Burial without a corpse

The Isthmus of Tehuantepec

By: Gustavo Esteva

The funeral of neoliberalism was decreed, but we do not know which corpse they will bury.

President López Obrador once again showed his desire to liquidate the neoliberal era, to which he rightly attributes a large amount of the troubles that overwhelm the country. His conviction is clear. But his personal definition of the enemy jeopardizes his intentions.

López Obrador seems sure that exiting the neoliberal world will be enough to retake the State leadership. It is true that renouncing the basic State functions to give them away to private corporations, in a way as corrupt as incompetent, is one of the worst mistakes of the Mexican governments since 1982. But before celebrating the recovery we need to know the meaning. It seems that everything changes… for nothing to change. This State leadership is used to giving away public programs to corporations and adopting the path that they are indicating.

One of the clearest examples is the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. It is said loud and clear that the new plan satisfies the national interest and generates wellbeing for the people of the region. Nevertheless, even the most superficial analysis of the plan´s contents, shows that it is a dispositive that inserts the country more deeply in not it´s own logic, but into the one of private interest. It constitutes a very real threat to people in the region, because it endangers their ways of life, their traditions and their hopes.

When Porfirio Díaz created the idea for the first time, it seemed viable that Mexico to strategically use the project, which awoke huge interest among the Americans. At some moment of tension with the United States, Díaz Ordaz discovered that large portions of the Isthmus were in foreign hands, so he organized a massive distribution of ejido and communal lands as a pretext for expropriation. It was too dangerous for Mexico that these lands were not our own.

When López Portillo thought that it was his turn to administer abundance, he ordered the preparation of the project in order to invest petroleum profits in it. The project was very advanced when they discovered that they had run out of money and the risks were too high. Today, under entirely different conditions, they seek to reorder activities on the Isthmus in order to connect it to an operation that only big corporations could assume and in order to cancel an autonomous path.

The protocol of the process of the free, previous and informed consultation for the peoples and indigenous communities of the Tehuantepec Isthmus in Oaxaca and Veracruz, regarding the Development Program for the Isthmus of Tehuantepec [1] is a document that deserves a careful consideration. It is an exemplary case of the forms of the state of siege (State of emergency), when the law is used to violate itself, to twist itself. It describes the pertinent legal dispositions for the case and finds solace in the legal value of good faith, to right afterwards describe the way in which people will be betrayed in spirit and in word.

 The consultation that was made in a hurry and will end on March 31 is not even “previous”. The government has already made the decision to do the program. Their actions haven´t even reached the communities involved, but decisions have been made that will affect them. Every day contracts and commitments are announced. It’s urgent for the government to process the 5 billion dollars that were promised to Trump for the area.

It won´t be a “free” consultation either. It is made according to the time and conditions defined by the federal authorities, not for the peoples, which “customs and habits” are being quickly adjusted to the demands of the process. It won´t be an “informed” exercise. The presentation has a clear bureaucratic mark, with incomprehensible terms for ordinary people and formats typical of a promotional flyer. During the meetings, the expositions are accompanied with clientele suggestions, in order to incorporate some of the projects that the communities had demanded a long time ago, therefore facilitating a positive answer. [2]

The most awful thing about this consultation is that it only “informs” about the government’s program so that the people take it or leave it without presenting options. The only way of make this consultation valid is allowing the people to choose what they really want.

The operators of the mechanism of civic participation will give good news to the president by the end of the month. He would “win” another one. They will affirm with all cynicism and ignorance, that the program it is made with civic participation and in accordance with the principle of “mandar obedeciendo” [3] (to govern obeying). The result will be used as “proof” that the peoples just want to access the forms of capitalism that prevail in the north, leaving behind their “underdevelopment”, as some of the organic intellectuals of the new government affirm.

Now comes the answer of the peoples. It has already been announced in Guelatao, when the people AMLO drove-in (acarreados) surpassed the locals to honor Benito Juárez. He will not wait.


[1] According to reports in the press, the Development Program for the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, aka the Trans-Isthmus Corridor, is a project to revitalize the existing single-track railroad between the port of Coatzacoalcos (Veracruz) and the port of Salina Cruz (Oaxaca). The existing railroad would be upgraded to a high-speed railroad with two tracks that would carry freight between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean, thus providing a Panama Canal-lite and facilitating trade with China. Both ports are designated Special Economic Zones, tax-free zones for trans-oceanic commerce. The Mexican government believes that this mega-project would promote “development” in the region and provide jobs, not only for the local population, but also for migrants from Central America.

[2] See the CNI-CIG and the EZLN’s communiqué about the referendum here.

[3] Mandar obedeciendo is a set of principles for governing and leadership that are practiced by the CNI-CIG and the EZLN.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Monday, March 25, 2019


Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee


One Comment on “Burial without a corpse

  1. Pingback: Zapatista News & Analysis | Blog of Zapatista Support Group Wellington, Aotearoa/New Zealand

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