Mexico horrors affect everyone else too
Our minds are on Mexico a lot these days, but we usually don’t “think” very far past the border. The cartels’ horrors likely stop us right about there or just a Mexican state or two south. Our neighbor’s cataclysms have caused us to recoil. Â¡Dang! I miss those street tacos!
But what’s going on further down, deep within that beloved and oft-lamented country? What about the one-quarter of Mexican society who still live in the countryside — en el campo? Their concerns ought well to interest us: 44 percent of them will attempt at least one migration al norte.
Turning tricks of trade
Contrary to the ridiculous claims of Bill Clinton 20 years ago as he manically lobbied for NAFTA, that North American Free Trade Agreement actually drove 12 million more Mexicans into poverty. Small farmers could not compete with the highly-subsidized U.S. corn dumped on their markets. Amid a rash of farmer suicides, two million Mexican agricultural jobs were lost.
And what about those numerous maquiladoras that sprouted near the border? One-third of the manufacturing jobs that NAFTA spawned in Mexico have been lost since 2001. As is their wont, companies simply moved on to Central America or Asia where labor is even cheaper. Now, maquila workers earn, on average, just half of a Mexican living wage.
Rural folks who have not migrated toward the border, but remain close to their traditional lands in Mexico’s southern states, nevertheless experience the constant pressure of NAFTA. Incredibly, 30 percent of the country’s territory has been offered — via mineral concessions — to U.S. and Canadian mining interests.
A bittersweet fruit
In the Oaxacan town of Capulalpam, a renewed struggle has arisen over a 250-year-old gold mine there. The townspeople previously struggled, successfully, to close this mine, which had contaminated a mountain range’s watercourses, plus punched through and slurped up 13 aquifers. But in 2004, the Canadians returned, ready to drill and blast once more. Capulalpam, you see, is their NAFTA “concession.”
The people of Capulalpam (meaning “chokecherry”) would not stand idly by while their recovering ecosystem was assaulted once again. Banding together, they petitioned the federal government, physically blocked access to their lands and, perhaps most effectively, convened a Mesoamerican Summit on mining, attended by the rural and indigenous of Mexico and Central America being similarly harmed by free-trade mining.
The Canadian gold-diggers packed up and left town. But the local folk’s resistance to resumed mining came at a high cost. Two leaders of their movement were murdered in those mountains over the past two years. Death threats are being slung around, while the splaying open of the homelands of countless traditional communities across the Americas proceeds apace.
Social engineering, anyone?
East of Oaxaca lies Chiapas state, where indigenous communities are contending with a neo-liberal government/corporate boondoggle called “Sustainable Rural Cities.” Basically an Indian village relocation program (like the reducciones of the Spanish empire in the 16th century), tight new clusters of identical little houses on miniscule lots lie in perfectly neat rows along paved streets.
Two of these “sustainable cities” have been completed, but one of them lies virtually abandoned. The promised jobs, pure water, sewage treatment, solar electricity, cellphone service and Internet have not materialized. The new hospital is closed (no water), the clinic has no doctor (and little medicine) and agricultural facilities (greenhouse, cannery and poultry processing) did not provide enough food for the townspeople, let alone for sale.
Residents must make the long, costly bus trip back to ancestral lands to grow their corn and beans. The “city” farm plots are reserved for exportable supermarket exotics, like endive or baby carrots. Twenty-three more planned rural cities are meeting stiff resistance. It’s no coincidence that this is Zapatista territory — indios who know which side the tortilla’s buttered on. Their storied rebellion was deliberately launched the very hour that NAFTA took effect in 1994.
Another dubious deal
Capitalism’s concept of “free trade” is about to take a bizarre turn. As part of Barak Obama’s ominous “pivot toward Asia,” Mexico has been seduced into joining the 11-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership. Commerce such as pharmaceuticals, agricultural products and even intellectual property on both sides of “the drink” will fall under this mysterious “agreement” — the text of which has not been made public — not even to members of Congress.
Where does all this leave low-income Mexicans? Well, urban dwellers still sell those fabulous tacos on the street. But what about the landed or once-landed peasants? If their lives and communities are turned upside-down by the corporate or cartel violence infesting Mexico, they may steal across our border to claim political asylum. Yet a permit to work here while waiting years for one’s asylum determination is $380.
Now, just where is a poor refugee of “free trade” and drug wars going to come up with that kind of money??
Sources: McGill Research Group, Polis, Sipaz, Weaving for Justice, Witness for Peace