What is Globalized Infrastructure?
(Want to view this article as a PDF? Check out the Root Force Primer, page 3.)
“The neoliberal globalization of capitalism is based on exploitation, plunder, contempt and repression for those who resist it — in other words, the same as before, only now globalized.”
—Zapatista National Liberation Army, “Sixth Declaration from the Lacandon Jungle”
What Is Infrastructure?
The word “infrastructure” describes the physical basis of an economy — the transportation, electrical and communications networks required for the extraction and movement of resources. Specific examples of infrastructure include highways, railways, ports, dams, mines, oil and gas pipelines, power plants, power lines and telecommunications cables. Until this groundwork is laid, industrial production is simply impossible.
Infrastructure Projects in the Americas
Proximity and a wealth of natural resources have always made Latin America a critical source of raw materials for the US economy. In addition, geography makes the region a favored route for transporting goods from Asia to the eastern US: It’s much cheaper to truck imports across the narrow Central American isthmus and then ship them north than it is to drive them all the way across the US.
But existing infrastructure is simply insufficient for the massive trade volume anticipated from new free trade agreements, increased resource extraction and ever-increasing consumption. That’s why expanding “international trade infrastructure” is one of the top priorities for business and political leaders throughout the Americas.
The best-known example is a megaproject called the Plan Puebla Panamá (PPP), introduced in 2001. Originally, the PPP included a variety of highways, ports, dams and other projects throughout southern Mexico and Central America. Widespread popular resistance, however, forced the region’s governments to backtrack on their rhetoric. The most controversial projects, including all dams, were officially removed from the plan. But this was a change on paper only, as none of the “removed” projects actually lost their funding or government endorsement. In 2003, Mexican officials were instructed to stop making public statements about the PPP, and the projects continue in relative secrecy.
In South America, every country is involved in the South American Regional Infrastructure Integration Initiative (IIRSA), nearly identical to the PPP in concept and design. In North America, infrastructure initiatives like Atlantica, the CANAMEX Corridor and the Corridors of the Future Program aim to patch up the gaps in that region’s far more extensive infrastructure.
Throughout the Americas, similar projects are under way, and not necessarily under the umbrella of a megaproject like the PPP or Corridors of the Future. Yet no matter how individual projects are classified, they are all part of an explicitly stated plan to integrate the Americas into one massive transportation, electrical and communications network. When taken together, these projects will provide the infrastructure necessary for the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).
Infrastructure as Colonialism
These globalized infrastructure projects are colonialism, plain and simple, designed to guarantee a supply of cheap materials and labor to the wealthy North at the expense of local communities. By no coincidence, they are overwhelmingly slated for territories of indigenous or campesino (subsistence farmer) peoples. Even in North America, indigenous and rural communities continue to bear the brunt of infrastructure expansion.
These territories hold two powerful attractions for modern colonialists, just as they always have. First of all, Earth-based cultures tend to live in highly biodiverse areas, where there are still “resources” to be exploited (intact forests for lumber; intact land above oil or minerals; intact, undammed rivers). The second advantage is just as important: If members of traditional societies can be forced off their land by highways, dams or other such projects, they instantly become a cheap work force.
The PPP is explicit in this second goal, incorporating a massive belt of maquiladoras (export-oriented sweatshops) in southern Mexico, in order to “exploit the competitive advantage” offered by the region’s crushing poverty. The IIRSA likewise encourages the creation of industrial and agricultural zones dependent on cheap labor.
Of course, none of the benefits of these projects will flow to local communities. To give just one example, the power generated by PPP-associated dams is to be integrated into a massive Mexican/Central American grid and then sold to the southwestern US.
These goals have been explicitly stated time and again by the corporate/government architects of these plans. Cheap labor, cheap resources, benefits flowing to the wealthy and powerful — it’s the classic blueprint of colonial exploitation.