Metropolitan University, agrees. He says the aim of conservative Mexican President Felipe Calderón, who hosted the summit, is to create a sort of counterweight to the influence achieved in South America by Venezuela’s charismatic and controversial leftist leader, President Hugo Chávez.

But Calderón says the PPP is just one more step towards the integration of Latin America as a whole, an objective he has espoused since taking office in December and in which he is seeking to play a leadership role.

The presidents attending the summit in Campeche promised to strengthen the PPP by improving the performance of mechanisms created for coordination and implementation. They also said they would periodically assess the progress made, in order to prevent the loss of momentum or time.

Participants agreed to reactivate a plan to install an oil refinery in one of the countries of Central America, with private sector participation. Mexico offered 80,000 barrels a day and Colombia announced that it would study how much of its oil would be refined at the plant.

Nicaraguan President Ortega recently said the PPP was nothing more than “good intentions” and said his aim was to provide strong support to the “Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas,” or ALBA, an alternative integration project sponsored by Cuba and Venezuela.

Ortega was annoyed that Colombia had been included in the PPP, and accused that country of seeking support to cancel Nicaragua’s rights over San Andrés island and the Roncador, Quitasueño and Serrana keys in the Caribbean, which have long been disputed by the two countries.

Dreams of integration
The PPP was designed by the administration of former Mexican President Vicente Fox (2000-2006), and was launched in 2001 amid much fanfare and the promise that it would make the Mesoamerican region an integrated and competitive zone by 2015, with a healthy and educated population who would respect cultural diversity.

The only aspects that have progressed relatively successfully so far are the electric power grid interconnection among the partner countries, and the building and upgrading of roads and highways. These advances and other plans have already used up US$4.5 billion in investment.

Internal PPP documents mentions goals such as sustainable development, fighting poverty and support for indigenous peoples, but the main emphasis was on Mesoamerica becoming more competitive in order to join the global market.

Activists and social organizations that are opposed to the free market model promoted by Washington claim that the PPP is “neo-colonialist” by nature, and that its goal is to subject Mesoamerica to the economic and commercial interests of transnational corporations.

“While the PPP was on ice, social resistance fell away. But the demonstrations will certainly be back soon, because this plan is clearly against the interests of small farmers and indigenous people,” de la Cueva said.

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Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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