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The Mexican Version of Pulpwood Plantations

by Alejandro VillamarWorld Rainforest Movement Bulletin
August 1st, 1998

The increased activities of the maquiladora industry have resulted in an enormous need for packaging paper used in shipping industrial goods for export. Mexico currently imports this packaging from the US and Canada. In response to pressure from the maquiladora industry, the Mexican government is now paving the way for the large-scale pulpwood plantations in order to provide industry with raw material to produce cheap pulp and paper.

The government strategy has three components:

  1. Legal changes that lift legal protections to the environment and small landholders;

  2. A public relations campaign aimed at lining up support for the pulpwood industry;

  3. Direct and indirect subsidies to pulpwood plantations.

The legal groundwork clearing the way for corporate pulpwood plantations was laid in April 1997, with the passage of the Forestry Law. The law was approved after strong lobbying from high-ranking federal officials, parliamentarians linked to the national paper industry and International Paper's CEO. This new law opens the door for the development of pulpwood plantations by lifting protections for small landowners. However, as a result of pressure from peasant, environmental and civic organizations -- and to a lesser extent from political parties -- plantations are not allowed to set up shop in forested areas. Large-scale plantations are also required to show management plans and impact assessments.

Meanwhile, the federal Environment Agency (SEMARNAP) has openly embraced national and transnational companies. The agency has launched a public relations campaign aimed at building support for government subsidies for tree plantations. The Agency is promoting the use of public resources, cheap labor and lax regulation of social and environmental impacts. Not surprisingly, one of the most active high-ranking officials promoting this strategy is a former employee of a large paper company. However, this PR campaign has not convinced the Mexican public, especially in rural areas.

The Environment Agency has created a "Support Program for the Development of Commercial Forestry Plantations." Under this program, plantations will receive subsidies covering 65% of the production and management costs for up to seven years and will be exempt from taxes. However, there are still problems. Some companies have complained that were left out when subsidies were divvied up. Additionally, other forest-based enterprises and peasant organizations are demanding subsidies to assist them in taking care of the forest, in order to be kept in line with state support to the plantation sector.

The Mexican version of plantations is nothing new. Its aim is to subordinate environmental policy to the needs of transnationals and to ignore the rights of indigenous peoples, peasants and the environment.

However, that's only part of the story. Campesinos and indigenous peoples' reactions are surfacing. The recent massive action of peasants from the state of Guerrero against the US wood and paper company Boise Cascade is just one recent example. The final chapter has yet to be written on the struggle over control of resources, the environment and culture.





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