Tuesday, December 08, 2009
Unintended Consequences: NAFTA and a Borderland in Crisis by Stephen Jones
This is a post by contributing writer, Stephen Jones, who is a progressive political activist and a resident of Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Late last summer we in New Mexico and West Texas opened our respective local newspapers and found the lurid headline, ‘THREE HEADS FOUND IN COOLER IN JAUREZ.’ This gang-related triple murder just across our southern border is typical of the tragic headlines that greet us almost weekly in New Mexico and elsewhere in the Southwest. The occasional trickle of traffic now moving across the once crowded, friendly and bustling border crossings that once bound nations and families together over la frontera at El Paso, Texas and Columbus, New Mexico is testament to a world gone suddenly, tragically and frighteningly wrong.
We are all familiar with the demagogic appeals of the right to its angry racist base of support in regard to the immigration into the United States of both documented and undocumented Mexican laborers, and the related attacks by racists on Mexican culture and character in the southwest over the violence in Juarez and elsewhere in the borderlands. What we rarely hear is thoughtful criticism of the provisions and implementation of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, that is largely responsible for these unintended consequences.
NAFTA represents one of the keystone economic agreements of the “neoliberal” economic philosophy outlined by “Austrian School” economists Friedrich von Hayak and neo-conservative Milton Friedman of the University of Chicago, and implemented politically by Ronald Reagan and his successors over the past thirty years in the United States. That “giant sucking sound” we heard, the “Austrian school” neo-cons assured us was all in our imaginations. Rather the “comparative advantage” of the United States, the concept of relative economic, marketing and technical strength of one party over its partner would help lead to a thriving American workplace.
American manufacturing hasn’t exactly thrived. Neither has American marketing or any other economic indicator under NAFTA. Furthermore, the immediate consequence of the passage of NAFTA under the Clinton Administration, coupled with the failure of Democrats to address health care reform, was that Democrats stayed home from the polls in 1994. NAFTA also led to a deepening political stratification and the ascendance of right-wing extremism at home.
If anything, NAFTA has been even more devastating to Mexico. Peter Costinini, reporter for MSNBC, writes, "In the Mexican countryside, NAFTA has accelerated the exodus of campesinos (peasant farmers) to the cities and corporate farms of northern Mexico and the U.S. Overwhelmed by the influx of cheap, subsidized U.S. corn allowed by NAFTA, many of Mexico's 2.7 million corn farmers are leaving their lands.”
According to the Center for International Policy, U.S. subsidies and financing to Mexico under NAFTA have served to create distorted market conditions. Huge U.S. agricultural conglomerates like Monsanto and ConAgra have “forced open” the Mexican markets to American grains, notably corn. By undercutting and dumping cheap grain on the market, indigenous farmers, who have worked the land in Mexico for generations, have been driven out of business. As a result they have been driven off the land.
Furthermore, while American agri-business lobbies to retain, and continues to exploit Depression-era price supports, Mexico has been forced to accept International Monetary Fund (IMF) economic guidelines for “fairness.”
Mexico is the most rapidly urbanizing nation in the world. In ten years the percentage of population working in agriculture has dropped from over 40% to 30% of Mexico’s demographic profile. As a result, Mexico’s rural population has been forced to seek work in the cities, where they take up residence in substandard housing, with poor health and sanitation conditions. Communities are split apart, and families and traditions trampled in the process. As in the United States, dislocation and alienation lead to desperation. This creates a ready-made recruiting ground for the drug gangs of Mexico.
Facing starvation, others flee across the border into the United States. Those who make it past the natural dangers of the desert crossing face an underground “illegal” status, the seething hatreds of right-wing demagogues and barriers of language and culture to overcome. This results in more alienation, and often, gang membership on this side of the border, strengthening the international drug trade even further.
The hideous East Berlin-like “fence” that separates Juarez from El Paso and Sunland Park, New Mexico is no barrier to commerce. Mexican drug cartels know how to dump their products on American streets just as well as ConAgra knows how to dump its corn on Mexico’s. Addiction and its related physical diseases resulting from the drug trade put additional strain on the American health care system; yet another unintended consequence of NAFTA.
This is not to say that Americans should entirely abandon free trade. Comparative advantage is a legitimate economic concept, not just an empty phrase tossed around by the so-called “economists” of the “Austrian School.” Free trade also needs to be fair trade. The European Union is successfully integrating its economies while building in protections for labor, health, human rights and the environment. Applicant states are given time and assistance to ramp up to Western European standards. Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the Southeast Asia are working toward free trade modeled on the European and not the American model. We should too.
We need to begin to address the issues at the root of the borderland crisis, and we need to do it now. If we don’t, we may soon find that the El Paso “fence” is about as effective at holding back gang violence as it is at holding back the free-flow of American corn or Mexican drugs.
To read more posts by contributing writer Stephen Jones, visit our archive.
On November 17th three members of the Nayarit drug cartel were arrested in Española and Chamita by the region III multi-agency narcotics task force. http://riograndesun.com/articles/2009/12/04/briefs/doc4b195b14c4e61421826751.txt
Posted by: Vince Ramos | Dec 8, 2009 2:49:58 PM
This is a topic nobody is talking about. Remember how Obama once pretended he was going to do something about NAFTA? We should stop the drug war, pass comprehensive immigration reform and fix NAFTA.
Posted by: Old Dem | Dec 8, 2009 7:30:13 PM
You lay out the problems clearly. NAFTA has caused so much suffering-but a few corporations have won out. We need more people writing about this and telling the truth.
Posted by: Luis R. | Dec 8, 2009 9:32:42 PM
This kind of b.s. is inevitable when you have one political party that represents 1% of the people and the other represents 10% of the people. The dem party has become the Rockefeller wing of the repug party. Nice work tho Steve, keep it up.
Posted by: thelonius | Dec 9, 2009 7:26:08 AM