Opposition in Mexico to Mega-Industrial Model

The Puente Madera community, in the municipality of San Blas Atempa in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, is opposed to the sale of land to an industrial park in that town, one of the 10 projects in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec Interoceanic Corridor, as demonstrated at a February 2022 protest. CREDIT: APIIDTT

Por Emilio Godoy (IPS)

HAVANA TIMES – In March 2021, the community assembly of the municipality of San Blas Atempa, in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, approved the sale of 360 hectares for the creation of an industrial park. But part of the community opposed the initiative due to irregularities, such as the falsification of signatures of supposed attendees, including those of people who had already died.

The facility is one of 10 planned within the Isthmus of Tehuantepec Interoceanic Corridor (CIIT), which in turn is part of the Program for the Development of the Tehuantepec Isthmus that the Mexican government has been implementing since 2019 with the aim of developing the south and southeast of this country of 1,964,375 square kilometers and almost 130 million inhabitants.

Mario Quintero, a member of the Assembly of Indigenous Peoples of the Isthmus in Defense of Land and Territory (APIIDTT), said the plan is plagued by “land grabbing, exploitation, dispossession, and displacement of peoples.”

“It is a large-scale geopolitical project in a geostrategic region. The system is corrupt. The way this is being carried out is obscene. The government agrees to the lease, but then says it is going to expropriate,” the activist told IPS from the municipality of Juchitán, in Oaxaca, some 480 kilometers south of Mexico City.

The 200-km wide isthmus is the narrowest area in Mexico between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, in the Gulf of Mexico, which has a large indigenous population and is abundant in biodiversity, hydrocarbons and minerals.

In addition to the 10 industrial sites of 360 hectares each in size, called “Development Poles for Well-being” and focused on exports, the CIIT includes the renovation of the ports of Salina Cruz, on the Pacific Ocean in Oaxaca, and Coatzacoalcos in the state of Veracruz.

It also includes the reconstruction of the Tehuantepec Isthmus Railroad, which links Chiapas, in the state of the same name, with Dos Bocas, in Tabasco.

In addition, it involves the upgrade of the Salina Cruz and Minatitlán refineries, in the state of Veracruz, the laying of a gas pipeline and the construction of a gas liquefaction plant off the coast of Salina Cruz.

But this industrial model is criticized for the few benefits it brings the host communities and the fact that the largest economic benefits go to exporters, and due to its environmental impacts. For example, the municipality of Coatzacoalcos is one of the most polluted in the country.

The non-governmental organization Geocomunes, dedicated to building maps for the defense of common goods, provided IPS with a list of effects such as the pollution of rivers and aquifers, as well as poor working conditions.

“Except for the promise of jobs, it’s business as usual. It is the replica of the maquiladora model, jobs that exploit workers and cheap labor,” the organization said. “There are legitimate concerns, like water, and what kind of industries will be installed. The isthmus is not an industrial zone, it implies a change in the traditional economy. It’s important to look at what kind of employment it will bring. Construction means precarious employment.”

The organization also anticipates that the industries will not arrive as soon as promised, since industrial production does not only consist of the installation of companies.

The Interoceanic Corridor seeks to connect both coasts of Mexico, the Pacific and the Atlantic, through highways and a refurbished railway, to promote industrial development in the south-southeast of the country and foment exports. Photo: Fonadin

Appetite for exports

Mexico, the second largest economy in Latin America, is home to more than 500 industrial parks on more than 51,000 hectares, which swell the automotive, electronic, food and beverage, metallurgical, medical, textile and aerospace industries.

Altogether, more than 3,700 companies generate some three million jobs in these industrial parks.

The trilateral North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – ​​in force between 1994 and 2020, when it was replaced by the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) – fomented the installation of export assembly plants or maquilas.

They mainly set up shop in northern Mexico, the area closest to the United States, drawn by tax benefits, lower wages and more lax environmental regulations than in their nations of origin.

The northern state of Nuevo León and the central states of Mexico and Guanajuato are home to the largest number of maquilas.

But the socioeconomic conditions in these places have not improved, as demonstrated by the available statistics.

Figures from the government’s National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (Coneval) indicate that poverty and extreme poverty increased in Nuevo León, home to some 150 industrial poles, between 2018 and 2020.

Overall poverty rose from 1.07 million people to 1.34 million (from 19.24 percent to 24.3 percent of the population) while extreme poverty climbed from 40,000 to 124,000 people (0.7 percent to 2.1 percent).

In Nuevo León, one of the states with the highest levels of income per person and social development in the country, home to 5.78 million people, the unemployment rate stood at 3.57 percent in 2022, and 35.8 of the workforce was in the informal sector of the economy.

In the state of Mexico, adjacent to Mexico City and home to 113 industrial facilities, poverty grew from 7.04 million to 8.34 million people (from 41.8 percent to 48.9 percent of the population), while extreme poverty rose from 783,000 to 1.4 million people (from 4.7 percent to 8.2 percent).

The state of Mexico, population 17 million, had 4.46 percent unemployment in 2022 while 56.8 percent of the workforce was in the informal sector.

The results are similar in other states where industrial parks have been built.

In contrast, in the southern state of Oaxaca, poverty and extreme poverty declined, from 2.75 million to 2.58 million people (from 64.3 percent to 61.7 percent) and from 868,000 to 860,000 (from 21.7 percent to 20.6 percent), respectively.

Oaxaca, which so far has only one industrial pole, is home to 4.13 million people, with an unemployment rate of 1.28 percent in 2022 and 81 percent of the labor force in the informal sector.

The Interoceanic Corridor is part of the Program for the Development of the Tehuantepec Isthmus, covers the southern state of Oaxaca and the southeastern state of Veracruz, and has drawn opposition from local communities who consider it an imposition by the government and a threat to their culture and territory. The photo shows a Mar. 21, 2023 protest against the megaprojects, outside the United States Embassy. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The Interoceanic Corridor is part of the Program for the Development of the Tehuantepec Isthmus, covers the southern state of Oaxaca and the southeastern state of Veracruz, and has drawn opposition from local communities who consider it an imposition by the government and a threat to their culture and territory. The photo shows a Mar. 21, 2023 protest against the megaprojects, outside the United States Embassy. Photo: Emilio Godoy/IPS

More hydrocarbons

The Program for the Development of the Tehuantepec Isthmus covers 46 municipalities in Oaxaca and 33 in Veracruz, forming an area where 11 of the country’s 69 indigenous peoples live, totaling 17 million native people.

The Corridor revives a set of similar projects that then President Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000) proposed in 1996 but which never were carried out. Now President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, in office since December 2018, is recycling them.

The CIIT budget, under the Ministry of the Navy, grew from 162 million dollars in the first year, 2020, to 203 million in 2021 and to more than double that, 529 million, in 2022. But in 2023 it has shrunk to 374 million.

The Corridor divides the 10 projected industrial poles equally between Oaxaca and Veracruz. On Mar. 21 López Obrador announced that the tender for four locations in Oaxaca would be held in early April.

The Tehuantepec isthmus is a region already impacted by the presence of other infrastructure, such as 29 wind farms, most of them private. That installed capacity, plus new wind and solar fields, will fuel the new industrial facilities.

The Mexican government also projects the laying of a 270-km gas pipeline with a transport capacity of 500 million cubic feet per day (MMcf/d), between the towns of Jáltipan and Salina Cruz.

The pipeline will complement the 247-km Jáltipan-Salina Cruz gas pipeline that has been operating since 2014 and transports 90 Mmcf/d.

The new pipeline, at a cost of 434 million dollars, will carry 430 MMcf/d to the planned liquefaction plant near Salina Cruz and between 50 and 70 MMcf/d to the industrial parks.

The Federal Electricity Commission, responsible for the project, calculates that it will supply gas to 470 plants and 30 industrial parks.

The communities are fighting it and will seek to build autonomy through local self-management projects, according to Quintero.

“The project is not going to improve the lives of the communities, just as the railroad in the 20th century or the hydroelectric plants failed to do, or the refinery (in Salina Cruz) or the wind farms, because their promises translate into belts of marginalization,” said the activist. “Development and benefits for whom?”

Geocomunes doubts the promise of development. “The land, the water, basic things that are at risk. Who will bear the costs? What is the government going to demand?”

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