Mexico: NAFTA protests for Jan. 1

On Dec. 28 a number of Mexican campesino organizations announced plans for protests starting on Jan. 1, when tariffs will be eliminated on the importation of corn, beans, sugar and powdered milk from Canada and the US under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Labor and human rights organizations in both Mexico and the US plan to support the demonstrations, saying the free flow of government-subsidized US agricultural products will continue the deterioration of Mexican rural production.

The Democratic Campesino Front (FDC), a coalition of some 300 agrarian organizations, plans to begin a blockade of the Cordoba-Las Americas international bridge on the US border at Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, at 11:59 pm on Dec. 31; FDC spokespeople says the protest will continue until Jan. 2. The Border Agricultural Workers Union, based in El Paso, Texas, is joining the action, as are local Mexican organizations, including the Independent Popular Organization, the Loma de Poleo community group, the Human Rights Center of the North and the El Barzon de Chihuahua farmers’ organization. “[I]f there are metal walls for our compatriots,” the FDC and El Barzon announced, referring to border fences the US government is erecting to bar Mexican immigrants, “we’re forming a wall of people for their products.”

Miguel Colunga, of the Chihuahua FDC, said there would be similar actions “in the whole country, mainly on the border with the US, but also in the main ports where agricultural products arrive, in plazas and in highways.” The National Council of Flower Growers threatened to blockade all access to Mexico City, saying that 40,000 jobs were lost in the industry in 2007 because of lack of government support and competition from Canada and the US. The National Union of Agricultural Workers said it would blockade offices of the Agriculture and Finance Ministries, while other groups are planning a series of caravans to converge on the capital on Jan. 10. “[I]t’s very clear that with NAFTA there are winners and losers,” the FDC’s Colunga said, “but the ones who benefit are the big agribusiness companies like [the US-based] Cargill and [the Mexican-based] Maseca, while the losers are us, the 2.5 million campesinos who grow corn.” (La Jornada, Mexico, Dec. 29, 20; Prensa Latina, Dec. 29)

NAFTA went into effect on Jan. 1, 1994, but tariffs on basic agricultural products were to be reduced gradually rather than eliminated immediately. According to Chihuahua FDC founder Victor Quintana, corn farmers have lost almost 51% of their purchasing power since 1994, while farmers who raise beans have lost 45%. (LJ, Dec. 30) Their situation is expected to be worse after Jan. 1. A report by a working group in the Chamber of Deputies of the Mexican Congress projects that immigration to the US will increase by 10% as a result—from about 550,000 in 2007 to more than 600,000 in 2008. (LJ, Dec. 27) A study by deputies from the formerly ruling centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) put the number of Mexican immigrants to the US at 560,000 for 2007, and reported that 562 Mexicans had died while trying to cross the border. (LJ, Dec. 24)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 30

See our last posts on Mexico and the politics of NAFTA.