NAFTA increases poverty in Mexico while the rich profit

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“We don’t need illegals,” screamed a man outside a town hall meeting in New Hampshire, as reported in The Washington Independent. “Send ‘em all back. Send ‘em back with a bullet in the head the second time.” The man continues with, “Read what Jefferson said about the Tree of Liberty: It’s coming, baby.”

Thomas Jefferson proclaimed, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

But why are so many Mexican and Latin American immigrants risking their lives and freedoms to travel to the United States?

The answer for most would be because they are poor and see opportunity in the United States. But this answer neglects the question because poverty is an adjective to an individual’s status quo, not a cause itself.

In the early 1990s, Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994) declared he would help make Mexico a “first world” country. He had hoped to do this by signing the North American Free Trade Agreement. NAFTA is an agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico to reduce tariff and nontariff barriers to trade and investment. The agreement took effect in January 1994.

In order to ratify NAFTA, Mexico had to remove Article 27 of its constitution. Article 27 promised the right of land to poor farmers by establishing ejidos [eh-HEE-dohs]. In ejidos, the community owns the land, and it can never be taken from the community. There were 45 million acres of ejidos. Article 27 also prohibited foreign ownership of land. Mexican politician Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas warned that removing Article 27 allowed businesses to take the land from the farmers, displacing approximately eight to 10 million people, most of which will migrate to the United States.

In addition, NAFTA has only created profits for the rich, increasing production of merchandise while wages in Mexico have declined by 20 percent and minimum wage has fallen by 50 percent, according to the Instituto Nacional de Estadística Geografía e Informática and the Mexican Agricultural Ministry.

One of the most controversial sections of NAFTA is Chapter 11. According to the Institute for Policy Studies, “Foreign investors can sue NAFTA governments directly to demand compensation over any governmental act, including public interest laws that diminish the value of an investment.”

The documentary film “Trading Democracy” tells the story of a toxic waste dump in the state of San Luis Potosí. The dump contributed to a cancer epidemic in the region so it was closed by the local and state government. The U.S. corporation Metaclad wanted to use the land, so it sued the government under Chapter 11, citing that the corporation was being denied future profits. The Mexican government was forced to pay Metaclad more than $16.7 million.

The United States was also involved in a $970 million suit where the Canadian corporation Methanex cited that the state of California eliminated future profits by phasing out the cancer-causing gas additive MTBE because it was found in drinking water. A NAFTA panel ruled against Methanex protecting the citizens of California, unlike those of San Luis Potosí.

The effects of NAFTA have led to problems with immigration and poverty while making the rich richer. One goal of NAFTA was to stabilize and spread democracy. This is an unreachable goal if we continue to cater to large businesses, who only look after their interest in profits and neglect to care for those in need. We must place greater emphasis on socially conscious policies, and stand firm that the value of a human life and the “pursuit of happiness” are more important than the interest of business. Only then do I believe we can begin to solve the problems with our borders.

Bobby Gomez is a senior in elementary education. Please send comments to opinion@spub.ksu.edu.

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