This article is from the April 1999 The Mexico File
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A Perspective on US-Mexico Policy
by Saul Landau
Saul Landau is a
professor of Interdisciplinary Applied Knowledge at California State
Polytechnic University in Pomona, California. He recently published
Hot Radio: Sex, Violence and Politics at the End of the American Century.
In 1999, Congress should
review our partnership with Mexico. It’s long overdue.
I just returned from
Chiapas, Mexico’s southeastern state, where I saw an occupying army of
60,000 troops at work. A daily convoy of 40 vehicles roars along the dirt road
that connects tiny villages of barefoot, sick and hungry people. Laser-guided
cannons, heavy-caliber machine guns and soldiers on armored personnel carriers
represent the government’s response to its poorest people.
Five years ago, on January
1, 1994, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation announced its presence and
demanded justice for Mayan peasants – the poorest inhabitants of Mexico.
Subcommandante Marcos, the spokesman for the Zapatistas, said they chose
January 1 to launch the uprising because it marked the beginning of the North
American Free Trade Agreement among the United States, Canada and Mexico.
“For Indian people, NAFTA is a death sentence,” Marcos said.
The Zapatistas claimed the
Chiapas uprising was a necessary response to the violence felt every day by
indigenous and other poor people in Mexico. But above and beyond the daily
injustice that poor Mexicans experience, NAFTA marked Mexico’s official
entry into the globalization process.
To prepare Mexico for the
massive entrance of foreign capital, President Carlos Salinas de Gortari
revised an article in Mexico’s constitution that protected communal lands
from sale, rent or lease. This prevented Mayan and other Indian nations from
reproducing their families and cultures on their sacred land.
The Zapatistas revolted to
alert people around the world to the threat that globalization posed to all
indigenous and peasant societies. The Zapatista rebellion burst the “happy
Mexico” bubble spun by NAFTA’s promoters. But it did not redress the
income gap between the handful of very rich and the 60 million very poor; nor
did it lessen injustice in Chiapas.
The Mexican government has
not met the basic demands of its people. Instead of responding to issues of
land, education, access to medical care, justice and democracy, it has
stationed its occupation army in the pro-Zapatista areas.
And the Mexican army has
helped equip and train paramilitary gangs. On December 22, 1997, such a group
entered the village of Acteal in the Chiapas highlands and systemically
slaughtered 45 people, mostly women and children.. The Catholic diocese and
other reputable organizations linked the killings to the highest levels of the
Chiapas state government. In turn, those ruling party officials had links to
Mexico’s ruling PRI party. Many of those implicated have gone unpunished.
By waging this
counterinsurgency war and occupying part of its own territory, the Mexican
government is forcing Indians to flee their ancient lands, pushing them out of
peasant life and into the vast world labor force. This is NAFTA in action,
just as Marcos warned.
It’s time to face facts.
Neither U.S. policy nor the much-heralded Mexican economic model have improved
the lives of Mexico’s poorest citizens. Congress must examine our so-called
free trade policy with Mexico and our support for the Mexican government. The
costs to human life are too great.