As people across the world honor the twentieth anniversary of the Zapatista Liberation Army rising up in response to the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), resistance continues, most notably against resource extraction and other infrastructure. Meanwhile, what some call “NAFTA on steroids,” the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is currently pending agreement involving the North American countries and others scattered around the Pacific. And rather quietly, a transportation project called the CANAMEX Corridor is underway to facilitate trade along a north-south corridor of western North America. This corridor runs from a port on the Pacific coast of Mexico, through Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Montana, and north near the Tar Sands in Alberta, Canada.
Opposition to the CANAMEX Corridor is necessary not only because it is a major piece of the physical infrastructure needed to facilitate this trade. Its function in international trade is also used to justify the damage brought by its imposition locally, throughout the corridor. CANAMEX, designated as a High Priority Corridor shortly after NAFTA was implemented, already exists in the form of highways, but requires improvement and expansion to effectively facilitate trade.
The trade corridors of North America, CANAMEX being one of them, are extensions of NAFTA. They function as the infrastructure, such as roads, rail, ports, etc., that perpetuates the harms caused by so-called free trade. Among the effects of NAFTA since its implementation have been dramatic unemployment and displacement in Mexico due to subsidized US agricultural products such as corn, and a shift in privatization/ownership of Mexican land by private interests. One of the worst environmentally damaging projects in the world is the Tar Sands extraction in Alberta, Canada, which is in operation at its current level largely due to the NAFTA obligations to supply oil to the US. CANAMEX would also be an important corridor of TPP trade due to its Pacific seaport in Guaymas, Mexico, and its proximity to the west coast in general.
The impact of CANAMEX involves displacement of people and destruction of sacred sites and the environment, thereby affecting indigenous communities and various others. Trade transportation infrastructure is necessary for free movement of goods across borders, but along with it must come heightened border security in response to displacement caused by the impacts of trade agreements. Because it requires fuel, trade infrastructure is one of the primary reasons for resource extraction and is an extension of colonialism. Additionally, it is justified and imposed locally in the form of development and sprawl with compounded reliance on energy and resources such as water.
A project increasingly being used to circumvent the obstacle of lack of funding for these trade corridors is called a public-private partnership (P3), which is an arrangement that is essentially privatization but with some state control. Having been utilized throughout the world, P3s in North America seem now more than ever to go hand-in-hand with trade infrastructure development and neoliberalism in general.
In simple terms, neoliberalism involves trade liberalization, privatization, and relaxation of state power in effort to allow for a free market economy. It is important to frame opposition to the practice of neoliberalism and its trade pacts, privatization, etc., by foremost addressing state collusion and repression, in addition to its form as an extension of colonialism and capitalism. State repression against resistance makes possible the ease with which these colonial/neoliberal projects expand.
Trade and Resource Extraction
In December 2013, tens of thousands of Mexicans demonstrated against the recent decision by the president to open oil and gas reserves to foreign investment, the implications of which, due to NAFTA and TPP, are predictably negative for the people. Up in the north, Nez Perce, Umatilla, and Warm Springs tribal members, and Rising Tide members, among others, have partially stalled attempts to transport massive pieces of equipment called “megaloads” to the Tar Sands in Alberta over the last couple of years with various protests along the route from ports in the northwest US to the Tar Sands. By no coincidence, Interstate 15, which is part of CANAMEX, will possibly be used to transport megaloads north from where the 90 meets it in Montana. Expansion of trade transportation infrastructure is dependent on resource extraction and vice versa. Trade corridors provide the infrastructure for the movement of this type of equipment and could additionally facilitate future extraction at the tar sands in Utah, which is not very far from the CANAMEX Corridor. Rail may possibly be a significant mode of transportation of crude oil in the near future, especially with obstacles, largely due to grassroots resistance, to the construction of pipelines.
The CANAMEX Corridor is one expansive piece of the physical infrastructure of NAFTA and potentially the TPP. Even though the TPP does not seem primarily to emphasize trade as much as one might assume, it is undoubtedly the case that increased trade traffic will have an impact along the corridor, in the form of prioritization of transportation projects, and shifts in policy.
Citing the problem of bottlenecks in trade ports on the US west coast, CANAMEX-proponents favor trade products entering North America through western Mexican ports such as the Port of Guaymas, the southern-most tip of the CANAMEX Corridor, which is due to double in size in the next couple of years, making it the second largest seaport in Mexico. The benefits (for capitalists) of receiving trade shipments there, rather than in the US, are multiple aside from avoiding the bottleneck problems. Dockworkers in Mexico have lower wages, lesser benefits, and fewer safety measures than union workers in the States.
In his commentary as the Arizona-Mexico Commission’s CANAMEX expert, Jim Kolbe stated that trade with Asia will likely continue to increase and CANAMEX is meant to facilitate the movement of those goods into Arizona. This was discussed years prior to official TPP talks. Certainly if the agreement goes forth, trade with Asia will grow even more.
Currently, talks on the TPP involve Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam. Not only are Chinese wages lower than Mexican wages, but the wages in Vietnam are half to a third of that of Chinese workers. The ramifications of this could involve increased unemployment and lowering of wages in Mexico and the US. Clearly some of these countries, or specifically their corporations, could easily take advantage of some of the other countries. For example, aspects of the TPP would make it even easier for companies to wreak environmental havoc wherever they choose; saving money on measures that would otherwise limit pollution.
There are various benefactors of the broadening of trade pacts and expansion of infrastructure. Describing the web of connections behind these neoliberal projects would take pages and could look a bit too much like conspiracy theory. We do not need a conspiracy theory to see how neoliberalism works and to understand that certain powerful individuals, corporations, and their organizations are going to have their hands in projects that promote their causes. Elsewhere, I have drawn connections between NAFTA, the Council of the Americas, North American Business Council, Security and Prosperity Partnership, North American Competitiveness Council, UPS and other corporations, McLarty Associates and its member Jim Kolbe who is part of the Arizona-Mexico Commission and the new Arizona Transportation and Trade Corridor Alliance which encompasses the Governor’s CANAMEX Task Force. Exposing these networks can be useful to show that these projects are being imposed by a wealthy few.
On a more local level, certain organizations and businesses are seeking expansion of “inland ports” consisting of multi-modal transportation nodes and foreign trade zones (FTZ) especially along trade corridors like CANAMEX. In regions zoned as FTZs, businesses get tax breaks and duty exemptions and deferrals. The placement of these FTZs will serve to justify infrastructure for this trade traffic to and through these areas. The presence and authority of the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in these foreign trade zones have unknown implications for migrants within them.
Trade and Border Security
On May 21, 2010, protesters locked down at the Border Patrol Headquarters in Tucson, Arizona with demands for self-determination for indigenous people, to regularize (“legalize”) all people, and for an end to NAFTA, among many related general and specific demands, which were and continue to be lacking from other similar actions. Involving members of Indigenous Nations of Arizona, migrants, people of color and white allies, it represented a more cohesive and radical analysis of the interlocking impacts of border security and trade.
Despite NAFTA being sold as a way to increase job opportunities in all three countries, the timing of beefed-up border security such as Operation Gatekeeper in the San Diego area, launched in 1994, indicates that the US government knew that NAFTA would cause an upsurge in migration from Mexico to the US due to the economic impact. On the surface it seems contradictory for Arizona to promote further NAFTA (and TPP) trade while enforcing immigration law. Yet capitalists and their government collaborators simultaneously want goods to move freely across borders and they want people moving across those borders to be criminalized and limited, thereby making them more exploitable. Governor Jan Brewer, for example, enthusiastically signed SB1070 and is promoting CANAMEX through the Arizona-Mexico Commission and the new Transportation and Trade Corridor Alliance.
This is not to imply that SB1070-style immigration enforcement is the preferred type. In fact, many would prefer some level of legalization, particularly guest worker programs, but either way it would be a “solution” with an emphasis on border security, and certainly not something that addresses the root causes of mass migration.
Border security will increasingly militarize O’odham communities in Arizona, coinciding with the invasive development and construction of trade infrastructure (roads, ports of entry, foreign trade zones) involved with CANAMEX. In Arizona, various freeways, or possibly toll-ways, comprising (or in close proximity to) the CANAMEX Corridor might be built through or along reservations and/or sacred sites, such as the Loop 202 Freeway extension in Phoenix, slated to cut through South Mountain which is sacred to O’odham. Construction of the wall, border-patrol harassment (and reckless driving), check-points, cameras, drones, severe limits on movement across the border for ceremonies (or for any reason), are some of the impacts of border security on O’odham and others living near the border—repercussions that would only worsen if/when Comprehensive Immigration Reform were to pass as proposed. CIR fans clearly ignored the escalating detriment it would create for border communities and recent/future border-crossers, and have largely failed to even mention the root causes of mass migration such as NAFTA.
CANAMEX-promoters are selling their development projects as ways to increase job opportunities, as did those hyping NAFTA in the ‘90s. However, the so-called free trade pushed by neoliberals has contributed to a hike in out-sourcing of jobs from the US. Rather than blaming the companies moving their facilities to countries with cheaper labor while continuing to pay their CEOs extravagant sums, it is the migrants who are scapegoated for the loss of jobs in the US. And while migrants are also blamed for taking advantage of welfare in the US, criminalization of migrants essentially acts as a form of welfare for the rich in that it maintains a permanent underclass of exploitable undocumented workers making wages, goods, and services cheaper. Without state repression, this situation would look far different.
Trade, Colonialism, and Sprawl
Unist’ot’en, Wet’suwet’en, and their allies continue to resist the imposition of various pipelines being planned to cut through unceded Wet’suwet’en Territory in northern British Columbia to link the Tar Sands to the west coast for trade with Asia. Down south in Mexico, the Council of Ejidos and Communities in Opposition to La Parota Dam (CECOP) and guerrilla group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias-Liberación del Pueblo (FAR-LP), continue to resist La Parota hydro-electric dam intended to provide water and electricity to the Port of Acapulco. There are numerous other examples of opposition to the slew of negative impacts of the Athabasca Tar Sands project, against the Keystone XL Pipeline and countless other pipelines, movement of megaloads, development of the Utah Tar Sands, numerous fracking sites, and on and on. These and other forms of resistance are met with state repression. The physical infrastructure of neoliberalism such as highways, mines, pipelines, dams, etc. embody the continuation of colonialism. The plunder results in destruction of indigenous ways of life, displacement of people, and detriment to their health.
Every community the trade corridors cut through is affected by it. To the extent that people are even aware of the intentions meant for their local area, decision-makers may simply promote whatever benefit to the economy that might supposedly be brought by trade traffic. There are bigger plans at work, however. In the so-called Sun Corridor, expanding development, trade infrastructure and policy changes are justified by supposed population growth in general, and promises of prosperity that ideologues of regionalism are using to entice state leaders to embrace CANAMEX. The growth is forecasted by academics and others associated with organizations such as the Brookings Institute, the Morrison Institute working with Arizona State University, and companies such as AECOM promoting the concept of the Sun Corridor. The Sun Corridor is the name for this so-called megapolitan or mega-region consisting of Phoenix and Tucson (and possibly Prescott and Nogales), and making up part of the CANAMEX Corridor. ADOT and other transportation committees have taken this concept of the megapolitan, an economic integration of nearby metropolitan areas that are expected to reach 10 million residents by 2040, as inevitable. The Federal Highway Administration website also includes megapolitans in discussion on planning.
Increased sprawl in the so-called Sun Corridor is generally unpopular. Various communities oppose highways due to environmental impacts on the air, animals, plants, climate, and health. Additionally there are concerns about accidents involving dangerous cargo, and noise pollution. While highways are thought of as a way to improve movement, to the local community they often has the effect of a wall, dividing neighborhoods (not to mention demolishing homes and other places of importance) and often involving actual walls (which helps with noise pollution, but one would rather have a view of the mountains than of a wall). In the case of the Loop 202 Freeway extension, the above issues apply, along with concerns regarding threats to the O’odham way of life and sacred sites. Even if this proposed road isn’t part of the official CANAMEX Corridor, it is meant to support Sun Corridor sprawl and trade traffic.
Often the issue of sprawl or the requirement for expansion is framed as a problem of over-population primarily blamed on immigrants. This blame often functions to shift the responsibility away from massive resource-extraction projects that use water, energy and other resources (a never-ending cycle); use of fuel in trade-related shipping; irresponsible and inefficient planning and expansion; etc. This expansion and required resources is pushed by neoliberal academics and consultants, and even small-time real estate developers, resulting in over-consumption. Applying the label of “sustainable” or “green” to their projects makes it seem that they are doing this responsibly. Water is a particularly volatile issue, threatened by pollution from energy extraction, use of massive amounts in these projects, climate change, and the requirements of supporting the consumption involved with sprawl.
Neoliberalism and Public Private Partnerships
The public-private partnership (PPP or P3) is becoming increasingly more common in North America. Researching the P3s being discussed locally or globally for an infrastructure project is definitely a useful way to follow the money. It should be clear, however, that this type of arrangement is not in and of itself the problem (see most other imposed projects prior to P3s), but the problem is that it carries with it new and more insidious problems.
The main organizations promoting CANAMEX – the Arizona-Mexico Commission (the “godfather” of CANAMEX) and the new Arizona Transportation and Trade Corridor Alliance (TTCA), which is said to encompass the Governor’s CANAMEX taskforce – are both entities comprised of public and private members, with overlapping membership between the AMC and TTCA. The weight of their influence is uncertain, as they are not official decision-making bodies although there is also overlap with government committees. Sometimes an organization like this is referred to as a P3 or a “P3 Unit.” An example of a better-known P3 Unit is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), exposed in 2011 for its facilitation of collaboration between private prison companies and state legislators, resulting in the proliferation of SB1070-type anti-immigrant laws.
P3s more often refer to business arrangements between the state and private companies, often to build infrastructure and/or to manage a utility or service. P3s have been implemented across the world, primarily in cases where countries are indebted to neoliberal institutions. A lot of water privatization programs across the world are actually P3s. Along the lines of austerity measures, these arrangements in North America are not unlike structural adjustment programs (SAP) mandated in countries in debt to the World Bank or IMF. But while SAPs are largely involuntary, public-private partnerships in North America for projects such as transportation, are being promoted voluntarily as “innovative financing” by many government officials in cahoots with private interests. Compared to total privatization, an arrangement in which the government remains in so-called partnership with private interests makes the scenario easier to stomach for the residents affected, yet the private interests profit while the state government, or more specifically taxpayers, are left in debt to the companies for decades.
Arrangements such as these have been increasingly pushed by neoliberal organizations such as the Security and Prosperity Partnership and its successors, partly to promote the idea that the private sector is more efficient in projects such as for infrastructure, partly because various businesses want to make a buck, and because the funding is not available for these projects that are supposedly needed. The needs of the public are being defined in many ways by private interests such as construction businesses, real estate developers, trucking companies, banks; and in the case of international trade corridors, investment firms, and especially neoliberal think-tanks and consulting services, who often have ties to NAFTA and SPP and/or big banks. A little web research into who the members of P3 organizations are, and who is attending or sponsoring P3 conferences, reveals how steeped in the trend various public officials and big construction companies are.
If a company or companies see dollar signs in a particular project, this project is likely to be prioritized by the state, as in the case of trade transportation, for example. Many people do not even know about the plans for CANAMEX and its freight truck traffic, yet the roads that would facilitate this trade flow are being promoted (by politicians) as useful to the residents of the area in question. New transportation legislation like MAP-21 and institutions such as the Federal Highway Administration encourage and help facilitate public-private partnerships for transportation projects. Private conglomerates can potentially take advantage of loans (such as TIFIA loans) and tax breaks that the state would access. Sometimes in conjunction with, but often in lieu of toll roads, the private companies would receive availability payments, which ultimately come from taxes.
This information became relevant in Arizona when a business conglomerate proposed a P3 to build the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway extension in Phoenix in 2012. Legislation is in place in Arizona for a range of P3 arrangements and Arizona Department of Transportation is salivating for a good P3 deal in transportation.
These public-private partnerships, along with the so-called free trade pacts, are the brainchildren of neoliberalism. Often in discussion on neoliberalism, the political Left presents false dichotomies between privatization vs. the commons (held by the state), and regulation vs. deregulation. While regulation might mean keeping private interests from doing more damage, it encourages a reliance on the settler state to protect the people, meanwhile diverting attention from the ways in which the state has perpetrated harm against the people from its beginning, and has hardly been neutral regarding the interests of the rich. Although perhaps ideologically inconsistent, in practice neoliberalism relies on collaboration between state and the private sector to provide privileges to those private interests in the form of defense and security (police, military, prisons, border security), tax breaks, subsidies, access to information, prioritization, and promotion of private plans. While lobbying dollars and such likely have a lot to do with it, this is not corruption; it is the role of the state in this latest form of capitalism. Capitalism has always involved power and force; neoliberalism just comes in a different form. In this sense, it does not matter the extent to which a project is privatized or neoliberal if it harms people, but the focus is on neoliberalism because it is the primary modern economic form particularly in relation to infrastructure.
The naming of the concept of the CANAMEX Corridor goes back at least to 1993 just prior to the passing of NAFTA, followed by the designation as a High-Priority Corridor by congress in 1995, and implementation of the Arizona Governor’s CANAMEX Task Force in 1998. The Arizona-Mexico Commission (AMC), now along with the TTCA, seems to be the main promoter of the corridor.
The route given for CANAMEX, which is subject to change, involves Mexico Federal Highway 15 in Sonora connecting the Port of Guaymas with the US border in Nogales; State Route 189, Interstates 19, 10, and US Route 93 (and now Interstate 11) in Arizona; Route 93/Interstate 11, Interstates 515 and 15 in Nevada; Interstate 15 through Utah, Idaho, and Montana; then a complicated route involving the following highways in Alberta and British Columbia: 4, 3, 2, 216, 16, 43, 2, and 97.
For a while, it seemed like there was some sort of hiatus on the project, likely due to the economy. However, things picked up in 2012. Currently the primary project within the CANAMEX Corridor is Interstate 11, which is in the study phase. It is meant to provide transportation for freight traffic for which the US Route 93 between Las Vegas and Phoenix is inadequate. In fact, many news articles seem to refer to Interstate 11 interchangeably with the often-unnamed trade corridor stretching from Mexico to Canada.
The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) designated this route as Interstate 11 in 2012. Part of what would be Interstate 11, phase one of the Boulder City, a.k.a. the I-11 Loop, is currently in the works. Phase two will connect with the Hoover Dam Bypass which was completed in 2010. A public-private partnership involving a toll road had been a possibility for the Boulder City Bypass in Nevada but this idea was abandoned mid-2013. Instead a gas-tax increase would fund the construction. Public-private partnerships, possibly including tolls, are being discussed for implementation of other parts of Interstate 11. In fact, despite this being a priority corridor, some experts have stated that most new projects would require a P3 or won’t be built at all due to lack of funding.
The Arizona Transportation and Trade Corridor Alliance (TTCA), in conjunction with Pima County, is talking about southern Arizona connectivity, and therefore Interstate would not only connect Las Vegas with Phoenix, but extend through Tucson and Nogales.
Ports of entry along the borders will likely be expanded for easier movement of goods, in addition to seaports such as the Port of Guaymas in Mexico which is the southern tip of the CANAMEX Corridor, due to double in size in the next couple years. The Corridor also involves rail, fiber optic telecommunications, and possibly pipelines.
The CANAMEX Corridor is an important part of NAFTA (and possibly TPP) trade, and as such, is a weak point of globalized infrastructure according to the strategic campaign Root Force. The promise of economic prosperity is used as justification for the imposition of trade infrastructural projects throughout the corridor. Discussion on these “NAFTA Super-Highways” has been dominated by right-wing conspiracy theorists concerned about US sovereignty. It is important to shift the debate towards indigenous sovereignty and solidarity, towards an end to capitalism rather than just a reaction to economic integration, towards an end to resource extraction projects, towards an end to state repression and the state in general.