Written by Chris Floyd
28 October 2010
“A constitutional amendment passed as a precondition for NAFTA did away with the legislation that since the 1930s had forbidden the private sale of communally held farmland [in Mexico]. Now cheap and highly subsidized American corn flooded the Mexican market.
Local farmers were unable to compete: 1.1 million small farmers and 1.4 million others dependent on the agricultural sector lost their livelihoods.
Farm workers left ancestral holdings, forced into the uncertainties of migration, both within Mexico and abroad. Villages were left almost abandoned.
The anticipated shift to export-oriented manufacturing was virtually a failure.
Few of the promised jobs in the foreign-owned assembly plants known as maquiladoras materialized. The ones that did soon vanished as companies pursued still cheaper labor in China.
As a result of the “reforms”, almost a third of the Mexican people have been forced into penurious, petty hustling and scrabbling to eke out an existence:
- Nearly 30 per cent of the population now works in the informal economy – washing car windows on street corners, selling tacos, sodas, DVDs.
- Cuts to education have helped create a new class of young people: the 7.5 million so-called ‘ninis’ who aren’t in school and don’t have jobs (‘ni estudian ni trabajan’).
- The minimum wage has lost two thirds of its buying power and nearly half the population lives in poverty.
In 2008, the US and Mexico launched the Merida Initiative: Mexico accepted $1.3 billion in counter-narcotics funding from the US and an unprecedented level of military co- operation was established.
Between December 2006 – when Calderón took office and sent out the first troops – and July 2010, more than 28,000 Mexicans have been murdered.
Mexican President Felipe Calderón has insisted that 90 per cent of the victims were cartel members, although only 5 per cent of the murders have been investigated, much less solved.
In the first four years of his term, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission received 4035 complaints alleging abuses by the armed forces – more than it had received in the previous 15 years – including allegations of murder, torture and rape.
Because the military is charged with investigating itself, such abuses invariably go unpunished. And ‘because writing or saying what the military is up to could result in serious injury or death,’ few of the more serious abuses are ever reported. At least 31 reporters have been killed or disappeared since 2006.
Obama has proposed extending the Merida Initiative, and has requested an additional $310 million for 2011.
Whatever shape it takes, the war on drugs continues to be even more profitable than the drug trade itself. All the killing keeps prices per gram high, so the cartels do fine, as do the legions of sicarios (hit men) and the funeral directors they help to feed.
The bankers who launder the money also win, as do the businessmen into whose enterprises the newly laundered funds are funneled.
The American weapons manufacturers stand to do nicely, as do the U.S. security consultants and military contractors who will deposit almost all of the Merida funds into their own accounts, and who can expect to make billions more from the militarization of the border on the American side: someone has to make the helicopters, the cameras, the night- vision goggles, the motion sensors, the unmanned drones, as well as build the private prisons that hold the migrants.
Finally politicians too stand to gain, not only Calderón and members of his major opposing political party who are likely to profit from his failure in 2012, but the Americans who have sponsored him: the agile ones who can leverage campaign contributions from the contractors, the populists who win votes by shouting about the barbarian hordes advancing through the Arizona desert, the moderates who get re-elected term after term by expounding in even tones about the need for something called ‘comprehensive border security’. The killing is therefore unlikely to stop.
Based on: Ben Ehrenreich’s Manufacturing Mayhem in Mexico: From Nixon to NAFTA and Beyond, The London Review of Books
Partial list of Fortune 500 companies operating in Ciudad Juárez
- American Express
- Cardinal Health
- Eastman Kodak
- Eli Lilly
- General Electric
- Hewlett Packard
- International Paper
- Johnson Controls
- Johnson & Johnson
- Lear Corporation