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Culture Change

Opposing the Plan Puebla Panama and FTAA
"Free trade" for Mesoamerica: roads, dams and death

Report by Jan Lundberg

A monumental scheme pushed by several governments promises to strip the environment and many local cultures of their wealth and put it in the pockets of big corporations.  Its name?  Plan Puebla Panama.  

The name is confusing because it encompasses much more than Panama (and it is more than a highway-construction scheme.  Plan Puebla Panama (PPP) is a road/dam/maquiladora monstrosity related to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other similar entities such as the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement (FTAA).  

The PPP is supposed to cost $20 billion and take 25 years.  Dams and other facilities for power generation and distribution have huge financial costs, but also ecological and human costs that are far greater.

Opposition to Plan Puebla Panama is strengthening.  It's as if the Zapatistas are spreading over several countries.  The Indians of Chiapas, honoring the revolutionary hero Zapata and his name, declared war on the Mexican federal government and on NAFTA, taking up arms and securing their territory on January 1, 1994, the day NAFTA went into effect.  The Mexican government was and still is in cahoots with the non-Indian land-grabbing class, and NAFTA was the last straw for the rebels.

There is oil in Chiapas, along with rich timber and other resources including human labor.  Not only does the neoliberal capitalist agenda plan to take land away from the local people, it intends to enslave them as workers no longer able to provide for their own subsistence.  The Indian segment of the Chiapas population has resisted steadily, with help from Mexicans everywhere and North Americans who have provided support.  One reason for concern over the PPP - as has been the case with NAFTA -  is the Lacondon rainforest in Chiapas, also targeted for ranching and biopiracy of the flora.  Today's Mayans are threatened with the loss of their culture which features sustainable communities.

Plan Puebla Panama's series of industrialization projects steamrolls through the whole region of Mesoamerica, including 9 states in southern Mexico and the 7 countries of Central America.  Sixty four million people would be drastically affected.  

Regardless, NAFTA and PPP supporters push onward towards ever greater riches for the few, and domestication and enslavement for everyone else.  Maquiladoras are factories providing cheap labor for U.S. corporations, sited near the U.S. border and polluting massively.  Corporations' quest for profits have already resulted in factories in Central America, but the PPP would turn the region into a production/extraction zone where local self-sufficiency would be effectively abolished.

The PPP threatens to displace hundreds of indigenous communities and destroy precious rainforest and wetland ecosystems.  While the region constitutes only 0.5% of the world's land mass, southern Mexico and Central America contain over 7% of the known species on the planet.

There are two international highways to be constructed, involving up to 90% of the total funding for PPP, "so that nothing stands between consumers and their hair dryers," according to the Network Opposed to the Plan Puebla Panama (NoPPP).  There exists already a Transportation Corridor that when completed will link a chain of highways from Tapachula, Mexico and Panama, linking ports of the countries on the Pacific coast.  The two main highways to be constructed are (1) the Pacific Corridor Road Integration Project.   The route is approximately 3,156 kilometers long, from Hidalgo, Mexico and ending in Panama City.   (2) The Atlantic Corridor Road Integration Project will cover a route of approximately 1,925 kilometers.

According to the Action for Social & Ecological Justice:

"Although these transoceanic mega-projects have been planned for years, President Fox of Mexico has packaged these plans in a new "regional integration" proposal: the Plan Puebla Panama (PPP). The PPP will include ... a region encompassing 102 million square kilometers ...

"The World Bank and IMF coerce Latin American governments to privatize state-owned enterprises, reduce government expenditures, and open borders for “free trade”. This “neoliberal” model is forced on the region’s populations by multilateral institutions, which the U.S. dominates, like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and InterAmerican Development Bank (IDB)."   

Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista Army delivered this statement through supporters to Cancun as the World Trade Organization meeting on agriculture collapsed in September:

"In the complex equation that turns death into money, there is a group of humans who command a very low price in the global slaughterhouse.  We are the indigenous, the young, the women, the children, the elderly, the homosexuals, the migrants, all those who are different.  That is to say, the immense majority of humanity.

"Brothers and sisters, there is dissent over the projects of globalisation all over the world.  Those above (in the meeting halls), who globalise conformism, cynicism, stupidity, war, destruction and death.  And those below who globalise rebellion, hope, creativity, intelligence, imagination, life, memory and the construction of a world that we can all fit in, a world with democracy, liberty and justice.

"We hope the death train of the World Trade Organisation will be derailed in Cancun and everywhere else."

People from across the Americas will converge from November 19th to November 21st, 2003, in Miami, Florida to voice their opposition to the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement (FTAA)  For Miami direct action discussion and our Cancun photo-journalism, see

War from the U.S. and its partners
The proponents of Plan Puebla Panama and FTAA all know the consequences of their actions.  So, their agenda - if imposed - will be viewed by local peoples as an act of war.  War will not be explicitly declared by the "free traders" (the corporations and their government) against the peasant farmers and Indians, for already the government/corporate policies, backed up by the federal-controlled armed forces, equate to low-intensity warfare.  When people are forced off their land by divisive measures, they end up in corporate sweat shops and assembly plants that spew toxic chemicals into the environment and their bodies.  This is already war. 

An anti-globalization activist wrote on the internet a concise analysis of the role of war: 

"Economic oppression and military repression are flip sides of the same coin. The economic terrorism inflicted on the poor that accompanies 'free trade' could not stand without the repressive military apparatus that brutalizes people who rise up to resist.  Those who oppose the globalization of greed and those who work to end US training of repressive foreign armies are joined in one effort."

If a wider guerilla war of resistance is waged against PPP, NAFTA and FTAA, it will be pounced on by the servants of corporate power including the "intelligence community," militaries of the U.S. and other countries, and the corporate news media.  Israeli intelligence/counterinsurgency has already been used as a surrogate for U.S. interests in Central America.  As fed up as the U.S. public is of unnecessary wars, yet another war will be launched - unless derailed by U.S. citizens - with some plausible excuse propounded in Congress and in corporate editorials (such as Ronald Reagan's "Freedom Fighters" for killing Nicaraguans).

In Columbia, we already have the example of Plan Columbia being a lucrative Drug-War expansion of U.S./corporate military power.  Not only is there mucho oil in Columbia, but the cocaine trade is not something that U.S. financial interests and freebooters can allow just anyone to control.  Hence, civil war in Columbia is described to the tax-paying U.S. public as terrorism involving drug lords.

Resistance is fertile 
Last year on Columbus Day sixty thousand people gathered in small towns throughout the U.S. and on dirt roads in Central American villages, as well as in the largest cities and in the middle of the largest highways.  From Canada to Colombia, they protested in front of U.S. embassies, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and World Bank offices, Spanish embassies, monuments to Christopher Columbus and the headquarters of corporations involved in the PPP.  Teodosio Angel of the Union of Indigenous Communities of the Isthmus's Northern Zone (UCIZONI) explained a few days before the demonstration:

"We will block roads, ports and borders and will protest multinationals like Coca-Cola, to demand that corporations and governments stop robbing our natural resources and basic rights.  For 510 years, governments and corporations have ignored us, and it continues today with the PPP."  

The Central American Free Trade Agreement is a proposed commercial pact between the United States and five countries in Central America: El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Costa Rica.

CAFTA is modeled after the now-infamous North American Free Trade Agreement.  The same negative effects caused by NAFTA - such as the devastating impact on working people in the United States, Canada, and Mexico - are expected to happen to many people living in countries participating in CAFTA if a CAFTA agreement is reached.  NAFTA has resulted in the loss of millions of jobs, as well as toxic dumps, habitat destruction, and contamination of Mexican indigenous corn varieties by genetically engineered organisms.

Civil society groups in Central America and the United States oppose the CAFTA in its current form and call for trade that respects democracy, food security, and public services.

From October 20th to October 24th, trade delegates met in Houston to continue negotiating their CAFTA agenda in secret without any form of public consultation.  Demonstrators in the streets called attention to CAFTA, although the corporate media deprived the nation of coverage.

Eco Bloc to strut in Miami
As opposition to FTAA and PPP is not limited to Mesoamericans, North American activists - many of whom shut down the Seattle WTO meeting - are going to make a strong statement in Miami and disrupt the meeting.  "Miami is where the action will be, for all who believe in justice and want to oppose U.S. corporate imperialism," says the Eco Block.

"On Climate Change and Social Change" is a recent ZMag article by Doyle Canning, who calls for acting "for the Earth and the future in the streets of Miami as an Eco Bloc at the upcoming protests of the Summit of the Americas."  Miami protests against FTAA will "point out the proposed expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) via the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)." 

The Eco Bloc will mobilize to show how "the FTAA will accelerate ecological disaster and erode environmental protection throughout the Western hemisphere..."  In a positive vein, Eco Bloc will "amplify the voices of peace activists, trade unionists, students, food sovereignty movements and others who will be marching to stop FTAA."  Eco Bloc Miami's slogan is "We Are Stronger Than Greed or Fear."  Eco Bloc's larger project is to build "an ecology movement in America capable of interrupting the train wreck economy"  Eco Bloc "is a step towards further opening the space for integrative ecological activism to confront corporate rule and endless war, and to build an ecological future, in 2004 and beyond."

The term Eco Bloc refers to direct-action street fighters referred to as the Black Bloc who distinguished themselves in Seattle, for better or worse, and who hung back in Cancun.  

Advertising one's tactics may not be the smartest strategy, although new readers may become inspired.

Along the same lines:  For the FTAA meeting, members of the Articulate Rebellion Media Group "will break numerous laws in Miami in order to exercise our First Amendment rights of free expression."  They plan to occupy hammocks hanging off of tall buildings in downtown Miami.  These men and women will "risk our lives and liberty to attract media attention and send programming over cell phones and the world-wide-web to people all over the world who are interested in the protests against the FTAA Free Trade deals and Bush militarism."

Inspiration for peaceful revolution
Activists in Arcata, northern California were heartened by the joyful, multi-cultural experience of activists in Cancun opposing the WTO.  Just talking with returned demonstrators back in Arcata and seeing two video presentations of positive protests and individuals' testimony in Cancun, instilled hope that the Battle of Seattle and the victory at Cancun can be repeated in Miami and beyond.  A new song from Arcata reflects these influences:

in our hearts
But we don't know 
just how far
'Til it's coming 
or how deeply
In the meantime 
love your family

Goodness pulsates 
like a star
With each heartbeat 
where you are
In a forest
in a prison
If you're there for 
seeking freedom

I'm the new growth 
of yesterday
I'm sure ready 
for some change

Monkey wrench the 
truck and car
By not spending 
su dollár
Viva Cancun 
and Seattle
Life is joyful
Peace and battle

Active resistance versus observing and preparation
These are not yet revolutionary times for many of us.  The idea of a revolution must be defined for our times.  It is no longer a switching of power among classes, as Marxism dictates.  Many thoughtful intellectuals and activists further reject the idea of any power-change type of attempted revolution, violent or not, successful or not.  This makes sense because larger forces - the collapsing economy and nature in revolt - are what mainly will guide us to the real transition of the future.  Meanwhile, the corporate establishment is getting away with murder.  The main challenge for social change is to reject corporatism and its companion: over-consumption.  A new way of living also rejects individualistic, anti-community separatism as well.  This is the kind of revolution that would go deep enough to give us a chance at survival.

Today, everybody's life is being disrupted by the mainstream economy..  Some of us feel it more than others, but the feeling is growing.  The whole world will feel the reverberations of the last gasps of the industrial exploitation system.  Its collapse will lift a great weight off our necks, but that's when upheaval and an unprecedented creative challenge result in our remaking our daily lives into what will hopefully be a sustainable culture.

Come the collapse and cultural revolution, today's driving fools - consumers, warriors, oppressors alike - will become grounded and will start looking around for bikes, bike carts, canoes, good shoes, horses, and even trains.


A major source on Plan Puebla Panama and its ramifications is available through  Plan Puebla Panamá booklet: The Battle Over the Future of southern Mexico and Central America

Some of the multinational corporations that are investing in (and will be profiting from) the Plan Puebla Panama:
… International Paper Company and Boise Cascade are currently purchasing land in Chiapas and Oaxaca, Mexico for plantation forestry. International Paper is also investing in research for genetically engineered trees.  (The logging corporations clear-cut the forests, depleting topsoil and causing erosion, making rainforest recovery slow and difficult.)
… Grupo Pulsar- a Mexican biotechnology corporation, is investing in Chiapas in plantation forestry, biotechnology, and research on genetically engineered trees.
… ENDESA (a Spanish corporation) is the principal investor in the regional energy interconnection initiative to privatize energy and develop hydroelectric dams.
… Harken Energy, Applied Energy Services (AES), Duke Energy, and Harza are all U.S. energy corporations that are investing from Mexico to Panama in the development of hydroelectric dams and the privatization of the energy grid.
… DELASA Prescott and Follet is U.S.-based investment group that has a 25-year lease on the privatization, port modernization and creation of megaprojects (including factory zones and road expansion) in the port town of Bilwi-Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua.
Other investors include:
Tribasa, Caros, GAN, ICA, Imbursa, Texas Connection, International Shipholding Corporation, Monsanto, Shell, Dow Chemical, Exxon, Shell, and Hutchinson Holdings.

To get involved in anti FTAA activities and get links, see and and 
To learn more about the Zapatistas, visit

Media and Statements from Articulate Rebellion Media Group:
"Our Miami Flyer with photos from the Cancun Banner action in Mexico City’s La Jornada:
Open Letter to America Latina; color photo of Cancun Banner-hang (Novedades Newspaper, Quinta Roo 

  "From Cancun to Mexico City and Miami, We risk our lives for those whose lives are at risk. - Que Se Vayan Todos - Rebeldes Articulados"

Get involved in the campaign against CAFTA
The CAFTA Coalition will be in Miami from November 19-21 to protest the FTAA, along with thousands of people from throughout the Americas. Find out more at  The Coalition is also planning local and national mobilizations for the week of December 8-12, when negotiators will gather in Washington DC to try to conclude CAFTA talks.  Find out more at

Note on biopiracy and genetic engineering:  Biopiracy is the theft of genetic information of indigenous medicinal and food plants needed by the local people.  Once the genetic information is stored, the biotech corporations do not care about the plants' possible extinction.  The pollen drift of Bt corn (containing Bacillus thuringiensis) has infected indigenous crops cultivated for thousands of years by Mayan farmers. - Culture Change editors


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Jan Lundberg's columns are protected by copyright; however, non-commercial use of the material is permitted as long as full attribution is given with a link to this website, and he is informed of the re-publishing:



Articles of interest:
Anti-globalization protest grows, with tangible results.  WTO protests page

Tax fossil-fuel energy easily
by Peter Salonius

UK leader calls War on Terror "bogus"

Argentina bleeds toward healing by Raul Riutor

The oil industry has plans for you: blow-back by Jan Lundberg

It's not a war for oil? by Adam Khan

How to create a pedestrian mall by Michelle Wallar

The Cuban bike revolution

How GM destroyed the U.S. rail system excerpts from the film "Taken for a Ride".

"Iraqi oil not enough for US: Last days of America?"

Depaving the world by Richard Register

Roadkill: Driving animals to their graves by Mark Matthew Braunstein

The Hydrogen fuel cell technofix: Spencer Abraham's hydrogen dream.

Ancient Forest Protection in Northern California . Forest defenders climb trees to save them.

Daniel Quinn's thoughts on this website.

A case study in unsustainable development is the ongoing crisis in Palestine and Israel.

Renewable and alternative energy information.

Conserving energy at home (Calif. Title 24)



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