how the world sees america

Don't Know Much About NAFTA

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PACHUCA - Few of the tiny cornfields surrounding Pachuca, the capital of the Mexican state of Hidalgo, are larger than five square acres. Most lack irrigation systems and are worked by hand -- often by the farmer’s many children -- resulting in a harvest of mini-sized maize that pulls in under US$1000 per year. The farming families here find themselves no better off, harvest after harvest. The years go by and the competition stiffens.

So the farmers make bricks, work construction jobs, and collect money from migrant relatives who move to the U.S. to keep afloat. They say they don't know much about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but remain certain it hasn't done them any good. Yet they blame the Mexican government, not America, for their suffering.

A dozen farmers who’ve spent their lives working their small plots of soil, given to their forbearers after the revolutionary Mexican government redistributed the land in the late 1930s, now spend their Sundays chatting in front of their local farming cooperative in the city center. This decaying concrete building was built over a decade ago to help small farmers claim the assistance their government had promised and then largely failed to deliver.

The men, all wearing jeans and sombreros, assume that NAFTA primarily benefits the United States and its big commercial farms, advanced technology, well-educated workforce, and heavy state subsidies. Oxfam claims these subsidies, which help lower corn prices below production costs, are decimating Mexican corn farmers. But these men do not insist the U.S. stop supporting its farmers. They just want the same assistance from their own government.

It would be easy for locals, especially politicians, to blame the corn farmers' continued woes here on the United States and NAFTA, but so far that hasn't happened in Hidalgo, (though it has elsewhere in Mexico). Farmers here say the primary causes of their suffering are big Mexican companies and corrupt local politicians. The Mexican elite, they say, is conspiring against ordinary people for personal gain.

They accuse large, well-known tortilla and bread firms of buying corn cheap in Mexico and hoarding it to inflate the price, though they offer no proof of this. They also accuse national union leaders and local politicians of diverting funds meant to help farmers for personal pleasures, and taking kickbacks from international firms in exchange for bargain business deals in Mexico.

Where does the farmers' suspicion toward business and political elites come from? They say it's fueled by years of inept local government, caused by decades of single party rule. They can't prove vast conspiracies. But they each have a story of a corrupt official -- like having to bribe a local authority to get into the bracero program to work in the U.S. The men here don’t read newspapers and rarely watch TV news. They don’t know about America’s presidential elections, and aren’t sure if George Bush or Bill Clinton is currently president. They certainly aren’t aware of the fierce NAFTA debate raging now among the democratic presidential candidates up north.

When I mention U.S. opposition to NAFTA, they tip their hats up to see me clearly and insist, "But there is so much money up there! It's nothing like here." They say this from experience, having worked agriculture up north too.

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Comments (11)

sursum:

Canada is a part of NAFTA seldom discussed. When speaking against NAFTA in Ohio, Clinton and Obama neglected to note it enjoys a trade SURPLUS with Canada, exporting $6.2 billion of machined/manufactured goods annually while taking in $4.2 billion, almost all as energy. 38 States have Canada as their biggest customer, 36 of which have increased exports since the original Free Trade Agreement reached under Reagan and Mulroney circa 1988. Designed to resolve trade disputes which were hampering true growth in trade, it worked very well. With only 10% of your population, Canada was and is still the biggest receiver of US goods and services. Net out the rise in energy costs since 1988 and you have about a balanced volume going both ways. If NAFTA is opened up we would re-negotiate the energy portion for sure, in that you have rights to our energy and should there be a shortage we cannot hoard, but must share the resource. You do not have that arrangement with Mexico. The energy thing made sense then, because what south goes produces things we need every day, so to reduce your power was simply cutting our own throats. Globalization, outsouricng, etc., (a US invention) has changed all that. NAFTA was an agreement signed on Clintons watch and has proven to be a disater to all but the multinational ubercapitalists. America's problems do not lie north where the labour standards, wages and are higher as are envionmental issues, but to your south and in the far East. Walmart and Target just don't import that much from Manitoba. I fail to see how this economy one thenth your size is such a bogeyman. The US originally demanded we give up our national health care insurance programme as an unfair subsidy to labour, a demand you are still making. It ain't gonna happen. If America wants to get tough and go the mat we'll simply quit the game and explore a trans-Atlantic Free Trade arrangement the Euros have been proposing.

Amar C. Bakshi:

Hi all in the Chicago area, tomorrow at 1:45PM Chicago time I'll be on the John Williams show talking about NAFTA and the elections, and the political atmosphere in Venezuela. Tune in if interested! Amar

Amar C. Bakshi:

An article by Fareed Zakaria about democrat's NAFTA-talk and America's global image:

http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/postglobal/fareed_zakaria/2008/03/the_democrats_dangerous_rhetor.html

Amar C. Bakshi:

A Post editorial on the democratic presidential candidates stances on the topic:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/29/AR2008022903091.html

NEVER illuminating, the Democratic presidential primary debate over trade policy took an especially dim turn this week. In their final head-to-head meeting before Tuesday's Ohio and Texas primaries, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) declared that they would opt out of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico unless those two countries renegotiated the pact's labor and environmental provisions to the United States' liking. For two candidates who pledge to repair U.S. standing in the world, it was an odd swipe at our next-door neighbors. Not surprisingly, Mexican and Canadian officials recoiled at the prospect of overturning settled political and economic expectations in their countries.

Nova:

Prior to this NAFTA discussion I assumed Obama was smart and honest. He can not possibly be both! Telling Ohio steel workers that there their old obsolete mills were shut because of NAFTA is exactly the type of explotation of fear and ignorance that he decries in Bush.

Amar C. Bakshi:

A bit on NAFTA from the debate from NYT's The Caucus:

Moderator Tim Russert and Mrs. Clinton get into a dispute over her view of Nafta. He says that in 2004, she said that on balance, Nafta has been good for New York and good for America. Mrs. Clinton says she'll renegotiate Nafta. And she'll tell Mexico and Canada that we'll be out unless we renegotiate it. She also says that lots of parts of New York and Texas have benefited from the trade agreement but places like Youngstown, Ohio have not. Mr. Russert asks if she would opt out within six months of becoming president.


"We'll opt out unless we renegotiate," she says, and she is certain that given that option, Mexico and Canada would renegotiate.

As for Mr. Obama, he says he too would make sure we renegotiate the treaty and that Mrs. Clinton is right. (She's also right that it seems as if she often has to answer debate questions before he does, but that may not be a winning argument with voters.)

Maddox:

Hillary Clinton is playing a tricky game in questioning the advantages of free trade in her attempt to win over blue-collar workers before the votes next week that will determine whether there is still life in her bid for the presidential nomination.

In attacking the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), one of her husband's proudest achievements, she does not have economics on her side; most studies show that the United States has done well out of the pact (even if the effects are small).

Even the politics is a gamble: she hopes that in the crucial votes on Tuesday, Ohio will listen to her, and southern Texas, fervently in favour of the trade pact, will not. Barack Obama has handled that footwork better, while still sounding cool on the benefits of free trade.

European officials, listening to this outpouring of scepticism about trade, are dearly hoping that both are doing no more than Democratic candidates have always done, in playing to the union vote, and would not be so protectionist in practice. But although the US has generally kept trade disputes separate from diplomacy, the threat of recession will...
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/bronwen_maddox/article3434397.ece

Kansas City Debate:

“Ten years after NAFTA passed, Senator Clinton said it was good for America,” Obama said. “Well, I don’t think NAFTA has been good for America — and I never have.”

“The fact is, she was saying great things about NAFTA until she started running for president,” Obama told an audience at a factory that makes wallboard in a working-class community west of Cleveland.

Later, at a rally in Toledo, he rebutted Clinton’s statement that her husband had merely inherited NAFTA when he won the White House from George H.W. Bush.

President Bill Clinton “championed NAFTA,” passed it through Congress and signed it into law, Obama said.

http://www.kansascity.com/136/story/503732.html

Amar C. Bakshi:

One more thing. I just arrived in Tijuana, and have three more days until HTWSA finishes! Any suggestions on where to go, who to see, what to look into here?

Amar C. Bakshi:

On a completely separate note, my friend Ronan Farrow wrote a very interesting piece about intra-state violence in Ethiopia, and how U.S. support for the government there is fueling anti-Americanism. Here's a bit:

...However, it is the U.S. government, not Ethiopia's, that elicits the most anger from Hamad and the other Ogadenis seeking shelter in Dadaab. The bullet that shattered Hamad's hip, and the gun that fired it, were likely supplied by the United States. The soldier who pulled the trigger was almost certainly compensated with U.S. military aid.

The U.S. has historically provided Ethiopian forces with arms, funding and training. In recent years, the bond has deepened, with Ethiopia's military serving as a proxy for American interests in a region increasingly viewed as a crucial front in the war on terrorism. Since 9/11, military aid to Ethiopia has soared, growing at least 2 1/2 times by 2006. A close intelligence-sharing relationship between the governments has burgeoned.

In the face of mounting evidence of atrocities, some U.S. officials are questioning the no-strings-attached backing of Ethiopia's army. "This is a country that is abusing its own people," said Rep. Donald M. Payne (D-N.J.), chairman of the House subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, accusing the Bush administration of "look[ing] the other way" as Ethiopia's abuses worsen. Last fall, the House passed the Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act, sponsored by Payne, to limit military aid to Ethiopia. It awaits action by the Senate. "The United States cannot afford to allow cooperation on the war on terror," Payne said, "to prevent us from taking a principled stance on democracy and human rights issues."

Ironically, unbridled support of Ethiopia's army in the interest of combating terrorism may serve as a powerful catalyst for anti-U.S. sentiment. "We hate the U.S.A. more than the Ethiopians," one Ogadeni told me. "It is guns and money from the U.S.A. that are killing our people."

The rest is at: It's at:

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-farrow25feb25,0,6030515.story

Invictus:

In regards to first poster, what in the hell are you talking about! Are you off your meds???? Haha, only in America, Obama 08!

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