Since its implementation in 1994 the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has had a devastating impact on our partners and the people of Mexico. The trade agreement has resulted in the destruction of rural livelihoods and the environment, a decrease in jobs and wages, more economic and social inequalities and an increase in human rights violations.
NAFTA was promoted on the premise of creating more economic opportunity yet 52.2% of Mexican people live in poverty, approximately the same level as when NAFTA went into effect, and Mexico’s gross domestic product per capita has grown at an insignificant rate of 0.89 percent per year, much slower than almost every other Latin American country.
As Alberto Gomez, from our partner La Vía Campesina, described it, “These 22 years of NAFTA have dismantled our rights, individually and collectively. It opened the door and provided an umbrella for corporations to come in and advance their agenda. Since then, the political system in Mexico has been in permanent crisis.”
Land Reform and Free Trade
The land reforms passed after the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) created a system of collective land tenure, known as ejidos, and other agrarian communities that placed more than 50% of Mexican land in the hands of peasants and Indigenous Peoples. These lands and territories are home to immense biodiversity and natural wealth such as water, minerals, and gas. For decades, the natural resources of peasants’ and Indigenous Peoples’ lands and territories have become the target of government and corporate interests. For this reason, in 1992, to make way for NAFTA, Mexico revised its constitution to weaken the protections communities have under the communal property rights system, including abolishing the right to form ejidos.
Along with these weakened land protections, the introduction of NAFTA left millions of people displaced and forced them to emigrate to cities to work in maquilas (factories run by U.S. companies in Mexico to take advantage of cheap labor and lax regulations under NAFTA), or to the U.S. to try to find work, often under extremely exploitive conditions.
Environmental, Military Impacts of NAFTA
The environmental degradation as a result of NAFTA’s implementation in Mexico is equally devastating, with even more devastating effects two decades later. For example, right now one proposed package of reforms is expected to amend the General Water Law to allow full deregulation and the prioritization of water use for energy projects including hydroelectric dams, geothermal, cooling nuclear power plants, and fracking. This package would also include reforms to other laws which would allow for the construction of pipelines in natural protected areas; the exploitation of sources of energy in forests, wetlands and forest soils; and would authorize the planting of genetically modified seeds for the production of agrofuels.
As Alberto Gomez of the Via Campesina explains, “Eighty percent of the constitution has been modified. This isn’t the constitution from the revolution that was about individual and collective rights.” Now, he explains, the constitution seems to have shifted its focus from individual and collective rights to corporate rights.
Mexico’s neoliberal agenda, influenced by the introduction of NAFTA, has brought a rapid increase of military forces, police and paramilitaries, illegal detentions, violence and systematic human rights violations. It is also characterized by corruption in the law enforcement and justice system, and state violence where police and military are involved in killings, torture, and disappearances. In addition to violence, the criminalization of protest and social struggle has been intensified with proposed legislation to grant the government the ability to cancel democratic rights in the case of social protests or strikes.
A clear example of this is the Ayotzinapa case. In 2014, seven students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ School were brutally assassinated by police forces and another 43 students disappeared. Most of the students were Indigenous Peoples marginalized by the government who organized to defend their rights and their communities. A report, overseen by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, revealed that federal police played an active role in the disappearance of the 43 students.
Resistance and Resolve
Despite all of the destruction created by NAFTA, there is a strong resistance led by peasants and Indigenous Peoples in frontline communities. Our partners in Mexico – including the National Union of Autonomous Regional Peasant Organizations (UNORCA)/Via Campesina-Mexico, the Union of Organizations of the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca (UNOSJO), Mixe Peoples’ Services (Ser Mixe) and Enlace Civil – continue building and strengthening this resistance.
Strategies being used in communities include the use of municipal assemblies and communal authorities to protect collective lands and territories through the passage of community resolutions that prohibit genetically modified seeds, mining, and other megaprojects. The resolutions serve as legal instruments to prevent new proposals that jeopardize the rights and health of the community, to stop privatization and regain control of their land and resources, to protect the Mother Earth and achieve food sovereignty.
Currently a new and even larger international trade agreement is in the works. The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a potential trade deal between the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia, Japan, Peru, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, New Zealand, Chile, and Singapore that would undermine economic and social equality, strip environmental protections, increase human rights violations and compromise intellectual property. If the TPP is ratified it will heighten the negative ramifications seen under NAFTA and intensify the tension between the rights of the people versus the rights of corporations.
Krystal Kilhart has been volunteering at Grassroots International since June 2016. She is a current sophomore at the University of Massachusetts Amherst studying Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies and International Relations. She is passionate about environmental justice and human rights advocacy.