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Food fight

13 June 2009

Karla Fajardo Castellanos,  translated from Rumbo de Mexico in The [Mexico City] News this weekend:

Senators [sic] from the United States, Canada and Mexico all expressed concern Thursday over the non-compliance of many of the promised advantages that have not come to reality from the NAFTA treaty, even 15 years after the signing of the pact.

In a letter to Felipe Calderón, U.S. President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and functionaries from the three countries, the Mexican National Association of Rural Producers and Vendors, asked for a serious renegotiation of the NAFTA accord.

“Disgracefully, NAFTA has worsened the poverty of the entire continent.

“It is clear that NAFTA is not functioning for a great majority of North American inhabitants…”

The signatories to the letter included two senators — Antonio Mejía Haro and Yeickol Polevnsky — both from the PRD, but the Canadian ( Peter Julian of the New Democratic Party) and U.S. signatory  (Ohio Democrat Marcy Kaptur) are not.

The letter was probably the only tangible evidence of a recent North American Inter-parliamentary meeting, which is only covered (if at all) when someone talks about drugs.  Ms. Kaptur — to her credit — has been pushing this issue for a while, as have the others.  But it hasn’t amounted to a hill of beans.

From Kaptur’s “Online Office” website this undated entry is probably from early 2008:

In a letter to President Felipe Calderon, Congresswoman Kaptur and [Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona), Hilda Solis (D-California) and Linda Sanchez (D-California)] urged the Mexican government “to protect Mexican communities and the livelihoods of thousands of white corn and bean farmers.” The U.S. representatives threw their weight behind a proposal by former Mexican Senator Victor Suarez and family farm organizations in Mexico to regulate the trade of white corn and beans in order to protect internal production and rural employment and stem the migration of displaced farmers.

“We are concerned…for the economic and social wellbeing of the Mexican people,” the four Members wrote in the letter to President Calderon. “(T)he zeroing out of tariffs on white corn and beans is sure to cause further destruction to the most vulnerable sectors of the Mexican economy … We expect more of what we have seen in the earlier phases of NAFTA: more destitution and desperation of campesinos facing very few options, leading to a stronger drug trade and more migration.”

(my emphasis)

It’s easier to focus media attention on the narcotics trade, though it’s seldom covered as a resource and agricultural issue and only as crime and violence.  The Amazaonian protests in Peru were going on for quite a long time before the outbreak of violence.  There have been small outbreaks here in Mexico, mostly resolved with less bloodshed, but it could happen. There has even been rural uprisings and violence (usually fomented by extremist right wing groups) in the United States during times of agrarian economic collapse.

I doubt a strongly worded letter, or even a series of strongly worded letters — is going to resolve the situation.  But if they’re ignored, instead simply focusing on stamping out the one sucessful agriarian  export of note there will be more rural unrest and violence than it solves.  Once that happens, how easy will it be to dismiss the results as the work of “savages“?

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