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New Year’s Day is normally considered a harbringer of hope, but this New Year dawned as a day of dread for hundreds of thousands of small farmers just to the south of our border with Mexico.
Their unease is the product of their real-life experience with NAFTA – the corporate-generated trade scam that Mexico’s ruling elite had promised would be a boon for that country’s rural people. The promised boon was a bust. Fifteen years after NAFTA was approved, some 3 million Mexicans have lost their farms or their farm jobs, 19 million more Mexicans have been added to the country’s poverty rolls, and millions have had to leave their homeland and cross into the U.S. to try to lift their families from abject poverty. Of the 400,000 Mexican people who migrate to our country each year, 80 percent are from rural areas.
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However, NAFTA did have one safety valve in it. Corn and beans – which are economically and culturally the two most important Mexican crops – were protected for 15 years from a deluge of exports that would otherwise have come from subsidized corporate farms in the U.S. On January 1st, that protection expired, and the full corporate arrogance of NAFTA is about to come down on the remaining small farmers of Mexico.
Corn and beans have been both a staple dish and an essential part of Mexico’s identity since the Aztecs. Now, Mexicans will be made dependent on Cargill, ConAgra, and other U.S. exporters for these basics. Many more Mexican farms and farm jobs will be lost – and additional hundreds of thousands of Mexican people will have no choice but to head north.
If we are to ever deal with the waves of illegal Mexican immigrants in our country, we must stop looking down at the hordes of desperate people crossing over – and instead start looking look up at the corporate elites in both countries. It’s their insider, self-serving deals like NAFTA that are causing this mass displacement.
“Mexican farmers fearful of trade barriers’ ending,” Austin American Statesman, December 25, 2007