One of the more interesting aspects of the
current Presidential primary season is the renewed discussion
of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Implemented
January 1, 1994, and by no coincidence sparking the Zapatista
uprising in Chiapas, Mexico,
NAFTA was a major step in the economic integration of the
under the domination of the USA.
Sold to the US public as a means
of addressing globalization and improving our chances of competing
in the global market place, NAFTA was fervently opposed by
various social movements and constituencies, particularly
organized labor and environmental groups. Both groups, and
others, were deeply suspicious of the motives and actuality
of NAFTA. Their concerns, as it turns out, were largely justified.
Though NAFTA did result in the introduction
of some new jobs, what is critical is the net effect of NAFTA.
If one factors in losses and gains, the net impact has been
the loss of approximately 900,000 jobs in the USA.
Unfortunately, much of the NAFTA debate stops
here or within a few feet. NAFTA most certainly has drained
jobs as well as placed restrictions on the ability of jurisdictions
to direct their local economies. It has encouraged the growth
of sweatshop and near-sweatshop labor along the USA/Mexico
border. This is the side of NAFTA with which many of us are
familiar. Many of us remember Ross Perot’s famous comment
concerning NAFTA representing the giant sucking sound of jobs
being drained away from the USA and going to Mexico.
This is not the entire story. And, while it
is good that Senators Clinton and Obama have reopened the
discussion concerning NAFTA, neither of them have drawn much
attention to the impact that NAFTA has had on Mexico, and
thereby on us in the USA.
is critical for us to grasp on this side of the Rio
Grande River is that NAFTA has had
a devastating impact on the Mexican economy. Through forcing
the Mexican farmer to compete with USA
farmers, rural Mexico’s
economy has been turned upside down. The reality is that the
Mexican farmer has been unable to compete, and as a result
there began - in the mid 1990s - a migration of rural Mexicans
into the larger Mexican cities. Finding few job opportunities,
the migration moved north toward the USA. This was accompanied by the impact of NAFTA
on the Mexican public sector, which also suffered severe body
blows, thereby undermining what little social safety net the
people of Mexico had.
This side of the NAFTA equation is critical
to discuss because it helps us understand why hundreds of
thousands of Mexicans chose to leave their homes and head
north. Contrary to the xenophobic, anti-immigrant rhetoric
many of us have heard, it was not because ‘…everyone wants
to be in America…’
but rather as a direct result of policies initiated by the
USA and their allies in Ottawa
and Mexico City.
I thought a great deal about this recently
when I was moderating a debate on immigration within a labor
union. The vehemence of some of the anti-immigrant speakers,
including - and very unfortunately - an African American woman,
was not only deeply unsettling, but equally lacking in any
historical context. While the focus of the anti-immigrant
speakers was allegedly undocumented immigrants in general,
there was nothing in their language that indicated that they
were thinking about Irish, Poles, Russians, or anyone other
than Latinos, and most particularly, Mexicans. When confronted
with this question of NAFTA they had nothing to say.
Interestingly, they could also not explain why they had nothing
to say about any other ethnic undocumented worker besides
It is commonplace in the USA to think in terms of what affects us, and particularly
the notion that whatever harms us in the USA must be among the most catastrophic things
to affect the planet. Rarely do we stop and think about the
actual consequences of the actions of the USA on the rest of the world. Rarer still has
been our consideration of how the actions the USA initiates, whether treaties like NAFTA or
military actions such as the 1980s Central American wars,
end up boomeranging.
A real change in the White House would be for
the leaders to see beyond the Rio Grande and thereby actually see what is happening here.
Fletcher, Jr. is Executive Editor of The Black Commentator.
He is also a Senior Scholar with the Institute
for Policy Studies and the immediate past president of
TransAfrica Forum. Click
here to contact Mr. Fletcher.