The Los Angeles Times has an interesting little story today on San Juan, Mexico, "the town that NAFTA sent north".
The official population of San Juan, four hours south of Mexico City, is 6,000. But the only work here is in the cornfields, and locally grown corn is worth next to nothing. In the country that introduced corn to the world, campesinos can't compete with cheap U.S. imports.And remember, back in 1993 NAFTA was supposed to reduce migration by creating new manufacturing jobs in Mexico.
So they go north, or they go hungry.
The San Juan mayor told me as much as 70% of the money in town is sent home by displaced sons in Los Angeles. I was also told that the church, a gleaming white beacon in a town that's rough around the edges, was lovingly restored with money sent back from L.A.
Unfortunately, the padre wasn't around the first time I knocked, so I began exploring the town, asking people if they had relatives in Los Angeles. Many said yes. Others said, "No, in Culver City," or, "No, in San Fernando."
"In the fields here, I made $6 a day," said Misael Gomez, 23, who recently returned home from several months in Santa Monica, where he worked as a gardener. "In the United States, I made $6 an hour."
The Mexican government deserves much of the blame for that. Farmers get no price supports and scant government aid. Bank credit is nonexistent, so farmers work the fields with primitive tools and no tractors.This comment is just plain idiotic. Farmers in Mexico get no price supports or government aid because they contravene the entire neoliberal logic upon which NAFTA is built! And how is a peasant on a handful of acres going to get a bank loan? The goal of NAFTA was to destroy "inefficient" Mexican agriculture, after all -- Salinas revised the Mexican Constitution to do away with the small-scale ejidos as a precursor to the agreement -- and it's done a bang-up job of that.
But if Mexican ineptitude has staggered the campesinos, American policy has delivered the knockout punch. The U.S. government paid more than $34 billion in subsidies to American corn growers between 1995 and 2002, according to the Environmental Working Group.This is not the whole story, however. Where did all the promised Mexican manufacturing jobs go? The ones that were supposed to employ all the peasants fleeing the countryside? It turns out there is labor out there far cheaper even than Mexico's and with market access just as good and a rock-steady currency. And with an authoritarian government that won't tolerate any crap like indigenous uprisings or labor strikes.
An estimated 1.3 million Mexican farm jobs have been lost since the beginning of free trade in 1994, according to a Carnegie Endowment report. They couldn't compete with American farmers propped up with U.S. tax dollars doled out by vote-chasing politicians.
Give me a C. Give me an H. Give me an I . . .