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Archive for November 26th, 2018

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It was a typical Sunday in the Oaxaca zócalo, the busy plaza at the city’s center. Balloon vendors and peddlers of handicrafts and plastic toys plied their wares while tourists and local families strolled by or stopped for meals at the restaurants which line the outside of the square. At PB250079one end, the radical teachers union was holding a rally—complete with a brass band and traditional folk dancers–marking marking the International Day Against Violence and Exploitation of Women and calling for an end to impunity.

At the other side of the zócalo, close to the walls of the Cathedral, a student brass band was setting up for a concert. Huge trees kept everyone mostly sheltered from the hot sun.

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One element was new: over where seats had been set up for the brass band’s audience, a line of about 100 people snaked around the plaza headed for a shaded spot where a table held two big, white boxes, labeled “Consulta Nacional.” It was voting day for thPB250048e second plebiscite organized by Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Mexico’s president-elect. His inauguration still a week off, AMLO, as he is known, appears to be already running the government. The “consulta nacional,” or national consultation, is one example of how the popular leader is keeping attention on his assertive agenda.

 

At the top of his agenda, or at least at the top of today’s ballot, is a proposal to run high speed trains over a 1500 kilometer track to be built from Cancun south through the busy tourist corridor of the Mayan Riviera, across the Yucatán peninsula alongside the borders of the Calakmul Biosphere ballot and programas from website (2)Reserve to Campeche, south through Tabasco (AMLO’s home state), ending in Palenque, home to a major archaeological site in the Chiapas jungle. The project is known as the Maya Train.

According to the background information posted on the “Mexico Decides” website, the train would promote tourism at a cost of about 150 billion pesos, or $7.5 billion US dollars at current exchange rates. It would follow existing rights of way. Moreover, “it will not affect the environment.”

Questions on the “ballot” include others aimed at spurring development in the generally poor south and southeast of the country, including a proposal for another transportation corridor across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and modernization of industrial facilities on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. AMLO also proposes major investments in fruit orchards, which he says would restore the environment and create 400,000 jobs.

AMLO’s plans for big projects in the south and southeast are reminiscent of older plans from recent neoliberal administrations, as well as the US-backed “Plan Puebla Panama” development corridor.  His campaign, however, was largely based on a pledge to end corruption and respond to the needs of ordinary Mexicans.  

The people waiting in line with their cedulas, or voter ID cards, ranged in age from those barely old enough to vote to old timers. Their spirits appeared to be high. “They are taking us into account,” several people told us. Unlike his predecessors, who were mostly thieves, they said AMLO “isn’t going to rob us.”

We did not ask them how they intended to vote, but from their pro-AMLO enthusiasm, we expect the votes to be positive.

Others aren’t so sure.

At the other end of the zócalo, close to where the teachers were rallying, three young women were peddling notebooks to raise money for their collective. The notebooks carried pictures of iconic rebels, including Emiliano Zapata, Frida Kahlo, Charlie Chaplin, and Mafalda, an Argentine cartoon character whose image is popular with Oaxacan radicals. When we asked if they planned to vote in the consulta, they all shook their heads. The first people who should vote on the megaprojects, they agreed, are the indigenous people in the areas where the projects will be built. Even to vote “no,” they said, is to legitimize a development path that is already underway.

That does seem to be the case. In fact, AMLO outlined the details in a July 12 letter to President Donald Trump, in which he stated “this project will be carried out without detriment to our sovereignty and will be promoted with the participation of the public, private and social sectors. In this case, as in any other project, environmental impacts will be taken into account and the rights of the villagers and land owners will not be overlooked, on the contrary, they will be taken into account, consulted and incorporated as substantive part of the project.” As the incoming president put it, the development projects will create opportunities for young workers, thereby reducing pressure to migrate.

tren maya map excelsior

map courtesy of Excelsior.

But opposition appears to be building among indigenous community leaders and human rights defenders. In a recent column in the Mexico City daily La Jornada, Carlos Beas Torres, director of the Union of Indigenous Communities of the Northern Isthmus, said the Isthmus has been the object of development schemes going back to Herman Cortes and has received three billion dollars in outside investment in the past decade. “So why do 70 percent of the Isthmians live in poverty?” he asked. “The explanation lies in the fact that investment projects have been designed from the outside to serve interests foreign to those of the inhabitants of the region. In the Mexican Isthmus, a model of extractive development has been imposed for centuries, based on the plundering of resources and the excessive exploitation of the work of the regional population.”

AMLO’s consulta is not the first, Beas Torres observed. All the others, sponsored by neoliberal governments, have been intended to “legitimize plunder and looting.”

As for the Mayan communities in the Yucatán, they seem less than impressed with the train which would carry their name. In a recent letter rejecting the megaprojects and rejecting the consulta, a dozen indigenous groups from several states told the incoming president they have been following the proposed Maya Train for some time and hoped AMLO would come in with more respect for their perspectives . “With respect to the so-called consultation, from this moment we reject any result whether it is for or against. It is not permissible for anyone, any person outside the Yucatán Peninsula, to decide what to do or not to do in our territories,” they said. “No to megaprojects that strip us of our territories,” the letter concluded. Similar statements have come from indigenous communities in Oaxaca.

And yet another letter went to the president-elect from a group of influential artists and intellectuals, reminding him that the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169, on the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples, to which Mexico is a party, requires the government to consult directly with affected indigenous communities before going ahead with projects like the Maya Train or the trans-Isthmus transportation/industrial corridor. No “national consultation” can substitute for that process, they pointed out.

Regardless of the outcome of this weekend’s vote, debate over the Maya Train and other massive development projects is far from over.

POST SCRIPT – About a million people, or 1% of the electorate, cast ballots nationwide, with all the proposals gaining approval from about 90% of voters.   See the official results here.

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