First introduced by President Vicente Fox of Mexico in 2001 and later joined by all Central American Presidents, the PPP is a $10 billion, 10 to 25 year regional integration project to create and interconnect transportation routes, industrial corridors and a variety of infrastructure projects throughout Mesoamerica (Southern Mexico and Central America), and firmly root the global "free trade" agenda in the region. Fox promised the PPP's industrial corridors and transportation routes would bring the NAFTA model to a "backward south," and now the U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and the PPP are combining forces to do just that. Multilateral banks, private industry, and the Central American public are providing the capital, loans and resources to fund this controversial megaproject.
The primary objective of the PPP is to consolidate what is, in fact, a highly contested neoliberal "vision of development" in Mesoamerica, which includes:
Officially, the PPP promotes eight different initiatives: sustainable development, human development, prevention and mitigation of natural disasters, tourism, facilitation of commerce, transportation, interconnection of electricity, and integration of telecommunications services. However, despite the human face some of the initiatives bring to the PPP, in reality the transportation and electrification initiatives - both of which are key to the advancement of corporate globalization in the region - account for 92% of the over $5 billion budgeted so far for the PPP.
The PPP's region
PPP: Pavement, Privatization and Poverty
The focus and massive scale of the primary arteries alone shed light on the fact that the PPP is not a plan to "develop" the "backward south" to benefit the region's poor majority or protect its rich biodiversity, as claimed by promoters. Rather, the PPP is a global project that enables transnational corporations and the regions' elites to profit from the flow of goods across the region to consumers in the north as it displaces and destroys local communities, economies and ecology. It is no accident that the PPP offers rural peoples little choice but to abandon, or be forcefully removed from, their lands and migrate to cities to compete with other workers for inhumane sweatshop jobs. Indeed, the PPP builds upon a regional legacy of genocide and ecocide, systematically attacking the areas' diverse cultures and environment by restructuring Mesoamerica to favor U.S. and local political and economic interests, and by tightening the grip of transnational corporations on the regions' diverse and abundant natural resources and labor force.
What's new with the PPP?
As of February 2004 the International Network of Mesoamerican Roadways (PPP's road integration initiative known as RICAM in Spanish) has received 83% of project funding, 76% of which has been allocated to the project's Pacific Corridor. Another significant development is that Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have signed an agreement approving the creation and privatization of the regional energy grid known as SIEPAC.
Thus far, slightly less than 50% of all PPP projects have received funding, testament to the success of a growing and widespread grassroots resistance to the PPP throughout the region. Increasingly fearful of civil society's ability to stop the PPP, the IDB has recently invested additional resources into conducting voluminous environmental impact assessments and hired a public relations firm to determine how to put a gentler face on the PPP.
Organizing to stop the PPP is a major challenge. The lack of information about and magnitude of the project make it easy for PPP sponsors and profiteers to hide the destructive activities of the plan and avoid accountability. Reports of engineers arriving unannounced in communities hauling survey equipment, bulldozers, and work crews are on the rise, and make it clear the PPP is moving forward. Nonetheless, key struggles, such as those in the Mexican state of Puebla, in the city of San Salvador and in Nicaragua, have been successful in stopping official parts of the plan cold.
In July 2003 the Fourth Mesoamerican Forum against Plan Puebla Panama was held in Honduras. As with the first three forums held in Mexico, Guatemala and Nicaragua, the thousand-plus delegates who gathered in Tegucigalpa rejected Plan Puebla Panama, the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), the U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), all so-called 'free trade' agreements, and the accompanying militarization of the region. A growing Mesoamerican network of diverse organizations and coalitions is clearly not looking to the IDB or the PPP for solutions to regional problems. Rather, this growing resistance is part of a much larger struggle to topple neoliberalism, from its most local to its most global form, and to build, from the bottom up, the necessary relationships, processes and structures to globalize justice.
**Excerpted from the "Introduction," Plan Puebla Panama: Battle over the Future of Mesoamerica, 2nd edition, Brendan O'Neill, ACERCA
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