Thursday, February 13, 2014

NAFTA at 20: the struggle continues!

It all started 20 years ago, on January 1st of 1994, when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect. Despite the promises of wealth, progress, and job creation, multinational corporations emerged as the sole beneficiaries of NAFTA and left many others in desperate situations. The effects of NAFTA have been devastating for the citizens of Mexico, Canada, and the United States.

In Mexico, NAFTA opened the door to transnational corporations allowing them to operate freely and at a lower cost. To date, these corporations continue to profit from the benefits that NAFTA has allotted them. Companies reap immense profits by paying almost no taxes or tariffs and by being immune to quotas and other safeguards for national industries. They pay low wages to workers, who are losing their ability to organize unions, and adhere to few if any substantial environmental regulations. All of this and more while even the most conservative estimates indicate that over 50% of the Mexican population lives in poverty.

Since the implementation of NAFTA, the Mexican government has steadily implemented reforms in various sectors to continue bolstering the vastly lopsided power dynamic between international corporations and the majority of the population.

The current PRI government of Enrique Pena Nieto is determined to eliminate the few protections that remain in place for the average Mexican by implementing a series of structural reforms (energy, education, financial, agrarian, and tax reform) that continue to benefit powerful corporations.

In addition, Mexico is one of the 12 countries currently negotiating a new free trade agreement: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP could be the most dangerous FTA to date. The meetings related to the TPP have been secret to the general public, but open to transnational corporations, who are working hard to advocate for conditions that increase their profits and protect their interests.

But people across North America are organizing and demanding change. January 31st was the Day of Action Against Free Trade, TPP, and Corporate Globalization. More than 50 actions took place on this day across North America.

In Mexico, the Multisector Tri-National Forum “20 years of NAFTA is Enough: No More Free Trade! No TPP! ” took place during the last week of January. Citizens from Mexico, Canada, and the United States came together to share their experiences concerning the twenty-year-old free trade agreement. They organized forums, discussions, plenaries, and presentations about the impacts of NAFTA in their communities.

Leovigildo Vásquez Sánchez, a member of the Coordinating Committee of the United Towns of the Ocotlán Valley (CPUVO by its Spanish initials), speaks at the forum. Vásquez is from the town of San José del Progreso, which has experienced violence and repression as a result of the community's efforts to stop Canadian mining company Fortuna Silver Mines, Inc. (owned and operated by Cuzcatlan S.A. de C.V., its local subsidiary) from extracting gold and silver from a mine close to the town.

The event culminated when participants created a joint declaration against free trade agreements and then joined approximately 100,000 people in Mexico City in a march protesting the reforms of the Pena Nieto administration. These reforms will advance the neoliberal plan that started with the passage of NAFTA, and that our governments intend to expand even more with the passage of the TPP.

Below are some photographs from the march. Please explore the links to learn more and take action against damaging free trade agreements!

In preparation for the march, banners bearing images of Emiliano Zapata and messages like "Pemex is not for sale" and "Teachers and the public united will never be defeated" line the sidewalks.

Members of the National Coordinating Committee for the Plan de Ayala Movement march. Their International Campaign for Liberty and Justice includes demands for fair pay for workers, respect for the natural resources of small towns, and the release of political prisoners. They have joined with other small-scale farming organizations to demand that corn and beans be left out of NAFTA's agricultural chapter. 

Representatives of the Authentic Labor Front carry a sign that reads “20 years of an economic and social nightmare… 20 years of exploitation, theft, and plunder… enough is enough! No more NAFTA—no to the TPP! No to the Energy Reform, no to structural reforms!

The international delegation from the Multisector Tri-national Forum, made up of citizens from Mexico, the U.S., Canada, and  Quebec, marches through downtown Mexico City.  Representatives were present from labor unions, women's organizations, and small-scale farming, environmental and human rights groups.  

The march culminates with the gathering of thousands of protesters in Mexico City's Constitution Square.

More info about the impact of NAFTA in Mexico:
  • NAFTA at 20: Lori Wallach on US Job Losses,Record Income Inequality, Mass Displacement in Mexico by Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!
  • Numerous NAFTA Promises Not Met by the AP

More info about NAFTA’s impact in Canada, Mexico, and the United States 
  • The Workers' Scorecard on NAFTA by David Bacon, Truthout 

Take action against the TPP:
  • Take action on February 19th for the Obama/Harper/Peña Nieto Summit, in Toluca, Mexico. Organize an action in YOUR community. Contact for more information.

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