James Petras interviewed by Ricardo Martinez Rebelion 5 July 2002 *
“The ‘Plan Puebla Panamá’ (PPP) is not an integration with the world market, but a subordination of Mexico and Central America to the United States and to its competitors in Europe and Asia” says the US sociologist James Petras, a professor at the University of Binghamton in New York and specialist in international development.
He confirmed that the project in the south-east of Mexico and Central America is linked with another – the pan-continental reach of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA – ALCA in Spanish) which, from 2005, will consolidate and deepen the control by Washington of Latin America.
James Petras is a sharp critic of the domestic and foreign policy of the United States of Northern America, with its need to break commercial barriers and labour laws. The plan is an extension of the maquiladoras towards the South, since the industrial assembly plant project is failing and capital from the other side of the border is fleeing towards the cheaper labour of China.
“The idea of Plan Puebla Panamá is to open up areas further south where the labour force is poorer and more desperate, and thus competitive with that of China and other Asian countries.
This project has an enormous cost for the Mexican people since it involves government finance of a gigantic infrastructure. Public tax proceeds will be used to construct new roads and motorways, airports and sea ports and to extend investment to Central America, with Mexico being the junior partner. In this sense the PPP is not an integration with the world market, but a subordination of Mexico and Central America to the United States and to its competitors in Europe and Asia.
The social effects will be catastrophic for small farmers and for the workers in the region who might be given work, but under conditions of severe exploitation, worse than could be imagined in Mexico and for a lower salary than the maquiladoras on the northern frontier.
With all this Mexico will lose its capacity to manage its economy, because this is not a Plan Puebla Panamá, but a Texas Puebla, Los Angeles Puebla, Washington Puebla, where Puebla refers to a capital investment, but with the export of profits."
What relation does the PPP have with the US project known as Area desférico in the rest of Latin America?
“The PPP comprises Central America and part of the south-east of Mexico."
What conditions are necessary for the project?
“First, Congress approval since this is an enormous investment by the Mexican state. Second, blocking all criticism by journalists, academics and sections unhappy with Fox’s policy. Third, preventing the people from demanding conditions in favour of local workers and farmers through labour laws and limits on imports subsidised by US captial.
There is also the possibility that the plan could be implemented by presidential decree, bypassing the people’s representatives, since we know that behind Fox are the multinationals and the Mexican oligarchies who are struggling through an economic crisis, and the government budget is still unresolved. If more is extracted from the people, that is, if cuts are made in education, social security and unemployment benefit, the promoters of the PPP could overcome that bottleneck.
Another problem is whether, under the world economic contraction, the US and its competitors are willing to join the game. The rate of profit and the level of US investments are low and those who want to invest abroad think that China could offer more possibilities of success with it cheap labour force and dictatorial state. Finally, even if the plan is implemented its promoters will meet a strong social resistance due to the bad conditions imposed on the poor of the south."
* Translated from ECOS LATIONAMERICANOS