The Trans-isthmus Corridor alerts some indigenous groups who declare that they have not been consulted on the matter. Besides supporting the federal project, the INPI assures that such communities have been approached in their native language to undertake a consultation process.
Juchitán de Zaragoza, Oaxaca. The project of the Trans-isthmus Corridor, which aims to connect the Pacific with the Atlantic through a channel located in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, represents one of the leading infrastructure projects of this six-year term presidency. However, indigenous communities have not been consulted yet on the issue.
Since before Porfirio’s presidency, Veracruz – the narrowest part among Salina Cruz, Oaxaca, and Coatzacoalcos – has been one of the most coveted territories. Moreover, the original populations who inhabit this area extending for 200-kilometer keep resisting.
Contralínea undertook a journey across the communities of Juchitán, Salina Cruz, San Mateo del Mar, and Álvaro Obregón, who point out that they lack information regarding the megaproject. The latter did not meet the standards laid out in the Convention no.169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO): neither they have held free and informed consultations before any decision nor did they translate the project into indigenous language.
Nonetheless, in the National Development Plan they ensure that on March 30 and 31 of this year, during a ‘consultation carried out through regional assemblies, the region’s populations – Binnizá or Zapoteco, Ayuuk or Mixe, Zoque, Ikoots or Huave, Chontal, Chinanteco, Mazateco, Mixteco, Popoluca, Náhuatl and Afro-Mexican – authorized the realization of such a project. This authorization was compliant with the constitutional Articles 1 and 133, Article 6 of the ILO Convention as well as Articles 19 and 32 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Populations’.
In this regard, Hugo Aguilar Ortiz, in charge of the Department of Indigenous Rights (Coordinación de Derechos Indígenas) of the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples (INPI), claims during an interview that the institution above is leading a negotiation process. The latter is taking place prior to the consultation that will allow the Development Plan of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to be realized. It is, he says, ‘a consultation process, not just a consultation.’
The official argues that, during this first discussion, they informed the communities about the idea of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to integrate this development plan since ‘it does not exist formally. Indeed, it has not been drafted yet, nor integrated nor approved’.
Mr. Aguilar Ortiz explains that after the recent endorsement of the National Development Plan from the Congress of the Union, there are 90 available days to integrate specific plans; the Trans-Isthmus Corridor is one of those.
He adds that the first talks allowed the government to understand which were ‘the development concepts that the communities wished to include in this program, as well as the components that the government had to include in the Plan so that indigenous people would accept it. The consultation was not carried out for the implementation of any specific project, not for any specific component. Instead, to collect development ideas from the indigenous people themselves’.
Following the exchange, the responsible for the Department of Indigenous Rights of the INPI mentions that two requests were set forth. The first concerns requests for works, required in the communities, in each of the sessions. He claims that they have been dealing with this demand in collaboration with the Ministry of Finance and Public Credit for budget allocation’. In the original idea, he states, “no attention to social infrastructure works was paid, but since the communities have been claiming them, now this focus of attention is being included in the Plan’.
The second request, adds the official of the INPI, concerns the suggestion of the communities that such Development Plan of the Isthmus ‘must not have an individual focus. It does not have to foment an individualistic development scheme, but rather a social welfare development project. They suggest that the project should aim to create collective welfare for each community. Thus, we are trying to create a program which reflects this conception of development, and we want that it is this program to be submitted for the approval of the Congress of the Union’.
A useful channel for trading
President López Obrador has indicated that national capital will be the principal investor in the Tehuantepec Isthmus project. Moreover, the 2019-2024 National Development Plan, published last July 12 in the Official Gazette of the Federation, describes what follows: “private investment, both domestic and foreign, will be encouraged and a framework of legal certainty, honesty, transparency, and clear rules will be established. Private entities’ tender will be fundamental in the regional projects of the Mayan Train and the Trans-isthmic Corridor, in modalities of public-private partnership’.
According to experts, this is one of the projects that they have tried to implement since the beginning of the last century, through different phases: the development of the railway tracks, the Megaproject of the Isthmus, the Integral Development Program of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the Puebla-Panama Plan, and Special Economic Zones.
The federal government assessed that in the territorial and urban planning around the maritime terminals of Coatzacoalcos and Salina Cruz there were “deficits in infrastructure and, in general, in services; incongruities in the land use, speculation, and invasion of land, serious problems of pollution and environmental impacts.’
The National Development Plan shows that such Corridor will be part of the Program for the Development of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (Programa para el Desarrollo del Istmo de Tehuantepec). Such a Program officially aims to ‘foment the growth of the regional economy in full respect of the history, culture, and traditions of the Isthmus in the states of Oaxaca and Veracruz. Its main point will be the Interoceanic Multimodal Corridor, which will take advantage of the location of the Isthmus to compete with global trade markets, through the combined employment of different means of transport’.
In this context, the National Development Plan intends to modernize the Tehuantepec Isthmus railway and the harbors in Coatzacoalcos and Salina Cruz “so that they can offer cargo, transport, storage, packaging and logistics services. What is more, the road and rural tracks infrastructure and the airport network will be strengthened, and a gas pipeline will be built to supply domestic businesses and consumers. Along the route between the two oceans, free zones -which they will provide with infrastructure – will be created to attract private sector investments. Furthermore, they will guarantee – in these free areas – energy, water, digital connectivity, and other basic services to supply companies and working population’s need’.
The Plan foresees that in the 76 involved municipalities in Oaxaca and Veracruz the Program for the Development of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec will reduce the value-added tax and the income tax. Furthermore, it will offer fuel at reduced prices, construction of urban infrastructure, provision of educational services, and training of human capital, housing, mobility and infrastructure for research and technological development.
It is a ‘re-edited’ project, says Lucila Bettina Cruz Velázquez, a member of the Assembly of the Indigenous Peoples of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Defense of Land and Territory (Asamblea de los Pueblos Indígenas del Istmo de Tehuantepec en Defensa de la Tierra y el Territorio – APIITDTT).
She stood out because when wind projects started to be proposed, she resisted, defended the territory as well as human rights. She is now facing forced displacement, temporary disintegration of her family attempts on her life and life threats. For this reason, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued precautionary measure 685-16.
Bettina Cruz, Agricultural Engineer at the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM), argues her opposition against the megaproject planned by the federal government. She says that ‘it is an old dream of capitalism and other historical periods that the country has experienced to take control of this strategic space to trade goods. It is an area where they bring raw materials to be transformed and where they can export the finished product. It is also a retaining wall for migrants.’
According to Gilberto López y Rivas, professor-researcher at the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), this project is ‘detrimental and aggressive for the indigenous territories.’ It is a XIX-century plan based on the McLane-Ocampo Treaty, of the Benito Juárez’s administration, ‘which, for the president, represents the best model to follow,’ signed with ‘the United States to raise money for the Reform War, in 1859. It is that old’, he explains.
Meanwhile, the human rights advocate, Marcelino Nolasco Martínez, coordinator of the Tepeyac Centre of Human Rights of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, AC, criticizes the political class led by the Institutional Revolutionary Party for the introduction of mining and wind farms into this space, without any endorsement from the population. He, however, emphasizes that the Mexican left has given continuity to these kinds of projects, through the National Regeneration Movement (Morena).
The members of the PRI party, he says, are responsible for allowing foreign companies to camp on the Isthmus territory. ‘However, it is not strange that the Morena party is driving this avalanche of foreign companies because the Mexican left in the 1970s thought that the only way to oppose to the PRI party was also to make an economic proposal. At that time, green energy in Europe was a boom.’
‘President López Obrador disappointed us because we did not expect all this to happen. With the PRI party, we already knew that they were not interested in defending our cause. However, with López Obrador people expected a minimum of consideration,’ says the human rights advocate in the Isthmus.
Luis Miguel Cano López, a lawyer expert in defense of human rights, emphasizes that ‘they should have first asked the people inhabiting the area if that is their idea of progress, development and if this is what they want. In these megaprojects, it is important that people receive suitable information, that they can rely on experts, academic and scientific institutions. They should be able to give their contribution’.
The advocate affirms that the consultation has to be carried out with those indigenous peoples inhabiting the areas affected by works.
The poverty of the Isthmus
The following indigenous communities inhabit the area that constitutes the Corridor of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec: Binnizá (Zapotec), Ayuuk (Mixe), Zoque, Ikoots (Huave), Chontal, Chinanteco, Mazateco, Mixteco, Popoluca, Náhuatl, Totonaco, and Afro-Mexican.
Whereas, the municipalities that lie within the Corridor are: Juchitán de Zaragoza, Salina Cruz, Santo Domingo Tehuantepec, Unión Hidalgo and Ciudad Ixtepec in the State of Oaxaca; as well as Coatzacoalcos, Minatitlán and Acayucan in Veracruz.
Regarding the municipalities in Oaxaca lying in the Corridor, official indicators show that they represent the poorest regions of the State and the country. Marginalization and misery indices have remained, for years, among those requiring most attention at the national level.
The 2018 Annual Report on poverty and social backwardness (Informe anual sobre la situación de pobreza y rezago social 2018,), drafted by the then Secretariat of Social Development, shows that in Oaxaca nearly 31 percent of the population lives in condition of misery. Also, this percentage is concentrated in 20 municipalities, some of which lie in the corridor area.
It is also a region with great business attractions. The exploitation of mining, salt, wind (through wind farms) and even oil refining has generated economic expectations for capital owners and the State. However, nearby populations do not benefit from any financial revenue.
The results of the promises of welfare have been just a fraud. The development and progress promised have favored business leaders and the political groups holding power, the locals mention.
In this Corridor live various communities, such as the indigenous community of Binnizá, in Álvaro Obregón, where its inhabitants lack essential services and programs of the Ministry of welfare. Furthermore, they have not even been provided with resources destined for the reconstruction of houses, after the 8.2 magnitude earthquake occurred almost two years ago, on September 7, 2017.
Last June 14, the project promoted during the campaign, was rectified in the Official Gazette of the Federation through a decree, even though it was already in power. The order introduced ‘a decentralized public organism, with legal personality and own assets, and no sectorized named the Interoceanic Corridor of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.’
The official document states that based on Article 25 of the Political Constitution of the United States of Mexico, ‘the State is in charge of national development to ensure that it is integral and sustainable.’
Furthermore, it states that the Executive power ‘aims to provide the conditions so that the private sector activities contribute to the national economic development, promoting competitiveness and implementing national policy for sustainable industrial development that includes sectoral and regional points of view.’
Professor López y Rivas sustains that ‘we are facing a type of neo-developmentalism, equally extra-activist, aggressive and violent, but of a nationalist nature.’
Brenda Pérez, the coordinator of the department of Forced Displacement of the Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights, comments that it is crucial to consider that after the presentation of a megaproject a sector of the population starts a period of resistance. However, in recent years, the government has not paid attention to this matter.
Therefore, she adds, it is vital to provide the government with information regarding the problems affecting such an area, so that they can carry out an adequate evaluation of the project ‘paying attention to the human rights that may be affected instead of using a capitalistic approach.’
Mario Quintero, a member of the general coordination of the APIITDTT, affirms that various organizations of the region consider the integral development program ‘to be nothing more than the continuation of the looting and neoliberal dispossession.’
The human rights advocate emphasizes that the organizations of this area have led various legal ‘battles’ against the imposition of megaprojects – such as wind farms – asking for a free, prior, and informed consultation. Nonetheless, ‘the government has implemented a ridiculous freehand consultation model when in the region, more than seven indigenous populations coexist socially, culturally, and economically in small businesses and with products from the region.’
On the approach to these issues, Hugo Aguilar Ortiz, responsible for the Department of Indigenous Rights of the INPI, claims that he has heard people saying that no consultation was held employing indigenous language. However, he states that ‘this is not the case. Indeed, in each consultative assembly information has been provided in their language and translators were present as well.’
He explains that after the restructuring of the INPI ‘the majority of the staff and managers are people from the indigenous communities. We have carefully taken care of these elements, from the hiring itself. The President of the Republic, in his new vision, required that the institute was preferably made up of indigenous people speaking their language, starting from the director himself [Adelfo Regino Montes]’.
On the social conflict prevailing in the area, he points out that not only have they to find a way to take advantage of the strategic position of this region, but also ‘to think about how to solve entirely all the problems affecting the indigenous peoples living in such an area. It means granting the exercise of territorial rights, the right to consultation, the exercise of the right to autonomy, and the solution of internal conflicts.’
By Érika Ramírez, correspondent
(Translated by: Federica Antoniani)