From the Arizona Daily Star, Aug. 31, online at Chiapas95:
The North American Free Trade Agreement may have boosted big business, but it has had a disastrous effect on Mexicans, a Chiapas economist said.
“There have been losers, and the big losers are the Mexican people,” said Miguel Pickard, one of the founders of the Center for Economic and Political Research for Community Action. Known by its Spanish acronym of CIEPAC, the nonprofit organization is based in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas.
Today, Pickard will speak in Tucson about how free trade policies have affected the Mexican population, particularly indigenous communities. His talk is sponsored by the immigrant-advocacy groups No More Deaths, Samaritans and the Coalicion de Derechos Humanos.
The free-trade agreement, which ended tariffs on most goods traded within the United States, Mexico and Canada, “is not the success story we’ve been told,” Pickard said in an interview.
“Mexico’s getting poorer. The purchasing power of a Mexican wage is falling. The concentration of wealth among the very rich is increasing, and there are no jobs being created,” the economist added.
Not coincidentally, he said, a growing number of rural Mexicans have been forced to migrate to the cities or to the United States since NAFTA took effect in 1994.
Pickard said Mexican farmers who grow corn, beans and wheat for food and some extra cash are among those hit hardest by NAFTA because they can’t compete with large U.S. grain producers who are government-subsidized.
NAFTA also has forced farming families to develop a survival strategy, which includes sending one or two family members to the city or to the United States, he said.
Pickard said that in Chiapas alone, the lack of jobs pushed about 300,000 people out of the state between 1994 and 2003. Some went to work in large Mexican cities, others headed across the northern border.
The exact number of people who ended up living illegally in the United States is hard to pinpoint, he noted, but the money they send home to Mexico each year speaks volumes.
Last year, Mexican expatriates sent $16.7 billion to their country – $500 million to Chiapas.