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NAFTA's full implementation unleashes resistance in Mexico

Fanning the flames of class struggle

On Jan. 1, 1994, the Zapatista Army for National Liberation, EZLN, fired a shot heard around the world when it led an Indigenous uprising in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas.

On that date, the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, was inaugurated. In the words of the EZLN, the so-

called "free-trade" pact signified a "death sentence" for the Indigenous and all peasant farmers in Mexico.

It was understood that NAFTA’s elimination of tariffs between United States, Mexico, and Canada would allow the higher productive forces and heavily-subsidized U.S. agribusiness to overtake Mexican agriculture. Mexico’s industry would also be seriously impacted.

Since its passing, the livelihoods of millions of Mexicans, primarily Indigenous and other peasant farmers, lay in ruins, with many fleeing to the United States for economic survival.

Now, in 2008, more damage is about to be unleashed on Mexico’s national economy. On Jan. 1 of this year, all remaining protective barriers to U.S. imports and investments were completely lifted.

One day later, acting U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner issued an official statement: "With the full implementation of NAFTA, the last remaining trade restrictions on a handful of agricultural commodities such as U.S. exports to Mexico of corn, dry edible beans, nonfat dry milk and high fructose corn syrup ... are now removed."

Corn and beans are the mainstay of Mexico’s national consumption, and yet it is now in its majority supplied by U.S. agribusiness. Not only is the country’s production seriously affected, but the kind of production in Mexico is determined from afar. Thus, Mexico’s land produces not for domestic consumption but more and more for the United States.

In April 2007, the largest ethanol plant to be built in the world, in Mexico’s Sonora state, was announced. It will be built with investments from the United States as well as India. Its output, from sorghum, sugar cane and beets, will not be for food but instead fuel destined for U.S. gas tanks. Growing demand for ethanol further exacerbates the upward pressure on the prices of staple foods on which poor farmers and workers depend to feed their families.

The removal of the last remaining trade protections is expected to bring the loss of 350,000 farm jobs in Mexico in 2008 alone. As many as 2 million such jobs were eliminated over the last decade.

Protesters respond

In response to the crisis, this past week Mexican national peasant organizations held protests across the country to demand a renegotiation of NAFTA. The National Peasant Farmers Confederation mobilized to warn of the disastrous consequences for 1.4 million more farmers who cannot compete with U.S. corn and bean imports.

As many as 1,000 people blocked all but one lane of the Cordoba bridge linking El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico just after midnight on Jan. 1. According to Dialogo Nacional (National Dialogue), plans were under way for protests at the U.S. embassy in Mexico City, as well as in the states of Chiapas, Guerrero, Puebla and Morelos. A call has been made for a mass mobilization in Mexico City on Jan. 31, with plans to occupy the city’s main square and government buildings.

On Jan. 7, Mexican farmers presented nearly 1,500 lawsuits for damages caused by NAFTA. The lawsuits seek protection against the devastating impact of the trade pact, pointing out that it may lead to the collapse of the agricultural sector. Ramon Diaz Vazquez, an attorney representing the farmers, said that NAFTA violates Article 27 of the Mexican constitution, which says that the government must support the farming sector by creating jobs and promoting rural activity.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador is weighing in on the struggle against NAFTA. He told a crowd at a rally in the state of Hildalgo that the removal of the last remaining tariffs will not help Mexican producers but rather affect Mexican farmers even more. Obrador found himself leading a fierce popular struggle in 2006 after losing the presidential election to Felipe Calderón in 2006, despite massive evidence of electoral fraud. Calderón, unmoved by the protests, has come out in defense of NAFTA in recent days.

Popular actions are quickly becoming a source of concern for opposition and pro-government officials alike. In a scramble to contain the crisis, lawmakers from Calderón's National Action Party (PAN) and the two largest opposition groups approved a demand calling on the government to consider renegotiating NAFTA. Additionally, they are asking the Agriculture, Finance and Economy ministers to develop programs that will allow Mexican producers to compete against U.S. farmers.

"This is a national security issue," Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) lawmaker Samuel Aguilar told the Mexican congress. "The agricultural chapter of NAFTA could generate a social conflict."

Aguilar’s point is well taken—the relentless drive for profit fans the flames of the class struggle. This is something that neither PAN nor the opposition parties want. Any remedial measures taken by politicians will likely be symbolic in order to avert a more explosive situation.

The decisive factor in the crisis will be the steadfastness of the farmers and workers and their commitment to the battle ahead.

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