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After 20 Years, NAFTA Leaves Mexico’s Economy in Ruins

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Posted on Jan 9, 2014
AP/Ivan Pierre Aguirre

Post-NAFTA Mexico, 20 years later: American companies such as Applebee’s, Burger King and Smartmart line the street in Ciudad Juarez in December.

By Sonali Kolhatkar

(Page 2)

One of the promises of NAFTA was that it would reduce the wage gap between American and Mexican workers. In fact, Mexicans earn less than they did in 1994 when NAFTA was first enacted. Perez-Rocha concurred, saying, “This was one of the unfulfilled promises [of NAFTA]. The wage gap between the United States workers and Mexicans remained basically the same. And it is very notorious today that proponents of NAFTA are even saying that Mexico is a very attractive country for foreign investment and they cite precisely the low cost of labor.” Nearly half of the Mexican population currently lives below the poverty line.

NAFTA went into effect on the same day that the Zapatista National Liberation Army in Chiapas, Mexico, made itself public. The Zapatistas, with incredible foresight, called NAFTA a “death sentence.” According to Perez-Rocha, the Zapatistas “knew what is evident today—that the countryside of Mexico was going to be devastated. ... What we’ve seen in 20 years—and I’m very certain that the Zapatistas foresaw this—was the devastation of the Mexican countryside and of the livelihoods of farmers to give way to a narco-economy that has inundated Mexico. This has become very evident in the past few years.”

A protest on Jan. 1, 2014, on the border between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, Texas, marked the 20th anniversary of the start of the Zapatista Uprising and of the launch of NAFTA. Perez-Rocha, who closely followed the action, cited photos in social media of activists carrying signs that read, “NAFTA has meant less farmers and more Narcos in the countryside.”

Not only has NAFTA negatively affected Mexico’s economy, jobs and wages, it has also devastated the air, water and land. Perez-Rocha has been researching the environmental impact of NAFTA and found that “there has been an increase in export-oriented agriculture that relies on fossil fuels, chemicals, genetically modified organisms, and the excessive use of water. There has also been an expansion of environmentally destructive mining activities in Mexico. There’s been more mining in the last 10 years than in the whole colonial period. There have been higher levels of air and water pollution as associated with the growth of the maquiladora factories. And there has been a progressive weakening of domestic environmental safeguards and expanded powers to corporations to challenge environmental policies.”

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Today, the Obama administration, which did not even acknowledge the 20th anniversary of NAFTA, is eyeing a new, grander trade deal in the image of NAFTA called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP is a secret deal being negotiated by the Obama administration directly with various nations. Activists have called it “NAFTA on Steroids.” Obama is seeking “fast-track authority” on the deal, whereby elected representatives would be allowed to vote on only the entire agreement without being party to negotiations over the details. WikiLeaks recently published a leaked draft chapter of the agreement that has confirmed some of the worst suspicions of activists opposing it. One expert called it “A Christmas wish list for major corporations.”

If the implementation of NAFTA is any indication of how poor countries like Mexico have suffered under free-trade deals, Congress ought to fight the adoption of the TPP tooth and nail. The trouble is, as Perez-Rocha acknowledges, “Unfortunately I think that most Mexicans—and I would say the same here in the United States and Canada—don’t have a very clear understanding of how NAFTA itself has affected their lives and the economy of our countries.”


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