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NAFTA on the Ground


Outstanding piece of journalism by David Bacon, showing how NAFTA has brought North Carolina and Veracruz together, connected by Smithfield Farms trying to screw both places over. Essentially, as North Carolinian outrage over the environmental consequences of giant hog farms grew and as workers sought to unionize the brutal hog disassembly lines, Smithfield used NAFTA to undercut both efforts. Smithfield dumped cheap pork on the Mexican market, undermining Veracruz’s farmers ability to make a living. It then recruited Veracruz workers to enter the U.S. without documents and take low-paying jobs in its packing plants. When those workers started unionizing, Smithfield called INS on itself and had those workers deported. Meanwhile, since local opposition in North Carolina to ever larger hog operations made the company’s continued growth difficult, it began opening gigantic and unregulated hog farms in Veracruz. When local people became sick, the hog plants of North Carolina was one of their only options if they wanted to leave the area.

This is how “free trade” works on the ground. The global 1% may benefit, but most everyone else finds their life more impoverished and more poisonous. From Bacon’s piece:

Smithfield didn’t invent the system of displacement and migration. It took advantage of US trade and immigration policies, and of economic reforms in Mexico. In both countries, however, the company was forced to bend at least slightly in the face of popular resistance. Farmers in Perote Valley have been able to stop swine shed expansion, at least for a while. Migrant Veracruzanos helped organize a union in Tar Heel. Yet these were defensive battles against a system that needs the land and labor of workers but does its best to keep them powerless.

“From the beginning NAFTA was an instrument of displacement,” says Juan Manuel Sandoval, co-founder of the Mexican Action Network Against Free Trade. “The penetration of capital led to the destruction of the traditional economy, especially in agriculture. People had no alternative but to migrate.” Sandoval notes that many US industries are dependent on this army of available labor. “Meatpacking especially depends on a constant flow of workers,” he says. “Mexico has become its labor reserve.”

Raul Delgado Wise, a professor at the University of Zacatecas, charges that “rather than a free-trade agreement, NAFTA can be described as…a mechanism for the provision of cheap labor. Since NAFTA came into force, the migrant factory has exported [millions of] Mexicans to the United States.”

About 11 percent of Mexico’s population lives in the United States, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Their remittances, which were less than $4 billion in 1994 when NAFTA took effect, rose to $10 billion in 2002, and then 
$20 billion three years later, according to the Bank of Mexico. Even in the recession, Mexicans sent home $21.13 billion in 2010. Remittances total 3 percent of Mexico’s gross domestic product, according to Frank Holmes, investment analyst and CEO of US Global Investors. They are now Mexico’s second-largest source of national income, behind oil.

However, Mexico’s debt payments, mostly to US banks, consume the same percentage of the GDP as remittances. Those remittances, therefore, support families and provide services that were formerly the obligation of the Mexican government. This alone gives the government a vested interest in the continuing labor flow.

For Fausto Limon, the situation is stark: his family’s right to stay in Mexico, on his ranch in the Perote Valley, depends on ending the problems caused by the operation of Granjas Carroll. But he has no money for planting, and he shares the poverty created by meat and corn dumping with farmers throughout Mexico. The trade system that allows this situation to continue will inevitably produce more migrants—if not Limon, then probably his children. The fabric of sustainable rural life at his Rancho del Riego is being pulled apart.

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