It never ceases to amaze me, how easily fooled I am by the speeches and rhetoric of politicians. I swear to you I’ve heard speeches by Bill Clinton that have brought me near tears. Before the Quebec City protests against the FTAA I wandered on to the official website of the FTAA. I read their mission and plans. Beautiful stuff. They talked about the need for remembering the people and their needs always came first. They talked about how important employment, environment, the reduction of poverty were to the mission of the FTAA. They talked about drugs, and how important drug treatment was in an overall anti-drug strategy. It was almost enough to make me wonder why they were gassing us when we finally got there, since we all shared the same goals.
Mexico’s President Vicente Fox has that quality. On September 1, 2001, he made a speech announcing that he had fulfilled the 3 signals required by the Zapatistas– the release of the Zapatista political prisoners, withdrawal from 7 military posts in Chiapas, and enactment of the Cocopa law on indigenous rights and culture– for resumption of dialogue.
Actually, one signal has been fulfilled. The 7 bases have been vacated, although in a few cases vacated to have the soldiers move to a camp just up the road. Fox thinks the other two have been fulfilled as well, because most of the Zapatista prisoners have been released, and because an indigenous law was indeed passed by Congress. That the law that was passed gutted all of the substantive content of the peace agreement the Zapatistas signed in 1996 is lost on Fox.
The dialogue, needless to say, is in a shambles. The EZLN comandancia denounced the indigenous counter-reform law, as they called it, and hasn’t issued a communique since. The other indigenous organizations, like the Indigenous National Congress, have similarly denounced and protested it, preventing it from being approved in some of the states.
Military and paramilitary incursions continue to grind away at the communities, in Chiapas and other southern states like Guerrero. Low-intensity business as usual, even as Fox moves along to other plans, sure that he’s solved that thorny indigenous problem.
I should have capitalized the word ‘plans’. Everybody’s got a Plan these days. Colombia’s got one, that’s feeding the civil war there with helicopters and Monsanto-made chemical poisons. And Fox has one, too, for southern Mexico. It’s called Plan Puebla-Panama, because it goes from the Mexican state of Puebla in the north to the country of Panama in the south. Like the FTAA, Plan Colombia, and Bill Clinton’s speeches, it sometimes sounds pretty– and will do nothing to solve the real problems in the region and will almost certainly make them worse.
The Plan, for example, starts out from what sounds like a sensible analysis of the situation. ‘In the South-Southeast there are abundant natural resources coexisting with a very poor population.’ True. So far, so good. ‘The 9 states in the zone lack public infrastructure and access to markets, they supply products with little value added, they are under-capitalized, inadequately organized for rural production, and obstacles in getting credit and new technologies.’
Yes, Vicente, but what about land? What about the communal land holdings that were abolished from the constitution to make way for NAFTA that sparked the uprising in the first place?
Another very sensible paragraph on the government’s website is ‘the execution of the large projects that will be implemented with the Plan must be made with an objective and deep analysis of society, with the help of its organizations– universities, research centers, social organizations, and citizens interested in the development of their communities.’
Not unions, though. Unless they’re automatically subsumed under ‘social organizations’.
Unions may have been forgotten by the drafters of the Plan for a more insidious reason. In the section on the ‘strengths, opportunities, weaknesses, and threats’ to the successful implementation of the Plan, for example, one strength of the region is: ‘A large workforce, of competitive cost at the world level and potentially of high quality’. So the Plan is to develop the south by offering its workers to the world at competitive prices? Unions are traditionally not useful instruments for that kind of development. That, at least, was apparently not lost on the Mexican Government.
Other ‘strengths’? ‘The states of South-Southeastern Mexico are in a geostrategic location because of their location close to Central America and the Gulf of Mexico. The region has a tropical climate, tremendous biological and agricultural resources, an abundance of water, important oil reserves, ecological and historical sites, and abundant human resources. With this confluence of comparative advantage, the region presents promising opportunities for investment especially in: oil, mining, maquiladoras, tourism, fishing, and agriculture.’ Well, at least they didn’t say hydroelectricity, since Chiapas already supplies most of Mexico’s hydro and receives scandalously little in return.
I think the biggest lie about the whole thing isn’t all the window-dressing about how important it is to develop the people, to provide education and health care, to respect indigenous rights and culture. The biggest lie is that all the problems in the region come from neglect, from the region’s being unattractive to investors. Indeed, from Puebla to Panama, there has been plenty of attention and investment. 500 years of attention and investment: in Guatemala, El Salvador, Chiapas, Nicaragua…
If I didn’t think they knew they were lying, I would feel sorry for them. I would want to explain to them that the goals of ‘developing people’ and selling them and their land as cheaply as possible on the global market were contradictory. That land reform and labour rights are not as easily forgotten by the people as they are by Planners. That they would face resistance as long as they didn’t realize these things.
But I know they know. In fact, there are times when I wonder if they’re playing a joke on me. Like in the ‘threats’ to the successful implementation to the Plan section. They state their worries about real issues, like high dependence on a few commodities, on the possible impacts of climate change in the vulnerable region, about the ‘race to the bottom’, about intellectual property rights stifling technological development. But the one that made me wonder who the joke was on was the ‘threat’ that was right in the middle of all this: Mexico has ‘public policies that do not always stimulate investment and business development’.
They’re right. And on that note, here’s to such policies. May they threaten this and other Plans for a good long time.
Justin Podur is a ZNet volunteer. He can be reached at email@example.com He works on solidarity with Mexico, Colombia, and South Asia. ZNet’s Chiapas pages are at http://www.zmag.org/chiapas1/index.htm