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Masses protest NAFTA in Mexico

Published Feb 10, 2008 7:30 PM

Tens of thousands of peasants and farmers converged from all over Mexico with their tractorcades, motorcades and other vehicles on Mexico City on Jan. 31. They were joined by labor activists from prominent militant unions in a tremendous show of unity between workers in the cities and the fields. Their demand: Repeal the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Mexico City, Jan. 31.

With this action, the Mexican peasants highlight a worldwide phenomenon that you will never hear described in the vicious diatribes of right-wing pundits like Lou Dobbs or the Republican candidates who attempt to scapegoat immigrants for society’s ills. More than 180 million workers around the planet have been forced out of their homelands in the recent period as a result of capitalist economic policies in one of the biggest mass migrations in human history.

This forced migration is cruel and torturous. People leaving their countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America risk life and limb in search of a livelihood. The superrich in the imperialist centers have used their cheap expendable labor to build up capitalism, the very system whose politicians campaign to deport migrants in record numbers.

As in an earlier epoch of capitalist growth with the genocidal and barbaric slave trade—that resulted in the massacre of tens of millions of Africans—laborers today are also treated as disposable commodities.

What is causing the unprecedented migration of workers from oppressed countries to economically dominant capitalist countries?

President Bill Clinton signed NAFTA into law in December 1993 and forced millions of Mexican workers and peasants off their lands, over the border and into the U.S.

Crossing that border—with or without documents—is nothing new for Mexican workers, who have a centuries-old relation with the Mexican/U.S. border. But NAFTA has heightened and intensified the Mexican people’s dire situation.

From day one, Mexicans have protested NAFTA. The primarily Indigenous Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) burst into the world political scene exactly on Jan. 1, 1994, the very day NAFTA was to be put in practice in Mexico, precisely to protest the agreement.

A major point of struggle in Mexico against NAFTA had been an amendment to a key and progressive article in the Mexican Constitution, Article 27. This article was won in the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and forbade the sale of communal peasant lands called “ejidos.” The U.S. imperialist success adding the amendment ushered in a nightmare for Mexican peasants.

Today the struggle against NAFTA not only continues—it is escalating.

‘Without corn, here is no homeland’

A major slogan of this burgeoning people’s movement that met Jan. 2 to call the Jan. 31 action is, “Sin maíz, no hay país” (Without corn, there is no homeland). The peasant groups, all members of the National Dialogue, demanded that the Mexican Congress as well as the Mexican Permanent and Agrarian Commissions repeal NAFTA.

The statement representing hundreds of groups reads in part: “During the 14 years of NAFTA, unemployment, immigration, the destruction of our agricultural activities, the concentration of resources into a few hands, the deterioration of purchasing power and wages, and extreme poverty have increased in an alarming manner.”

A Mexican institute in August 2007 noted that: “Mexico has more than 6.4 million unemployed people, which represents 13 percent of the 49.35 million Mexicans of working age. During the six years of the presidency of Vicente Fox, 3.26 million people emigrated—that is, 500,000 on average per year.”

The statement continues: “According to statistics in October 2004, an estimated 1.5 percent of the total population of the country control about one-third of the total value of goods and services” and “The poorest families survive on 86 pesos a day, while the richest receive 1,296 pesos per day.”

The peasant organization also demands that NAFTA be replaced by a new model, one that “is based on respect and develops social ownership of the land and which provides a larger federal budget to aid the poor” and middle-income peasants.

It demands that “sovereignty and food self-sufficiency be the goals of the national transformation of the economy, because without corn and beans, there is no country.”

Another revolutionary demand is “to avoid the proliferation of GMO’s (genetically modified organisms), which are bad for our health.” Mexican farmers are documenting that homegrown seeds are beginning to disappear. Farmers are forced to use hybrid seeds which come from imperialist corporations such as Monsanto (U.S.) and Bayer (Germany). The plants grown from these seeds do not produce new seeds, furthering dependence on these corporations.

“The fields can take no more,” says one of the slogans in the protests.

Speaking at an anti-NAFTA rally, Lucha Castro, a prominent attorney and women’s activist, charged, “NAFTA and related government policies are responsible for expelling five million people from Mexico’s countryside. Merely 2 percent of Mexico’s agricultural production units benefit from the treaty, while 80 percent of Mexican farm exports are controlled by foreign capital.

“To compete with the U.S. all these years, the forests and soils have been devastated, and our aquifers have been overexploited,” Castro continued. “Mexican consumers haven’t benefited from better prices. In 1994, you could buy 20 kilos of tortillas and eight kilos of beans with a minimum wage salary. Nowadays, you can only buy six kilos of tortillas and three kilos of beans.”

Movement against NAFTA gathers force

These dire circumstances are arousing a militant fight back. A major newspaper in northern Mexico, Frontera Norte-Sur, writes that NAFTA is awakening “the ghost of Pancho Villa,” a leader of the Mexican Revolution, especially in northern Mexico.

On Jan. 18, on a frigid morning, workers and peasants from the Francisco Villa Campesino Resistance Movement (MRCFV) gathered in Cuidad Juárez to begin a tractorcade to Mexico City. The low temperatures had caused deaths from hypothermia and carbon monoxide poisoning, according to Frontera Norte-Sur.

The MRCFV was demanding that the Mexican government renegotiate NAFTA under the banner “No Corn! No Country National Campaign!”

The tractorcade followed the same route that Pancho Villa used on his march to Mexico City in 1914 and would meet up with other protesters on Jan. 31 in Mexico City.

One of the veteran leaders of the movement told the press that “the aging tractors on the motorcade are the cream of the crop in a countryside where oxen and mules still leave grooves in the land.” So very different from U.S. agribusiness.

Opposition to NAFTA continued to grow. Elected officials from both major parties backed the movement’s call. State legislatures approved resolutions in support of the demands. Several prominent bishops have signed on to the campaign. Peasant organizations that initially approved NAFTA now demand revisions.

Farmers from various states have brought charges that NAFTA violates the Mexican Constitution, which may force the Mexican Supreme Court to review NAFTA’s constitutionality.

The movement that marched Jan. 31 has announced that its next action will be to make their way into the Mexican Congress and block the chambers on Feb. 7.

Fourteen years of NAFTA-based hardship have forced Mexican people to cross the border. But their continuing struggle shows that repression breeds resistance, and that imperialist decrees like NAFTA can and must be repealed and defeated.