Mexico’s campesinos hit NAFTA
A new agrarian movement has arisen in Mexico in response
to the suffering caused by nine years of the North American Free Trade Agreement
(NAFTA). The single largest mobilization so far has been the Jan. 31 march by
over 100,000 campesinos in Mexico City, demanding the revision of NAFTA.
Numerous other land seizures, road blockages and hunger strikes in many states
have been taking place for several months.
The movement has been characterized by its extension
from Chiapas in the south to Chihuahua in the north, and the fact that it has
arisen from below, without involvement from political parties. It is also not
restricted to indigenous communities. The government has failed to force a split
in the movement during recent negotiations, aimed at drafting an “Acuerdo
Nacional para el Campo” (National Agrarian Accord).
The aim of campesino organizations is that any accord
will substantially rewrite the sections of NAFTA that deal with agriculture,
while the Fox administration, which one day extols NAFTA and the next admits to
its devastating effects, wants any new laws to avoid even mentioning NAFTA.
As of Jan. 1, 2003 the penultimate phase of NAFTA went
into effect. This stage cuts all taxes on agricultural imports except beans,
rice and dry milk, which will be affected in the final phase in 2008. One
example of this is the end of a 59% tariff on imported U.S. chicken. Mexican
chicken producers say they’ll be cutting 30,000 jobs this year alone, due to
inability to compete with U.S. manufacturers where costs of production are 68%
The Fox government’s own figures show that as of 2001
52% of Mexico’s eight million people living off the land are poor, compared to
35% in 1992. In 1995, one year after NAFTA began, Mexico still had an
agricultural trade surplus with the U.S. of $581 million; as of 2001 it was a
$2.1 billion yearly deficit.
Fox denies there’s a problem, despite the fact that
the U.S. violates NAFTA’s core requirements by continuing to pay huge
subsidies to U.S. agribusiness. According to the Frente Democratico de
Chihuahua, the rural producer in Mexico gets $720 a year in subsidies; in the
European Union it is $16,000 and in the U.S., $21,000. This type of imbalance is
what NAFTA was supposed to erase, but instead the agreement is being used to lay
waste to the Mexican countryside.
At the Mexico City march one campesina woman from
Chiapas had this to say: “Prices on our products are going down every day.
When we arrived in the capital for the march, we found that a cup of coffee
costs seven pesos. In Chiapas we sell a kilo of our coffee for two pesos. We
don’t agree with this government that’s ruining our lives. We came here for
a solution, because they say Chiapas is a lost hope, that we’re condemned to
suffer, but we’re marching to change that.”
Published by News and Letters Committees