Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey

Mexico: Rural workers and indigenous denounce 20 years of destruction

The Real News Network broadcast an interview on Sunday (5), with Gustavo Esteva, coordinator of the University of the Earth, in Oaxaca, Mexico, on warnings of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA, its acronym in English).

According to Esteva, also a director of the Zapatistas in negotiations with the Mexican government, the warnings are true today, especially with the degradation of work in the field in his country. Much of the U.S. media is celebrating the 20 years of NAFTA, the agreement which took down trade barriers between Mexico, Canada and the United States, promising to create jobs and sustainable economic growth.

But another anniversary, also commemorating 20 years, is receiving less attention, states Jaisal Noor, producer of The Real News. On 1 January 1994, the Zapatista uprising was launched in the Mexican state of Chiapas, in southern Mexico. Mayan peasants give testimony in the video, about the warnings made ​​by the Zapatistas against the globalization process led by large companies, and also NAFTA, and their history of destruction of already impoverished indigenous communities in Mexico.

As a response, they demanded local autonomy and access to land, healthcare, food, education and work, as fundamental rights. "But 20 years later, while most of the press is hailing Mexico as the great beneficiary of NAFTA, the message of the Zapatistas is showing itself to be true. Subsidized imports of U.S. food flooded Mexico, costing the livelihoods of over two million Mexican workers," says the documentary.

According to Esteva, in the interview, the association of the Zapatista uprising with the signing of NAFTA is clear. In 1992, as a precondition for signing the agreement, there was a constitutional reform that eliminated the last protection of indigenous peoples and the Mexican peasants. "It was the possibility of having lands and keep the land out of the market," he explains.

Because of the Zapatista uprising, says Esteva, the indigenous issue returned to the top of the list of priorities in Mexico. Until then, the issue had almost disappeared from the political debate .

Moreover, their struggle has brought alternatives to neoliberal globalization, which was more intense at the time, with widespread acceptance. "The Zapatistas were a call to attention. All anti-system movements today recognize that. They tell us, you know, you can say no, and we can say 'enough ' to this terrible prospect of neoliberalism."

For Esteva, the main impact of NAFTA is "the production of the richest men in the world, and some of the poorest," both in mutually dependent conditions. The activist indicates that the latest estimate showed a third of Mexicans living abroad, one of the most significant migratory processes in recent history, with the continually increasing number of poor in Mexico itself.

The main Mexican production is maize, but the country imports, currently, a third of the corn it consumes, "producing much damage to farmers and especially for indigenous communities." Because of NAFTA, says Esteva, the government guaranteed 50 years of land concessions to foreign companies and therefore needed to "clear the people from the land ." On the other hand, of course, the indigenous people "are resisting aggression and removal of their livelihood, the ability to live their own lives."
"This is NAFTA, for us. It is a very real situation that brought us the worst kind of results that we suffer in our history," he continues. "We are facing the possibility of having the worst kind of civil war, i.e. the kind where you do not know who is fighting whom. We are in the midst of extreme poverty, extreme violence, with many Mexicans unable to live in their own country."
With The Real News

North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Photo: Networking