A Mexican fair trade activist reflects on the past two decades of battles against neoliberalism and for a more just and equitable alternative in the Americas.
Replace NAFTA to Narrow the Economic Divide
Renegotiation should address the trade deal’s impact in Mexico, where it has devastated the rural sector while creating huge opportunities for wealthy oligarchs like Carlos Slim.
Research & Commentary
July 27, 2017
I am a Mexican author born and raised in Mexico. Contrary to Mr. President Trump’s opinion, I am not a rapist or a drug dealer. I am part of a vibrant Mexican community in New York City of well-informed activists and hard-working people, and I was part of a movement in Mexico against the signature of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) without the consensus of the people.
They called us “medieval.” They said “we didn’t want to have trade.” How could we not want to have trade? What we wanted was not to have deals without the consensus of the people. NAFTA should be re-negotiated taking into consideration the peoples of all three countries, workers, unions, and the environment.
Even though we were protesting and warning against this trade deal for five years, the deal was signed. It not only eliminated good jobs in the United States but increased Mexican migration by more than double. This means those U.S. jobs that were sent to Mexico weren’t so good after all, no matter what Donald Trump says.
Before 1994, the year NAFTA went into effect, Mexico was a country that produced and exported corn. It did not buy it. Corn had been the basic grain of the Indigenous food across Mesoamerica since before the Spanish Conquest.
Since NAFTA, Mexico has become a country that relies on foreign corn and foreign food. Since growing corn was the basis of the economy, almost all Mexican peasants (except the Indigenous autonomous communities ) are now completely relying on foreign food. They cannot produce their own – it is too expensive. Why? Because this agreement was signed in spite of the opposition of the people. And when this opposition grew too large to be stopped, the U.S. and Mexican governments invented a scheme named “Fast Track.”
According to the Mexican experience, “Fast Track” means “in secret,” “behind the backs of the people, without protections for the workers of any of the signing countries and the environment in any of the signing countries.” That’s what the Republicans seem to be doing right now by not holding hearings with any of us. They seem to be renegotiating NAFTA now with no protections for the workers and the environment, with a Mexican administration widely repudiated, widely unpopular, representing only oligarchs and drug lords, not the Mexican people.
NAFTA only increased immigration to the United States, activating the U.S. economy with cheap, almost slave labor. If you get deported and go back to your country, your prices as a small agricultural producer cannot possibly compete with the imported prices and the big corporation prices — courtesy of NAFTA. So there is no future for you.
“Carlos Slim made his fortune not out of anything he produced but by destroying unions and privatizing public services.”
Malú Huacuja del Toro. Photo credit: Stacy Lanyon
Those are the things that secret deals try to have you ignore until you suffer from them and have no way to protect yourself and your community against them.
I published a collective book, Salinato Versión 2.0, about the propaganda machinery that defeated us in Mexico. It covers the investment in propaganda, the bribes to all the journalists and intellectuals who supported NAFTA, and the backing of President Carlos Salinas, who signed NAFTA. I invited some of the best Mexican journalists, both in Mexico and in the United States, specialists in Mexican media, arts, and culture, to talk about the effects of NAFTA. It portrays the real face of NAFTA, the human face. It is not a pretty face, let me tell you.
Marco Vinicio Gonzalez interviewed a woman named Esperanza from Las Palomas, Puebla, in a section named “How NAFTA ruined my life.” I quote from Esperanza: “When I left my house, my mother and my grandmother gave me their blessing at the patio. We cried all three together. I still remember it and get a lump in my stomach. I was determined to cross to the other side. My son stayed there with my mom and grandma, because my husband crossed (the border) and went to work on the other side. [After NAFTA] things started to get ugly. All my brothers and cousins had to leave the rancho. I tried to get a job and work at a garment factory in Puebla but I had to pay transportation and food because it was not too close to home. I had to leave home every day at 4 am to get to work in time [at one of these maquiladoras which took union jobs from the United States]. I persuaded my mother and my grandmother that they should allow me to try my luck. I promised them I would send them money so that they could live and take care of my son Julian who was two years old at that time . . . [she cries].
“When I got to Tijuana I was terribly scared. I did not know anyone. It took me several days to find the smuggler I was referred to. We spent several days trying to cross. When I finally crossed, the helicopters dropped their lights and everybody ran everywhere they could . . . I was caught by one agent who got me in one van with others. Then he sent all the others to another van except me . . . He was very nice with me in the beginning. He brought me to a motel in Chula Vista and made me stay there. He said he was going to help me, but one night he got drunk and raped me. When he left, he locked the door. I felt dirty and ashamed. I wanted to kill myself and did not know why.”
While this woman suffered, Mexico was able to produce the richest man in the world, according to Forbes magazine. For several consecutive years, an oligarch, Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim, was the richest man in the world.
Now how is that possible? When you see the story of this woman the last thing you can imagine is that she comes from the same country as Carlos Slim, even near the city where the richest man in the world made his fortune as soon as NAFTA went into effect in 1994. The truth is, Carlos Slim made his fortune not out of anything he produced but by destroying unions and privatizing public services. That is the face of NAFTA without the consensus of the people. It’s the face of injustice. Please let’s not allow that again.
Trump’s insults against the Mexican people helped him become president of the United States because hatred is always easier than understanding. He successfully planted the seed of intolerance because it always requires less thinking and less effort just to blame other communities, immigrants, other religions, other colors, otherness in general.
The main reason for the immigration is not lack of control at the borders and lack of walls but these bad trade deals like NAFTA negotiated in secret, with undemocratic governments. Please, let’s not do it again.