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The Final Stage of NAFTA in Mexico: “They Are Going To Grind Us Up”
Over the past 14 years, NAFTA has made Mexico more “free” for U.S. imperialist exploitation of the people and resources of Mexico. On January 1, 2008 the last and most vicious provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took effect. This provision will remove all market protections in Mexico from basic food staples (corn, beans, sugar, and milk). This provision will flood Mexico with cheaply produced and highly subsidized food that will enable giant U.S. agribusiness companies to wipe out or further crush the remaining Mexican small farmers who produce corn, beans, sugar, and powdered milk.
This will result in millions of Mexican farmers losing their livelihoods, and beyond that, the spread of hunger within Mexico. Said a 74-year-old corn farmer upon hearing the news of what was to come: “What will happen to us? They are going to grind us up. We are going to be totally fucked by the gringos.” One thing is certain: even more millions of Mexican farmers will be driven into desperation.
In protest against this law, at midnight on January 1, campesino (small farmer) organizations shut down the port of entry between Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas for thirty-six hours. Oaxacan artists began painting a mural repudiating the NAFTA treaty on the section of the hated metal “wall of death” that separates Tijuana from San Diego County. A U.S. flag with the names of U.S. corporations that control the Mexican economy in place of stars was burned at the U.S. embassy.
The End of the “Cold War” and the Intensification of Plunder
The rise of U.S. imperialism is inseparable from the oppression and exploitation of Mexico. One third of Mexico’s territory was seized by the United States in the annexation of Texas in 1845 and in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). The stealing of this vast stretch of Mexico expanded and strengthened the slave system and U.S. capitalism overall.
The agriculture and manufacturing that developed in Mexico served U.S. imperialism. Mexico’s oil was sold at discount to imperialist-controlled manufacturers or exported to the U.S. and other countries. Mexico’s network of railroads ran north and south, designed, as one historian wrote, “to take products out of the country…from Mexico to the U.S. and back—rather than serving as a transportation system within Mexico.” This setup was enforced by U.S. military threats and aggression. For example, when the Mexican government increased taxes on exported oil in 1921, the U.S. Navy staged a “show of force” provocation at the Mexican port of Tampico.
The end of the “cold war,” and the collapse of the rival Soviet social-imperialist (phony socialist) bloc, enabled the U.S. to focus more on the exploitation of Asia and Latin America in general, and Mexico in particular. NAFTA was imposed on Mexico by U.S. imperialism in 1994 to tear up existing laws and government programs that provided some protection to small-scale Mexican agriculture but had come to pose obstacles to the expansion of U.S. capital into Mexico.
NAFTA’s Disastrous Results
The results of NAFTA have made things even worse for the people of Mexico. From 1994-2004 (according to World Bank figures), 6 million campesinos, or one-quarter of the rural population, was ruined and had to leave the countryside to try to survive. In Mexico, only one third of new job seekers entering the employment market will find a job. Emigration increased exponentially and has reached the level of 600,000 people per year who risk their lives to cross the border into the U.S. Every year more people die. Last year, 562 people died in the desert, or in other ways, crossing the border.
As Mexican President Felipe Calderón dined with foreign dignitaries on traditional Mexican country delicacies like pumpkin-flower soup, he trumpeted the “benefits” of NAFTA. Despite what he called “inconveniences,” the U.S. and Canada now buy five times more from Mexican agribusiness than they bought in 1994.
NAFTA intensified the competitive disadvantages facing Mexican farmers. It mandated that the Mexican government drastically cut farm subsidies to small farmers, while U.S. producers receive the equivalent of $10 billion in subsidies per year. And, on top of all this, the Mexican government pays subsidies to U.S. agribusiness giant Cargill for the transportation and distribution of corn.
In addition to ruining farmers, these changes have imposed more hunger on the Mexican people. Since NAFTA went into effect, Mexico has had to import the majority of its food. Speculation in corn prices has led to a rise in tortilla prices of 730%. In a concentrated expression of the oppressor/oppressed relationship between the U.S. and Mexico, the amount spent on food imports by Mexicans since NAFTA went into effect is about the same amount as what is sent back to Mexico as remittances by former campesinos who have been forced to the U.S. to be superexploited as undocumented immigrants ($100 billion).
While the radical transformations of Mexican agriculture have injected profit into U.S. imperialism and its Mexican junior partners, they have been a disaster for the people. And the new rules that went into effect at the beginning of 2008 will be worse. According to the National Association of Rural Producers (Asociación Nacional de Empresas Comercializadoras del Campo), the imports of corn and beans without any restrictions will cause “an economic and social catastrophe for the majority of producers, insecurity in the food supply, and vulnerability for the security and governability” of the country.
The Way Out
Prior to NAFTA, Mexican peasants were exploited by the Mexican state as well as in more traditional semi-feudal forms. Life was already intolerable. Over the last 14 years, NAFTA has made this worse. People are being driven off the land, and those remaining are suffering more.
In southern Mexico, especially in the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca and Guerrero where many grow corn, 70% of the people live in extreme poverty. If there are schools, they may be free, but people cannot afford the books and uniforms. If there is running water and electricity, it can cost up to half a month's earnings. A young woman in Salto de Agua, Chiapas, near the major city of San Cristóbal, described her life: “Unless I was ill, I would be working. I got up at 3 a.m. to make tortillas and left the house at 6 to work on the plot until 3-4 p.m. When I returned home I washed and continued with my work grinding [corn] and preparing tortillas—there is no rest.”
The way out of this misery in oppressed nations like Mexico lies neither through imperialist globalization nor a return to the past with its other forms of semi-feudal oppression. The way out is New-Democratic Revolution. The New-Democratic Revolution represents the interests of all who can be united to overthrow the bureaucrat-capitalist class and state system dependent on imperialism, as well as overthrowing semi-feudal relations in the countryside.
The New-Democratic Revolution is the hope of Mexico’s hopeless peasants and the vast majority of people in that oppressed nation. And it is the first stage of a socialist revolution aimed ultimately at the worldwide overthrow of capitalism-imperialism.