It’s déjà vu.
On Tuesday President Enrique Peña Nieto announced a special regional development law for three maritime port areas of the nation: Lázaro Cárdenas, Puerto Chiapas and the Tabasco-Campeche oil belt. The bill was announced last September and it’s just been approved by Congress.
The problem with presidential mandates like this one, regardless of the fact that they are full of good intentions, resides in putting them into practice and really bringing wealth to these, for the most, part poverty stricken regions.
The problem is that these same programs have been put into effect a myriad of times before, and the social and economic situations of the people to whom they have been addressed has not changed.
Finance Secretary Luis Videgaray said during the presentation ceremony at Port Lázaro Cárdenas that the Peña Nieto Administration is aware of the fact that these are not new initiatives and that the experiences from past attempts have been taken into consideration. He also said, that this new version of old tries is based on many studies of Special Economic Zones (ZEE) both at home and abroad, but the hope is that this new attempt will start yielding results by 2018 when President Peña Nieto leaves office.
In essence, the law affords certainty to investment, promotes regional development, wields long term vision legal instruments, allows a custom fit stimuli package for each zone and guarantees the transparency and accounting rendition.
But getting into the essence of the law, it is, in intent and objectives, not much different from those applied in the past which, it must be said, have produced limited results.
But let’s take the objective areas by zone, as they are depicted in this new law, and their vision of changing basic tourism services and agricultural economies into industrialized zones with appeal to investors.
Deep-sea Port Lázaro Cárdenas, in southern Mexico, is by now the largest port on the Pacific, and it is a fully developed facility. Yet its regional influence is limited, as it is a transit logistics hub for merchandise and trade to and from the Pacific Rim nations. The city itself has very limited industrial facilities and the region is rich in agriculture and minerals, but there are no manufacturing jobs. The area in the law covers the nearby Guerrero State poverty stricken communities.
The Puerto Chiapas story is different. The port, which began its construction in 1974 only to be left abandoned for nearly two decades, is linked to the Tehuantepec Isthmus railway that connects into Coatzacoalcos on the Gulf of Mexico. The port has only served at best to host tourist ships that dock there for a few hours. Regionally, the Soconusco region is a great agricultural producer but other than its produce — including great tasting mountain grown coffee — it has no industrial infrastructure to brag about.
Developing the intermediate Isthmus region has been a long cherished political pipe dream, and “visionaries” have eyed industrial cities developing on both sides of the railroad from the Pacific to the Gulf. At present, only a rickety old train still rattles those otherwise great tracks. Of course, there is no industrial development there.
And the third zone — and this one should embarrass the federal government — is creating industry in the oil rich Tabasco-Campeche zone. When oil prices were still good, the government did not give a hoot about development there. Now that prices are down, and people are crying, due to the fact that overnight they went from riches to rags, the Peña Nieto Administration looks their way. It’s good that it does, but for the people living on these Gulf of Mexico states, the intent to help them comes very late, when they are faced now with a depressed economy.
According to secretary Videgaray it will take some 10 years for the actions aimed at economically solidifying these areas to take place, of course, provided it happens.
Like I said, it’s déjà vu, and to put it in blunt Mexican thinking, the Peña Nieto Administration is serving these ZEEs the same old beans, only this time somewhat refried!