By: Luis Hernández Navarro
Many names; same project. The proposal to promote regional development through the construction of a dry canal that connects the Gulf of Mexico with the Pacific Ocean, linking the ports of Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, and Salina Cruz, Oaxaca, has been baptized in many ways during the past 51 years. But, beyond what it’s called, the proposal is, in essence, the same.
The recent initiative in this direction came from the virtual president-elect, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). He informed Donald Trump of this in a letter that he sent to him through Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. And that’s how he announced it, by announcing the priority infrastructure projects.
The modern history of this megaproject is long. In 1967, President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz formed a commission to impel the inter-oceanic transport of containers. In 1974, Luis Echeverría, projected the expansion of the railroad constructed during the days of Porfirio Díaz (el porfiriato), at the time that he built the Cangrejera Petrochemical Complex and the Salina Cruz Refinery. In 1977, José López Portillo launched the Alfa-Omega Plan, a trans-Isthmus transport system for cargo using containers. In 1985, Miguel de la Madrid put his hands on a public work: the Nueva Teapa-Salina Cruz pipeline.
With slight variations, the fantasy continued from one presidential term to the next. In 1996, Ernesto Zedillo announced the Comprehensive Economic Development Program for the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which sought to integrate the region into the global development of goods and services, of course, by means of an interoceanic transport corridor. In 2001, Vicente Fox rewound the initiative promoting the Plan Puebla-Panamá. In 2007, Felipe Calderón announced the Logistical System of the Isthmus, to auction off the Coatzacoalcos y Salina Cruz container terminals, and the operation of a modern freight railroad. Three years later, he communicated the cementing of a multimodal corridor. Enrique Peña Nieto promoted this megaproject at two different times: first, in 2013, with the Port of America Isthmus Plan, and three years later, he re-launched it by incorporating it into the Special Economic Zones (SEZ). Each and every one of these initiatives failed in their attempt to constitute the Trans-Isthmus Corridor.
AMLO’s new plan also considers the corridor a free zone and part of the SEZ, which his future Cabinet chief, Alfonso Romo, wants to extend to the entire territory of Chiapas, Oaxaca and Guerrero.
An SEZ is an enclave where the regulatory framework in which the companies must function (for example, the payment of taxes or the fulfillment of administrative obligations) is minimized in relation those existing in the rest of the country.
The Isthmus of Tehuantepec is a region of enormous environmental and cultural wealth. According to the researcher Miguel Ángel García, the country’s most important humid tropical forests and jungles survive there, because of their biodiversity and preserved extension. It is a contact zone between the fauna and flora of North and South America, and is part of the group of ecosystems that still shelter between 30 and 40 percent of the world’s biodiversity. It is the region with the greatest availability of water according to its demand on a national scale and where the largest lagoon systems of the Mexican Pacific are generated. The project could damage the environment beyond repair.
The Isthmus is also a territory inhabited by 12 native peoples, who live in 539 communities: Chinantecos, Chochocos, Chontales, Huaves, Mazatecos, Mixtecos, Mixes, Zapotecos, Nahuatlacos, Popolucas and Zoques. Ancestrally they have resisted the “modernization” projects that seek to dispossess them of their lands, territories and natural resources in the name of “progress.”
The new government has announced that it will accompany the construction of the new Trans-Isthmus Corridor making those affected co-participants in its benefits, so (in the words of Tatiana Clouthier interviewed by Ernesto Ledesma) “that money falls into their pocket and that helps them to get better.” This would guaranty adding them to the project. Additionally, according to some analysts close to AMLO, a hypothetical approval of the San Andrés Accords would give the indigenous peoples tools for better defending themselves.
We’re talking about an excessively optimistic expectation. The federal government and the Zapatista National Liberation Army (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, EZLN) signed the chapter on Indigenous Rights and Culture of the San Andrés Accords on February 16, 1996. The rest of the themes to be addressed remain pending. A lot of water has run in that river since then. The indigenous world has changed enormously in the last 22 years. The new mining and energy laws are a death sentence for the original peoples.
Beyond the will to transform and to struggle against corruption, the trans-Isthmus corridor, the extension of the SEZs, the pretension to convert Mexico into an investment paradise, announce the imminent clash of these projects with the indigenous peoples.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Tuesday, July 31, 2018
Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee