November 24 marked the closing of the Second International Forum, “Frente a la Globalización: El Pueblo Es Primero” (Confronting Globalization, The People Come First), with hundreds of indigenous delegates, campesino organizers, grassroots activists, journalists and internationals in solidarity marching through the streets of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. Over 800 delegates representing 262 organizations participated in the three-day event to organize strategies and develop proposals in resistance to the neoliberal model for development in Latin America. Passing fruit markets, street vendors and McDonald’s restaurants, voices shouted in unison, expressing the international struggle against globalization. Overwhelmingly, the threat of the projected Plan Puebla Panama was the central focus of protest slogans, remarks and proposals during the forum.
Vincente Fox, president of Mexico, officially announced the Plan Puebla Panama (PPP) in March 2001 as a proposal for a series of mega projects within the American Isthmus, a region extending from Southeastern Mexico to Panama, designed to integrate the region into the global economy. Advocates of the PPP plan to transform the region into a processing center and transportation corridor for the export of goods to North America and Western Europe. Plans to develop Eucalyptus and African palm plantations, industrial shrimp farms, a maquiladora industrial sector, mining and a new energy network compose the production corridor of the project. In order to transport the goods produced, the Plan Puebla Panama intends to construct a network of super highways, dry canals, high-speed railways and deepwater ports. The American Isthmus is a region immensely rich in biodiversity, natural resources and cultural diversity, all of which are threatened with the implementation of the Plan Puebla Panama. Particularly, the plan has the potential to contribute to the loss of campesino land, loss of community autonomy, loss of ability for local producers to compete in the global market, and pressures for traditional farmers to move into the industrial sector of the economy.
Nicolás Bravo, a community that is struggling to defend the Chimalapas jungle from the interests of foreign logging companies, the government and neighboring communities sits in the very heart of the region for the projected Plan Puebla Panama. The journey to Nicolás Bravo, located in the southern state of Oaxaca, demonstrates the threats of globalization and the struggle of communities to sustain the land, environment and biodiversity of Mesoamerica. In order to arrive in Nicolás Bravo, one must travel on a bumpy road, passing military police check points, an operation site of German logging company PRICECA, and a neighboring community, Nuevo Centro de Dotación de Ejido that has been violently disputing claims to the land of Nicolás Bravo. The struggle of the community has included a long history of resistance to the pressures and interests of foreign companies in the region.
Actions to shut down operations of PRISECA occurred in 1987 when the company did not follow through with the agreement to provide infrastructural assistance to the community for the use of its land.
In 1990, the struggle led to the rape and murders of Cecilia and Lucía Cruz Escalante, daughters of Anastacio Cruz Paz, a campesino leader and challenger of PRICECA. The murders were a result of a split within the community of whether or not to apply for ejidal status (communal land tenure) from the government, escalated by the pressures and interests of foreign corporations. The struggle for the land intensified in 1992 after the implementation of reforms to Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution that officially permitted the privatization of ejidal land.
Realizing that the lands of Nicolas Bravo could no longer be recognized under Article 27, the community began collaborating with UCIZONI, Union de Communidades Indigenas de la Zona Norte del Itsmo (Union of Indigenous Communities of the Northern Zone of the Isthmus), in order to continue the struggle to protect its land. UCIZONI, as a grass roots indigenous organization, has been resisting globalization and protecting ejidal and communal lands in Oaxaca for 17 years. The foreign logging companies manipulating the increased access to lands once controlled by peasants and indigenous, have begun to pressure communities to sell their lands once protected under Article 27. Pressures for communities to adhere to the interests of transnational corporations have involved the instigation of land disputes and offers to build roads and provide better materials for building houses as part of negotiations, while the government has done little to improve infrastructure.
Residents of Nicolás Bravo are acutely aware of the connection between military check points 20 miles from the community, heightened tensions with Nuevo Centro de Dotación de Ejido over land disputes and the logging companies’ offers to clear cut hectares of trees within the municipality. Clearly, without support from the government, pressure for residents to integrate into the global economy allows few choices; let go of the land, work in the proposed maquila sector, migrate to the U.S., or actively confront policies like the Plan Puebla Panama which have the likelihood of devastating the culture, land, biodiversity, and livelihood of communities in the region of the Isthmus.
Within the three-day forum in Xela, Guatemala, delegates representing grassroots organizations from Mesoamerica presented stories similar to the history of Nicolás Bravo. Delegates had the opportunity to participate and present analysis of the Plan Puebla Panama in working tables on the potential effects of the Plan on indigenous peoples and natural resources and proposals for alternative models of development. Although the critique of globalization was clearly present within the forum, spaces for participants to develop concrete strategies for a campaign of solidarity against the Plan Puebla Panama and other similar policies were limited. Within the final forum, delegates representing community organizations criticized the organization of the forum and the declarations proposed. Zoila José Juan, delegate from UCIZONI and an indigenous woman from Oaxaca, Mexico, forcefully expressed her critique of the forum. To an impassioned audience, she criticized the forum for including mostly academics and expressed the overwhelming necessity of the participation by women, indigenous people, and non-NGO community organizers in future forums.
The Forum Xelajú concluded in the central plaza of Quetzal- tenango with delegates reading the declarations against the PPP and its plans to integrate the Isthmus into the global economy. Berta Caceras, delegate representing COPINH, an organization of indigenous and campesinos struggling against globalization in Honduras, read the final accords of the forum. The declarations stated an absolute rejection of the model of development proposed under globalization that threatens the rights, safety, health and bio-diversity of communities in Meso- america and articulated a forceful commitment to confront these policies with direct resistance in communities.
The forum’s significance was revealed in the delegates’ network building and information sharing in order to build a concrete coordination of resistance against the Plan Puebla Panama. Affirming the necessity of the forum, Neil Harvey, delegate and author of The Chiapas Rebellion stated, “The level of resistance depends on the level of information.” He reaffirmed this sentiment with the concern that the next step in the campaign is to present this newly attained information in a language accessible to communities whose interests and way of life are at stake. The proposal for an international education campaign about the potential effects of the Plan Puebla Panama and the demands for the active participation of communities in the decision making process of trade agreements and plans for economic development reinforced how vital the accessible distribution of information is to the struggle. The Second International Forum Against Globalization demonstrated the strength of the international campaign against the Plan Puebla Panama and echoed the declaration of Sub- comandante Marcos, spokesperson of the Zapatista struggle: “The Isthmus is not for sale.”
The third forum is predicted to take place in Managua, Nicaragua in 2002. Z
Marie Trigona was a participant in the Plan Puebla Panama delegation. She is working as Program Assistant with the Africana and Latin American Studies Program at Colgate University.