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Action for Community & Ecology in the Rainforests of
PO Box 57, Burlington, Vermont 05402, USA
(802) 863-0571 Fax: (802) 863-8203
Email: [log in to unmask]
Eucalyptus, Neoliberalism and NAFTA in Southeastern
(ACERCA) June 1999 - An investigation of eucalyptus
plantations in southeastern Mexico necessitates a
critique of globalization (including World Bank and IMF
policies), NAFTA and the planned Free Trade Area of the
Americas (FTAA). Eucalyptus plantations pose a threat
to the indigenous, the poor and the ecosystems in
southeastern Mexico, as do other developments that have
come to the forefront due the inception of NAFTA in
1994. Multinational corporations are expanding their
operations in southeastern Mexico with projects that
include a Dry Canal in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, more
oil extraction, mining, shrimp farming, maquiladoras,
dams, airports and major road construction, to name the
most prominent. With these expansions, more threats
An Economic Reality
The globalization process (also called neoliberalism)
of southeastern Mexico had its start with the general
practices of International Monetary Fund and World Bank
policies that used Mexico as a model for their
Structural Adjustment Programs(SAPs). SAPs were started
by the IMF for the liberalization of economies which
foster privatization of oil, minerals, etc.
In 1994 NAFTA went into effect in Canada, the US and
Mexico to further the globalization process.
Prelude to the Investigation
The power and weight of the timber industry's influence
in southeastern Mexico is evident by the manipulation
of Article 27 and the rewriting of other new laws to
open up Mexico for timber exploitation. A precondition
for Mexico entering NAFTA was reform of Article 27 to
permit the privatization of communal land holdings.
Prior to NAFTA a 1992 forestry law allowed commercial
tree plantations. In 1997 a revision of the law
literally granted the timber industry's wishes. The new
regulations implemented a series of proposals made in
June 1995 from Edward Krobacker, International
Paper's(IP) forestry division vice-president. The
timber industry could now recieve hefty subsidies to
aquire land parcels of unlimited size.
In Febuary 1999, the World Rainforest Movement released
Tree Plantations: Impacts and Struggles which states
that the needs of Mexico's maquiladora (sweatshop)
industry for packaging materials paved the way for
large scale pulpwood plantations (like eucalyptus).
On April 6, 1999, IP along with Fletcher Challenge
Forests, Westvaco Corporation and Monsanto annouced
their intent to form a forestry biotechnology joint
venture to produce and market genetically engineered
Eucalyptus and African Palm plantations are in (or
planned) in Chiapas, Tabasco, Vera Cruz and the Isthmus
The number of hectares of eucalyptus plantations in
Chiapas is unknown to the Non-Governmental
Organizations in the region that our investigation
interviewed. Due to the scope of the Mexican military's
low intensity war against the civilian population in
Chiapas, most energy is spent by NGO's on the immediate
social crisis. There are over 70,000 Mexican troops in
Chiapas and over thirty newly formed paramilitary
organizations that terrorize indigenous communities.
However, our investigation found that in the southern
zone of Chiapas on the Pacific Coast near Tapachula,
African Palm plantations have been planted.
Corporations were able to develop the plantations there
because of the infrastructure (roads) built by the
government. Gerardo Gonzales of FORO para el Desarrollo
Sustentable (Forum for Sustainable Development) in
Chiapas says Grupo Pulsar, based in the northern
Mexican city of Monterrey, has a research center in
Tapachula (NAFTA's only humid-tropic research
laboratory for ag-biotech) where it is involved in
genetically engineered trees and new genetic strains of
vegetables. Grupo Pulsar, a Mexican multinational
corporation that has ties with Britain's giant British
American Tobacco (BAT), also has been involved in other
genetic research, specifically tomatoes. The Los
Angeles Times reported on July 26, 1998, that Grupo
Pulsar is headed by Alfonso Romo whose agribusiness
subsidiary Empresa La Moderna [ELM] (engaged) 800 more
partners in 1998 to farm papaya, melons, chile,
eucalyptus trees and bamboo.
Sylvia Wizar of Ecologia Santo Tomas in Villahermosa,
Tabasco, says Grupo Pulsar conducted the study of where
to put plantations in Tabasco, Chiapas and Campeche.
In the northern zone of Chiapas there is some
eucalyptus planted and it is speculated by Gustavo
Castro of Chiapas' CIEPAC (Center for Investigation of
Economics and Political Action) that International
Paper may have operations in the Palenque area (ongoing
research to pinpoint locations is being done in the
field by local contacts). FORO's Gonzales believes that
International Paper works with Grupo Pulsar in the
Apparently IP has only eight test plots in southeastern
Mexico and at this point is only involved in research.
Is it possible IP is waiting for a more stable social
situation before they begin large scale eucalyptus
plantations? After all, IP's involvement with rewriting
Mexico's forestry laws would leave one to believe that
they certainly must be looking for future development.
Gonzales told us that Patrocinio Gonzalez, the former
governor of Chiapas (1988-1991 and Secretary of the
Interior during the Zapatista uprising), is now a
representative for International Paper.
Avelino B. Villa Salas, a spokesperson for Planfosur in
Villahermosa, Tabasco, said IP has an agreement with
the Mexican Forest Research Institute.
CIEPAC's Gustavo Castro states that multinational
corporations rent the land for a few years from the
campesinos to plant plantations and then give it back
to them after the land is ruined.
Planfosur is a venture of the Texas-based
multinational, Temple-Inland Forest Products
International, Inc. (Simpson Mexico, Ltd. pulled out in
1996). Temple-Inland is the ninth largest private
landowner in the US. Temple-Inland additionally holds
land in Puerto Rico, Argentina and Chile. Planfosur has
21,000 hectares of eucalyptus, some genetically
engineered in Tabasco and Veracruz.
Planfosur's literature says, "Operations began in
February, 1994 with the purchase of approximately 10
hectares north of Las Choapas, Veracruz, Mexico. On
this site, a nursery consisting of six greenhouses, a
7500 square meter growing site, a work center building
and a warehouse were constructed. Planfosur began
growing nursery seedlings in June 1994. In September an
office was constructed and occupied, and the first tree
farms were established...with the first harvests
scheduled for 2001 (Planfosur now says 2002).
"The mission of the Planfosur partners is to plant,
grow and harvest the fast-growing eucalyptus species on
a total of 21,000 hectares on a continuing basis. At
the end of the growing cycle, wood fiber will be
exported from the port of Coatzacoalcos to Gulf of
Mexico ports to supply the paper mills operated by the
owners of Planfosur partners. As forestry becomes a
major industry in Mexico, larger projects will be
considered. For example, larger projects could include
the establishment of additional tree farms and the
construction and operation of a pulpmill somewhere near
the tree farms."
In a meeting with the Planfosur spokesman, Villa Salas
said that the purpose of the plantations is to provide
wood chips to be transported to where the market is the
best for paper pulp and particle board. Some would be
used for Mexico as 1/3 of all packaging in Mexico is
Villa Salas said that Planfosur has influence over
390,000 hectares but will only plant 21,000 (for the
present). According to Villa Salas, the area where
Planfosur is planting eucalyptus is in areas that used
to be rainforested 20-40 years ago.
The 21,000 hectares will be cut in rotations by
clearcutting. At this time is not specified if the
clearcutting will be done by local campesinos or by
heavy machinery (fellerbunchers) although Villa Salas
lead us to believe that Planfosur was leaning toward
using local labor. ACERCA NOTE: we can only speculate
that operating costs would be cheaper using local labor
than bringing in fellerbunchers, as that machinery
would require skilled maintenance and part replacement
that is not readily available at this time.
At present 4.5 million seedlings are grown per year in
the Los Choapas nursery; some of them genetically
engineered. Genetically engineered eucalyptus species
are planned entirely after the second rotation.
Villa Salas said that Monsanto is supplying
agro-chemicals (specifically FAENA, a glyphosate
herbicide--Round Up) for the plantations and
Temple-Inland, Inc. has just signed on with Monsanto
for more genetic research. Villa Salas was proud of
Planfosur's genetic research, saying, "Our genetic base
is quite wide so we can play."
Planfosur spokesmen say that the Mexican government
will help subsidize Planfosur if that venture follows
all government and environmental regulations, such as
Mexican Forestry Laws. Planfosur says the subsidies
will be used for research.
When asked if NAFTA made the eucalyptus plantations
possible, Villa Salas said the 1997 Forestry Law (put
forth by IP) was more important.
Grupo Pulsar in Tabasco
Ecologia Santo Tomas' Wizar said that Grupo Pulsar
planned to plant 300,000 hectares of eucalyptus in
Tabasco. Ecologia Santo Tomas filed suit against Grupo
Pulsar with the Mexican government. Along with that, a
huge public outcry and an educational campaign that has
succeeded in having campesinos raise the price of
rental land, Grupo Pulsar has not been able to realize
their plans and only 7-8000 hectares are in production.
The government has refused a Grupo Pulsar proposal to
finance the project.
Wizar goes on to say that Grupo Pulsar has said that
they will not destroy already existing forests in
Mexico so they can get sustainable certification.
Ironically, Grupo Pulsar brought technicians to Tabasco
from Brazil where there is a huge eucalyptus plantation
run by Aracruz Cellulose that is guarded by the
military. The rainforest is being cut down hand in hand
with the planting of the eucalyptus plantations by
Aracruz and they have lost their certification for 5 or
6 years due to abuse of the land and disrespect toward
indigenous peoples (Tupinikim and Guarani).
Isthmus of Tehuantepec Megaproject
With more "free trade" everyday, schemes to transport
goods to the market increase and as the Panama Canal
reverts back to Panama in 1999 (with the two major port
cities in the hands of Chinese multinationals), new
transport corridors are needed. In Nicaragua plans for
a "dry canal" have been around for over a hundred years
and that possibly is more relevant today than ever as
neoliberal governments push for the expansion of NAFTA
in the form of the FTAA. In Mexico, a "dry canal" is
proposed in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec that will have
major environmental and social problems.
In 1996, President Zedillo announced new oil
exploration and privatization in the Isthmus. Many of
the projects have already begun. A transit corridor
will be built for fast rail and highway, The
Megaproject plans for approximately 150 development
projects including industrial parks, clothing and
textile maquiladoras, 400 square miles of eucalyptus
plantations, shrimp farms, tourist initiatives such as
airports, golf courses and marine parks for yachts, oil
refineries, petrochemical facilities, mining and dams
alongside the corridor. The Megaproject will open up
slash and burn agriculture.
For More Information Contact ACERCA:
Action for Community & Ecology in the
Rainforests of Central America
Box 57, Burlington, VT, 05402, USA
Tel: (802) 863-0571 Fax: (802) 863-8203
Email: [log in to unmask]