Plan-Puebla Panama (PPP)
What is the Plan-Puebla Panama?
The Plan-Puebla Panama (PPP) is a series of industrial development mega-projects proposed through Mexico and Central America to provide the infrastructure groundwork required for the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and ultimately part of the bigger Free Trade of the Americas Agreement (FTAA) that would unite North, Central, and South America.
Mexico‘s President Vicente Fox launched the Plan-Puebla Panama, in 2001, paving the way to integrate transportation and electrical infrastructure between Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Panama. Mesoamerican politicians, multilateral banks, and a number of US corporations promote the plan in order to increase foreign investment and industrialize the isthmus. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), World Bank, International Paper, ENDESA (a Spanish Energy Corporation), Harken Engery, Delasa and Prescott Follett & Associates, among others, have contributed to the initiation of the PPP.
Immediately after inauguration, the PPP met fierce hostility from local communities and indigenous and environmental Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), instigating fierce media scrutiny. In July of 2003, Sub-commander Marcos, the leader of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), a guerilla army fighting for indigenous rights in Chiapas, Mexico, declared, “At the very least in the mountains of southeastern Mexico, its implementation will not be permitted for any reason”. The Center for Economic and Political Investigations of Community Action (CIEPAC), a NGO in Chiapas, has asked, “Development for whom, with whose money, to benefit whom, and with decisions taken by whom.” Peten Solidarity Group for Action and Proposals (GSAPP), a grassroots NGO in Guatemala, claims that the plan, thus far, has lacked public involvement. There have been four annual regional meetings set up by the communities against the PPP, with the fifth one scheduled for the summer of 2005.
One reason for public discontent is that over 96% of the PPP’s $10 billion dollars price tag will go directly to transportation and electrical interconnection and less than 2% of the project’s funding combined will be allocated for sustainable development, human development, and protection from natural disasters. Likewise, multinational corporations will primarily use, and sequentially benefit from, the transportation and electrical infrastructure. After construction is complete, the intention is to privatize both systems. Top-heavy with road construction and electrical integration, the PPP is comprised of eight features.
Presidency of Mexico , Infrome de avanves y Perspectivas,” 2002, cited in Packard, Miguel “The Plan-Puebla Panama Revised: Looking Back to See What’s ahead,” 2004
Making up 85% of total cost, multilateral development banks predict that to marshal CAFTA (and eventually the FTAA) into a functional existence, 9.450 km (5,872 miles) of highway is needed to link Mesoamerica to the North. The projected autopista (massive highway system) will connect numerous ports, airports and dry canals, linking the United States and Canada to Mesoamerica ‘s maquidora zones. The investors are not primarily concerned with improving Central America’s access to markets, but rather to speed up the transportation route from Asia to the US market. The transportation system will shorten delivery time by two weeks for the increasingly important trade route between Asia, the United States, and Europe. Ultimately, the PPP’s transportation system will be completely privatized, making the superhighway unaffordable to most Mesoamericans.
This transportation grid will gravely impact the lifestyles and traditions of the people throughout the region, many indigenous, not to mention the devastation to the environment. Robert Kaplin, the conservative Atlantic Monthly correspondent, confessed in a Wall Street Journal article: “the Plains Indians were ultimately vanquished not because of the U.S. Army” but rather by “a deluge of settlers aided by the railroad.” The PPP is Central America ‘s railroad, soon to vanquish much of its culture.
The PPP’s secondary feature—electrical integration—will require dams to supply electricity to the anticipated sweatshop-like factories in the area. These dams, which will displace indigenous peoples and destroy natural ecosystems, are projected for construction in internationally protected rainforests. Currently, because of intense political controversy, the PPP is distancing itself from the originally proposed dams, but separate investment will complete this necessary piece to the project.
The primary financiers of Electricity Interconnection System for the Central American Countries, more commonly known by its Spanish acronym SIEPAC, are Entidad Propietaria de al Red (EPR), a cartel of private and public energy companies in Central America, and ENDESA, a Spanish energy giant; both speculate to collect fees off electrical line usage. SIEPAC, estimated at costing $320 million, will expand, link and privatize Central America’s electrical grid. It will also fashion a regional regulatory body for electrical interconnection and one for operations. These supranational amalgamations will be able to overstep Central American governments’ ability to make major energy decisions, thereby challenging the national sovereignty of the Central America’s domestic governments.
SIEPAC is the vanguard to energy expansion and energy privatization in Central America. Energy giants and regional development banks have left out the communities that are affected by these developments, inciting many protests and general civil irritation. By placing investor’s interests over the citizens of the actual countries, the current energy projects under the PPP undermine democracy for all of the Americas.
Major concerns of civic groups are that the PPP is going to cut through many bio-reserves and untouched rainforests, erect dams to provide electricity, destroy the prevalent natural biodiversity, and displace many indigenous peoples through the flooding of their sacred lands. The PPP intends to improve infrastructure in these impoverished countries by creating more roads, freeways, electrical grids, and shipping ports. With only .05% of the world’s surface land, Central America possesses an immense portion of its known species—7%. Laying down lanes of highway across it and blocking up rivers throughout it changes the natural balance of the environment, including the people who live within that environment.
Some projects initiated by the World Bank (such as the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor and the Mesoamerican Coral Corridor) propose to protect Central America’s unique biodiversity, but local indigenous people believe this to be another ploy for transnational corporations to further exploit and extract natural resources in the region. Many pharmaceutical companies support the World Bank Corridor plans in order to gain greater access to Mesoamerica’s biological diversity. Locals have labeled these efforts as bio-piracy and intellectual theft. Indigenous communities have existed independently from Westerners for endless millennia in a communal paradigm, and now their world views and social lifestyles are at risk under the euphemism of “development.”
What can be done?
The global economy now views Central America and Southern Mexico, after years of economic and political turmoil, as ripe for investment. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), “For Central America, the time is right to set itself an ambitious goal for further integration: More than a decade after the end of conflicts in the region, a new spirit of cooperation, democracy, and market-oriented economic reforms has firmly taken root, setting the region on a clear path toward its rightful position at the cross-roads of the Americas.” Antithetically, many argue that although Central America and Southern Mexico severely need development aid, major foreign investors’ foremost priority is to yield profit. The area that the PPP will encompass is optimal for exploitation. The United States, (in addition to other deep-pocketed foreign investors), is using its hegemonic position to force these resistant communities to capitulate to the international standard of laissez-faire capitalism, while indigenous populations, alleging neocolonialism, are being forced to forfeit millennia of knowledge and practice.
Civil opposition and the lack of funding sources slowed down the PPP to almost a dead stop. But in March of 2004, the plan regained momentum, receiving a facelift by Fleishman-Hillard, a pricey United States advertising firm. In order to change perception, Fleishman-Hillard is attempting to bring more openness to the project by posing opinion polls and increasing transparency through NGO involvement. Despite these efforts, civil groups are once again protesting the plan on the grounds of environmental degradation, labor exploitation, community exclusion, land expropriation and Western dependency. Please use the following resources for more information about the Plan-Puebla Panama and how to get involved with solidarity projects against it. To join the NoPPP list serve send a blank email to: firstname.lastname@example.org .
ACERCA (Action for Community and Ecology in the Rainforests of Central America)
Central American Bank for Economic Integration
Centro de Investigaciones Económicas y Políticas de Acción Comunitaria
Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador
Corp. Watch: Holding Corporations Accountable
Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala
The Inter-American Development Bank
(International Rivers Network)
US-based non-profit policy studies center