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Chinese boots on the ground? Fords, free trade and national security

19 March 2012

In 1753 Skiagunsta, a Cherokee chief, observed, “The Cloaths we wear, we cannot make ourselves, they are made [for] us. We use their Amunition with which we kill deer. We cannot make our Guns. Every necessary thing in Life we must have from the White People.

Alan Taylor, American Colonies (2001)

Skiagunsta was hardly the first person in the Americas to discover that “Free Trade” agreements, especially one sided technology transfers and manufactured goods, usually aren’t quite as free… or as much a trade … as they might initially appear to be.

I don’t think I’m the only person who has noticed that the increasing militarization in this country has not only meant we’ve become used to the sight of soldiers and militarized police on the streets.   The military budget has doubled during this administration, reversing a trend in which the military budget has dropped (as a percentage of the national budget) every year between  1943 and 2007.

Way back in February 2007, I wrote about pay raises for the troops (something I thought was necessary, and long overdue), and one can make a case for upgrading aging naval vessels and aircraft — the Fox Administration’s purchase of Russian-made Sukhoi SU-27s in 2006 (cheaper and easier to maintain than the Swedish fighter planes the Navy also considered) were a major expense in the first budget increases.

These, and perhaps the “necessity” of using the military to push Calderón’s “mano duro” against “instability” might have made an increase in military expenditures inevitable and even justifiable.  The military has been relatively popular, and — as long as the people continue to support the use of soldiers and sailors in the “war on crime” — there will be political support for increased military spending.

But something I’ve noticed.  While “Plan Merida” funding, as we all know, supposedly supports the Mexican military by providing U.S. purchased goods and services.  While things like computer systems and logistics (and spying) serviced and maintained by the United States government (or it’s “contractors”… i.e. mercenaries) is indeed troubling, there is a less noticeable, but noteworthy, effect.

I am sure I am not the only one who has noticed that the soldiers, marines  and militarized police are driving Ford F-150 trucks… which, just coincidentally (or not) were losing popularity with Mexican consumers until the U.S. taxpayers provided them… meaning Mexico is now dependent on the Ford Motor Company for keeping its police and military units mobile.

Where before, military hardware, if not locally produced, was bought from a basket of countries (Polish and Czech tanks, Russian and French aircraft, for example) — in part because of a policy going back to Porfirio Diáz to avoid Mexico’s dependence on any one supplier for essential foreign goods), the Mexican military is becoming dependent on the only country that might plausibly launch a military incursion (although the thinking ten years ago when I read about this kind of thing was that a civil war in Guatemala could — as it did in the 1970s — force small military units to take refuge in Mexico, which be more something the military’s disaster assistance and preparedness programs would deal with than anything else).

I think one is better to be paranoid — if one wants to be paranoid about anything in particular — about the spies and “embedded agents” and possible approval of overflights by U.S. drones into Mexico than about where the trucks and guns are coming from.

I picked up Taylor’s somewhat forgotten history of the colonization in what later became the United States about two weeks ago.  The English, Spanish, French, Dutch and Russian (and the tiny Swedish) colonies all were forced into “free trade agreements” with the indigenous peoples, for the most part involving the fur and animal hide trade. They also forced agreements on the people outside their own areas of control through control of the military capacity of chosen nations… the English, the French and the Spanish vying at various times to win what today would be military contracts with the Cherokee. The English won, but the results would have been the same, regardless.

The Cherokee… supplying not only deer-skins from their own hunting territory, but controlling access to deer-skins from further west… certainly welcomed the better consumer goods and military hardware they acquired and it did radically change (perhaps for the better) their own culture.

While it’s too easy to make the analogy suggested by the largely illegal deer-skin trade in colonial Carolina with that in certain Mexican agricultural products, far-sighted colonials, as well as Cherokees like Skiagunsta, caught on that creating dependency would eventually undermine the culture and render it incapable of defending itself from complete dominance by the supplier.

What does this have to do with Chinese shoes, you ask?  I haven’t gone to the extreme of checking Mexican soldier’s boots, and I haven’t gone through the military budget line by line, so I’ll assume that the boots and uniforms are still Mexican-made, simply because the U.S. doesn’t have much of a clothing industry any more.  Since the 1700s,  Mexico has had a robust shoe-trade, and has been a major exporter at least since the Second World War.  A small item in the  Latin-American Tribune (Caracas) on a huge blow to that industry:

Mexico’s imports of Chinese-made shoes climbed 151 percent in January, a month after compensatory quotas on those consumer goods expired, Guanajuato Shoewear Association president Armando Martin Dueñas said.

… Mexico signed an agreement with China in 2008 that gave its industrial sectors until December 2011 to prepare for the elimination of the compensatory quotas, which Mexico had imposed since 1993 on 204 designations of sensitive goods imported from China and had initially been scheduled to expire in 2007.

… the [shoe] industry could shed some 35,000 formal jobs within seven or eight months and 200 companies may driven out of business, Martin Dueñas said during a presentation Wednesday at the Leather and Shoe Fair.

Mexico imported roughly 490,000 pairs of Chinese-made shoes in January 2011, while in the first month of this year that figure rose to nearly 1.5 million pairs, Martin Dueñas said…

Who exports Chinese shoes to Mexico? Not Mexicans. Look a bit north for that.

Mexico is, we are assured by Bill Booth in the Washington Post, a middle-class country (Bill missing that this has been true since the 1960s), but he is only looking at consumer spending. What seemed to be missing from his article was any sense of defining “middle-class values”, one of which the “necessary things” are a sense of security, economic and otherwise. Like the Cherokee Nation, Mexico is changing through free trade — and the exchange of resources for consumer goods and military equipment. To the country’s benefit or to its long-range destruction?

One Comment leave one →
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