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Seeking a New Globalism in Chiapas | The Nation

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Seeking a New Globalism in Chiapas

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The PPP is a giant infrastructure and maquiladora zone starting in Puebla state in southern Mexico and rolling east through Central America, an area with 60 million people, most of them indigenous and poor, including thousands of Zapatistas and veterans of the region's revolutionary wars. The project, which is expected to cost billions, will be financed by the Inter-American Development Bank and other international bureaucracies that work for the benefit of multinational corporations.

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The PPP would dam the Usumacinta River bordering Mexico and Guatemala, the largest river between Texas and Venezuela, to generate electricity on a scale approaching Egypt's Aswan Dam. The plans have included construction of two dams 132 and 330 feet high that would create reservoirs each over twenty miles long, displace thousands of indigenous people and flood up to eighteen ancient Mayan sites. Not by coincidence, the dams would also permit military control of the river, which is a haven to migrants and smugglers and borders the eastern edge of the zones now controlled by the Zapatista rebels. The Usumacinta, which rises in the Guatemalan highlands and flows freely for 600 miles, is identified as a world "BioGem" by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The NRDC, which, ironically, supported NAFTA as providing a basic floor for cross-border environmental policy, now laments that its inadequate standards have become a ceiling for other trade agreements. The NRDC notes that the proposed FTAA contains inadequate environmental safeguards, although the organization at this writing has taken no position on the PPP.

A scramble is under way as well to control the massive oil deposits that are suspected to lie in the mountains and rainforests of Chiapas, where the battle with the Zapatistas has raged. While projections are uncertain, there are significant deposits of high-quality natural gas and crude oil over several thousand square miles. One analysis puts potential reserves at 3.7 billion barrels, "only a bit less than the five-billion-barrel figure that the petroleum industry considers a mega-deposit," in the Chiapas region. Many of the oil deposits, according to a scholar at Mexico City's National Autonomous University, "are located near or directly beneath Zapatista communities" and the road projects and base camps of the Mexican Army.

Another strategic objective of the PPP is to build a modern highway infrastructure across the narrowest corridor of the Americas to facilitate east-west trade in containerized goods, with the Atlantic side serving US export companies and the Pacific side including a maquila zone for the Pacific Rim. Interlaced throughout will be a tourist-friendly "Ruta Maya" of archeological sites, presumably sanitized of any contemporary Indian threat. Genetic-engineering projects, which local people condemn as "biopiracy," are expected to complete technology's triumph over the natural world.

What is striking about this dazzling scenario is its disconnection from the people and natural environment. The projected economy of the entire region will look like one vast maquiladora. And like the maquiladoras, the PPP and FTAA models are imposed from outside as substitutes for existing organic communities, whose inhabitants must either adapt or migrate. Under the neoliberal globalization model, the primary factor that matters is investment capital; human beings are replaceable, unions and community groups are inefficient anachronisms and environmental impacts simply "externalized" costs to be borne by others.

But reality matters--what Mexico and Latin America are experiencing is the bankruptcy of the maquiladora model and neoliberalism itself. Though the initial rebellion began with campesinos, unrest is spreading throughout Mexico because of planned and rumored privatizations of key industries like telecommunications and energy. For example, before Enron imploded, the US energy giant was advising the Fox campaign and spinning off subsidiaries in Mexico's historically public energy sector. Where some progressive realists accepted the neoliberal model as the only option just a few years ago, today they agree with militant union leaders at Nike's Kukdong plant, a focal point of antiglobalization activism, who say the future of Mexican democracy depends on the unionization of those workers. The only alternative to economic democracy is traditional repression.

Like the Christian conquest before it, the neoliberal model cannot be installed without the threat or use of force. In addition to the tens of thousands of Mexican troops who have been engaged in low-intensity, low-visibility operations in Chiapas, economic globalization has been increasingly militarized since September 11, 2001. The borders of Central America and Mexico, as well as those of Mexico and the United States, are now under tighter military control than ever. Last year Central American military budgets experienced some of their largest increases in history. The Mexican government reinstated twenty military bases in the Chiapas conflict zone ten days after September 11.

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