On December 5, 2011, representatives from Mexico, Colombia and the countries of Central American attended the 13th Summit of the Tuxtla Mechanism for Dialogue and Coordination in Merida, Mexico. The summit’s main purpose was to discuss the progress of different initiatives included in the Mesoamerica Project’s framework, which is the new version of the Plan Puebla-Panama (PPP).
Launched by the Mexican government in 2001, the PPP envisioned the creation of infrastructures that would connect Central America from Puebla, south of Mexico City, down to Panama, all promoted in the name of development and welfare for the people of the region. The idea was to facilitate investments by transnational corporations through the creation of incentives for maquiladoras and mining companies. Furthermore, to ensure the full development of neoliberalism, they planned to open numerous hydroelectric power plants that would provide these factories with energy, as well as new means of communication within the region, to better enable trade. The PPP was primarily financed by loans from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, which citizens themselves have since had to pay back. It was not long after that that Central Americans rose up in protest and lifted the veil on the Plan’s true objectives, obscured by government promises of “development”, which were essentially to create the conditions to strip these nations of their natural resources and to uproot entire communities, and exploiting the people in maquiladoras as under-paid and exploited workforces with no rights. The popular resistance has been strong and as a result PPP has disappeared from official discourse.
However, governments and international organizations continued to carry out certain projects until June 2008, when the Villahermosa Declaration was signed, replacing the PPP with the “new” Mesoamerica Integration and Development Project, or the Mesoamerica Project (MP). The new project eliminates some 95% of the original projects (which were based on strategic principles of physical and economic infrastructure and cooperating for social development), but the remaining projects have expanded to include the Dominican Republic and Colombia. And if we take into account that a similar project named the Initiative for Integration of Regional Infrastructure in South America (IRSSA) also emphasizes infrastructure development and integration through ecologically damaging mega-projects, it is apparent how this attempt to integrate the continent would imply greater circulation and extraction of resources by transnational corporations, which in turn would then arrive at U.S., European and Chinese ports.
The final document from the Tuxtla Summit further focuses on existing security problems in the region, and naively urges the U.S. and other countries that produce and sell weapons to create regulations necessary to stem their weapons flow and to take measures that will considerably reduce their citizens' demand for drugs. The statement also reiterates how important the participating governments’ involvement is in fighting organized crime. The MP is not, in fact, merely economic, as it openly addresses problems surrounding regional security and the “war on drugs”.
The CIEPAC (Centro de Investigaciones Económicas y Políticas de Acción Comunitaria) report “Integration for Plunder: The Mesoamerica Project, or Ratcheting up the Land Grab”, written by Mariana Zunino, gives details of the future projects of the MP while offering a perspective that goes beyond official statements. Zunino observes that “with this new ingredient of security, the MP has more clearly become a US geo-strategic plan to force countries from Mexico to Colombia to conform to its national security interests. […]According to the Mexico City-based Permanent Seminar on Chicano and Border Studies, the way out of the deep economic crisis involves boosting the military-industrial complex through two ways. First, though coercion, which includes new military bases in Colombia, Peru and Panama; supporting the coup in Honduras; or the reactivation, after 50 years, of the US Navy’s Fourth Fleet in the Caribbean. Then, diplomacy, through Free Trade Agreements (FTAs).”
Zunino points out that the first aspect was also highlighted in the Declaration of Guanacaste in Costa Rica at the 11th Summit of the Tuxtla Mechanism for Dialogue and Coordination, which dedicates 10 points to the fight against drug-trafficking and organized crime. There they agreed to “welcome the Merida Initiative, as an important instrument of international cooperation in the fight against transnational organized crime, particularly drug trafficking.”
The Merida Initiative (or “Plan Mexico”) provides large US investments for the militarization of the drug war in Mexico and Central America by providing military equipment and training. A strikingly similar project, Plan Colombia, has been in effect in the Andean nation since 2000. The underlying logic behind both projects is to use “territorial rearrangement”, which involves displacing indigenous and other rural communities that live in strategic commercial areas, in order to make space for multinational corporations to develop transnational investment, in areas such as oil.
Argentine journalist Stella Calloni discussed US policy on the continent in an interview with Fernando Arellano Ortiz, the Director of online news portal ‘Observatorio Sociopolítico Latinoamericano’. Calloni stated that “Plan Colombia’s territorial politics, which aim to re-colonize the continent, have been transferred over to Mexico under the Merida Initiative. The project is a copy of Plan Colombia and it’s evident that violence in Mexico has reached unbearable levels in the last six years. During this time, Mexico’s death toll reached that of Colombia while the country suffered destruction of its rural areas and the loss of deep-rooted local cultures, all due to its involvement in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).”
However, at the Merida Summit, Mexican President Felipe Calderón insisted, stating that “the North American Free Trade Agreement is a great asset for the country”. He also signed a new treaty – along with other Central American governments – to reinforce existing bilateral agreements and create space for free trade in the region. These governments, who are almost all right-wing, are evidently following the U.S.'s imperial interests in implementing free trade policies.
Not only has the U.S. signed FTAs with Central America and the Dominican Republic, but also with Chile, Peru and most recently with Colombia. Therefore, thanks to the implementation of these corporate, economic and military agreements in Colombia, Mexico and Central America, Washington is one step closer to reaching its goals for establishing militarized neoliberalism throughout the continent.
On December 6th, Panama, Columbia and the U.S. signed an agreement for a new military academy in Panama. Andrés Mora Rodriguez, from AUNA Costa Rica, points out that plans for the new academy and the consolidation of the Mesoamerican FTA were announced only a few days after the end of the summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) Summit in Caracas, Venezuela, where heads of state from around Latin America made a major step toward regional integration and independence outside the interests of Washington. The US message to the Latin American governments is a clear one: we are not letting go of our hold on the continent.