As part of a broadened alliance of Mexican civil society groups demanding the renegotiation of
the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA),
Mexicans from all parts of the country occupied Mexico City’s Zocalo and surroundings on Jan. 31. In
a display of unity, in solidarity with their country’s agricultural producers, and the spirit that "without
corn, there is no Mexico," Mexican farmers and others seem to be coming together. Mexico’s movements
appear to be united in a sort of "buy Mexican" campaign. This is not necessarily so.
Some of the 300,000-plus protestors marched against the increasing price of corn, pesticides, and
fertilizer. Some marched against the secretary of agriculture. Some marched to get a free lunch. There
were marchers against genetically modified organisms (GMO).
But at the other end of the march was a contingent of tractors, which had traversed the country to make
a dramatic procession down the Avenida Reforma, that sported pro-GMO stickers sponsored by Monsanto.
Despite these various and sometimes divergent interests, the Mexican campaign against NAFTA is finding
a focus. One of the best attended sessions of the recent Mexico Social
Forum was on the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP),
a so-called " NAFTA-plus" closed-doors
agreement stirring concern throughout Canada,
the United States, and Mexico that the most undemocratic corporate domination is yet to come. The SPP
needs to be on the radar of citizens of all three countries because it ties the issues together into
a particularly sinister package. Security, natural resource control, militarization
as a response to the drug war, the abandonment of small farmers, and links between NAFTA
and immigration are all now brought together within the SPP—and within the social movements that
So Far From God, So Close to the United States
On several levels the recent march in Mexico City was a national affair. Familiar concerns, such as
the illegitimacy of the government and the lack of attention to the needs of farmers, were expressed
in the many placards that demonstrators waved. With such a diversity of concerns, however, it seemed
as though everyone was marching for their own reasons.
But certain key issues unify the dissent. For instance, resentment runs high toward the United States
and the role it plays in sensitive questions such as the privatization of Mexico’s PEMEX (Mexico’s National
Petroleum Company). Halliburton’s signing of a $683-million dollar contract with PEMEX late in January
has led to more speculation about the privatization of one of Mexico’s citizens’ most treasured resources.
An unequal playing field on trade among the NAFTA countries and the transnational takeover of additional
Mexican industries are not going to go unnoticed.
These inequities are particularly acute in the countryside. A U.S. farmer, for instance, would receive
direct or indirect subsidies equivalent to $150 a hectare (2.5 acres). Cross the river to Mexico and
the farmer would only get around $45. According to a report by Mexico’s Center for Studies on Public
Finance, despite the World Trade Organization’s aim to reduce subsidies, the United States gave out more
than $611.3 billion in subsidies between 2000 and 2005, while in the same years Mexico gave $46.3 billion
and Canada $51.4 billion. Total U.S. subsidies in 2005 were nearly 20 times that of Mexico.
One small corn and beans farmer from the Southern state of Campeche at the march asked, "What
is this ‘free trade?’ Supposedly it’s for everyone, right? But ‘they’ control it and use it for whatever
they want." A Mexico City native observing the march said, "Free Trade Agreements don’t benefit
producers, the people that really work. Obviously, the subsidies that the United States has on grains
and agriculture can’t compare with the state of abandonment of the Mexican countryside. Clearly we are
at a disadvantage."
Sectors such as the sweetener industry have become so desperate, says Dennis Olson of the Institute
on Agriculture and Trade Policy, that "the mutual threat of lost markets and livelihoods has
compelled Mexican and U.S. sugar farmers to work out an agreement that will give both sides a fighting
chance to survive … it could help us avoid another displacement of Mexican agricultural workers who will
be forced to migrate north if we allow NAFTA to be implemented unencumbered." Around three million
jobs in Mexico are associated with the sugar industry.
According to President Bush in his final State of the Union address, the next SPP summit will take
place in New Orleans this April 21 and 22. If we care enough about the decisions being made on our behalf,
we need to represent our peoples there—Canadian, American, and Mexican, and all the cross-national variations.
Our leaders continue to collude with the leaders of
Wal-Mart, Lockheed Martin, Chevron, and Procter & Gamble (to name just a few) to lump the issues
together to provide a smokescreen behind which we cannot allow them to make overriding decisions without
These hot subjects of immigration, subsidies,
and corporate manipulation with disregard for the public are making people angry in all parts of North
America. As divergent as the march was, at least Mexicans were motivated to hit the streets. If only
the injustices of NAFTA made enough people angry enough to push their governments to do something.