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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

NAFTA: A death warrant

"Free trade" kills. Roger Bybee and Carolyn Winter write in Common Dreams about the disastrous effects that NAFTA has had on Mexico, leading directly to the flood of immigrants streaming into this country. Excerpt:
Falling industrial wages, peasants forced off the land, small businesses liquidated, growing poverty: these are direct consequences of NAFTA. This harsh suffering explains why so many desperate Mexicans -- lured to the border area in the false hope that they could find dignity in the US-owned maquiladoras -- are willing to risk their lives to cross the border to provide for their families. There were 2.5 million Mexican illegals in 1995; 8 million have crossed the border since then. In 2005, some 400 desperate Mexicans died trying to enter the US.

NAFTA failed to curb illegal immigration precisely because it was never designed as a genuine development program crafted to promote rising living standards, health care, environmental cleanup, and worker rights in Mexico. The wholesale surge of Mexicans across the border dramatically illustrates that NAFTA was no attempt at a broad uplift of living conditions and democracy in Mexico, but a formula for government-sanctioned corporate plunder benefiting elites on both sides of the border.

NAFTA essentially annexed Mexico as a low-wage industrial suburb of the US and opened Mexican markets to heavily-subsidized US agribusiness products, blowing away local producers. Capital could flow freely across the border to low-wage factories and Wal-mart-type retailers, but the same standard of free access would be denied to Mexican workers.

Meanwhile, with the planned Central American Free Trade Agreement with five Central American nations coming up, we can anticipate even greater pressure on our borders as agricultural workers are pushed off the land without positive, alternative employment opportunities. People from Guatemala and Honduras will soon learn that they can't compete for industrial jobs with the most oppressed people in say, China, by agreeing to lowering their wages even more.