POLICY ANALYSIS: Bush Promotes Free Trade in Mexico Meetings
April 2nd, 2008
By Robert Saper
During George W. Bush’s
five-country visit to Latin America last week—passing through Brazil,
Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala, and ending in Mexico —the president stated
repeatedly that the U.S. is committed to alleviating poverty, improving
healthcare, and increasing access to education in the region; in a pre-trip
address to the U.S.-Latin American Chamber of Commerce, he touted these same
objectives as the content of U.S. policy in our Western Hemisphere
Unsurprisingly, Bush left
out a few pieces in the policy discussion.
While strolling through the
neighborhood, he failed to disclose the whole story on free trade
agreements, including the botched promises of NAFTA and its devastating
impacts on poor communities in
places are poised to illustrate free trade failures more acutely than
president’s final Latin American destination.
Thirteen years of “free”
trade under NAFTA, while resulting in more Mexican billionaires, have left
laborers and small agricultural producers unable to afford life in
Mexican markets have been flooded by heavily subsidized
agricultural business, making local food production expensive and
increasingly unviable. Consequently, many poor farmers sell their land to
finance migration northward.
U.S. embassy officials in
even Bush recognize that free trade agreements are not bringing prosperity
to the majority in the short term, they refuse to seriously question the
economic model that generates them. They classify the rural crisis provoked
by NAFTA, which has pushed people to migrate in search of work, as a
“development issue” rather than a casualty of a failed free trade economic
under NAFTA, rather than providing employment options for the poor, has
become dependant on migration to satisfy the demand for work and keep the
nation in relative peace. The remittance of over $24 billion from
immigrants in the
U.S. to their families in
Mexico last year accounts
for the second largest portion of
revenue and may soon grow to be the largest.
It comes as no surprise
that Mexican president Felipe Calderón, among many others, demands that Bush
implement immigration reform and radically rethink border militarization and
the construction of the wall.
It is quite astounding, on
the other hand, that political decision-makers fail to call into question
the economic policies that have virtually built the invisible wall between
impoverishment and prosperity. Free trade agreements stoke the fires of
migration, present few if any viable alternatives in the rural sector, and
continue privatizing public services and energy resources.
These policies, resulting
in scandalous poverty in regions that are rich in natural resources, have
set the stage for popular outrage. Demands are on the rise for alternatives
to current governance and U.S.-backed policies that curtail democratic
participation and obliterate hopes for sufficient employment and
subsistence; hence, the Zapatistas’ implementation of autonomous communities
Chiapas and the recent example of the
ongoing popular movement in the state of
Oaxaca, where 76% of the mostly
indigenous residents live in poverty.
Over the past nine months,
the Oaxaca social movement demanding the governor’s resignation has been
fueled by the negative effects of top-down imposition of U.S.-backed
economic policy: wages, educational funding, and healthcare availability are
declining, living costs are rising, international agricultural prices are
unfair, and traditional forms of government have been suppressed.
To date, 23 people have
died at the hands of federal and state police and paramilitaries in the
Oaxaca conflict. Yet, just as
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ignored the human rights violations
leading to their deaths and the other alarming increases in repressive state
violence throughout Mexico (opting instead to highlight conditions in
nonconformists Cuba and Venezuela in her February 6 Global Human Rights
Report), so too did the president fail to acknowledge that social
devastation in the Americas is partially the result of “neighborly” U.S.
Instead, Bush boasts of
nearly doubling the amount of poverty-directed foreign aid to all
Latin America to $1.6 billion per year.
What is that in the face of 125 million Latin Americans who live on less
than $2 per day?
No amount of
U.S. taxpayer charity can
counteract the negative effects of failed
U.S. economic policies,
let alone actually improve healthcare, education, and poverty rates in
Latin America. If President Bush truly
wants to be a good neighbor, he should drastically overhaul economic policy
to save taxpayers money and actually encourage a stronger, more stable
Robert M. Saper, a graduate of Gannon
University in Erie, grew up in West Sunbury, Butler County, and currently
works for Witness for Peace in Oaxaca,