When negotiations for NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) were being finalized in 1993, the Mexican secretary of agriculture predicted that the pact would drive 13 million Mexican peasant farmers off their land.
From the point of view of neo-liberal economics this was supposed to be good for two reasons: 1) It would remove agricultural land from subsistence food production and free it up for commercial farming for the world market; and 2) It would create a large source of cheap labor to attract runaway shops from the United States and Canada, both Mexico’s NAFTA partners.
Eight years into NAFTA, the plan is “succeeding” beyond its framers’ wildest expectations. Six million peasants have already been driven off the land, not just into Mexico’s cities, but in very many cases, they have been driven into the U.S. as undocumented immigrant workers. In the years since 1994 foreign investment has poured into Mexico, attracted by the drastic drop in industrial wages. But as fast as the foreign investment pours in, capital flows out, leaving the Mexican people much poorer than before.
Mexico, once self-sufficient for food, now has to import food. The traditional Mexican staple crop, maize, cannot compete with imported food subsidized by the U.S. government. Mexican national industry has been devastated by transnational imports, with thousands of local businesses shuttered. New industrial jobs were certainly created, but the industrial wage has dropped by more than 50 percent. One could say the operation was a success but the patient died.
Mexico’s President Vicente Fox Quezada, a conservative, is supposedly dedicated to the same model that brought us NAFTA. He is, after all, a former head of Coca-Cola for the Western Hemisphere. He has been willing to go along with U.S. imperialist interests in many matters, but even he must be beginning to wonder if his buddy Bush is such a faithful friend after all.
Fox helped open Mexico’s markets to U.S. corporate penetration and humiliated himself by being caught trying to keep Cuba’s President Fidel Castro away from the Monterrey UN economic summit to please Bush. Fox may now feel this is an abusive relationship of the “all give and no get” kind.
Recently delegates of Mexico and the United States met to discuss mutual concerns. High on Fox’s agenda were two things: Reaching a workable agreement on Mexican immigration, and buffering some of the negative effects of new, even more radical phases, of NAFTA in Mexico’s agricultural sector. Fox, pressured by public opinion in Mexico, has been seeking a new program for legalization of undocumented Mexican immigrants in the United States, and delays or modifications in further relaxation of Mexican tariffs on the import of U.S. agricultural products.
However, press reports indicate that Bush is not willing to listen to the Mexican president on either of these issues. The most that Fox is likely to get in the short run is a new bracero ,or guest worker (read: slave labor) program. This will not satisfy the Mexican people.
A week before the U.S.-Mexico meeting, voters in Ecuador elected Lucio Gutierrez as president, and not long before that, Brazilians elected Luiz Inacio ‘Lula’ da Silva, a worker and left trade union leader as their president. Gutierrez and da Silva, as well as Venezuela President Hector Chavez and Cuba President Fidel Castro of Cuba may now form an ‘axis of resistance’ to prevent the implementation of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), the hemispheric version of NAFTA.
If these four countries, whose combined population is well over 200 million, hold firm in their stated determination to resist neo-liberal economics and corporate globalization, millions of Mexicans will be demanding that their government, too, uncouple itself from the empire and its plundering trade policies. That would be bad news for ex-Coca-Cola head Fox and oilman Bush but good news for working people everywhere.
Emile Scheppers is a civil and immigrant rights activist in Chicago. The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org