The case of the failure of Mexico’s Laguna Verde Nuclear Plant, nestled on the jagged Veracruz seacoast, reveals the need to nix nukes and fortify public right-to-know mechanisms.
With Latin American countries still turned off to nuclear power two years after Japan’s monumental Fukushima meltdowns dispersed radioactive fallout across the ocean to them, events inside a similar facility in Mexico have fueled mounting skepticism over the potential for developing the energy technology.
Fissures, leaks, shutdowns, government secrecy, a failed upgrade, alleged bid-rigging and contract fraud at Mexico’s lone atomic power station, the state-run Laguna Verde Nuclear Plant, were vetted during the 9th Regional Congress on Radiation Protection and Safety held in Rio de Janeiro in April.
The audience of Latin American experts eager to share the information at the professional association forum starred scientists from Argentina and Brazil, which also have nuclear power plants, as well as from Venezuela, Chile and Cuba, which had made tentative moves toward establishing atomic energy stations before the Fukushima catastrophe stymied aspirations.
The irregularities at Laguna Verde came to light thanks to a courageous group of anonymous high-level employees inside the power plant and to the public information requests by their spokesperson, Mexico’s National Autonomous University Physics Professor Bernardo Salas Mar, a former plant employee and valiant whistleblower.
Some of Salas Mar’s most recent research was accepted at the International Radiation Protection Association congress in Brazil, but his university did not provide him with travel expenses to attend in person.
Salas faces high-level attempts to have him fired as a result of his persistent efforts to make public his discoveries of dangerous faults and cover-ups at the Laguna Verde plant. But Salas’ achievements speak for themselves. Were it not for his ceaseless hammering on the doors of the 10-year-old Federal Information Access Institute (IFAI), perhaps no one ever would have known about the latest incidents at Laguna Verde until it was too late.
Based on his freedom-of-information requests to the institute, Salas and Laguna Verde’s own technicians revealed in an April 19 letter to President Enrique Peña Nieto that Mexico has been defrauded to the tune of more than a half-billion dollars by the international companies that won the bid for the federal contract to uprate the two reactors at the plant located near the Caribbean port of Veracruz.
“Uprating” is industry jargon for boosting the capacity of nuclear reactors so they can generate more electricity.
The letter to the President alleges the Federal Electricity Commission purposely botched the bid letting by omitting the usual requirement for a contractor to abide by the Review Standard for Extended Power Uprates. Apparently the CFD did this to favor the Spanish company Iberdrola Ingenería and the French company Alstom Mexico, which lacked the capability to carry out the changes to the nuclear steam supply system according to standard specifications.
Employees in key positions at Laguna Verde had alerted the two previous presidential administrations to the issue as far back as 2006, communicating their “worry over the capacity-boosting work contemplated for this nuclear plant, considering it to be unreliable, risky and overpriced,” according to the letter. Still Iberdrola and Alstom got the $605-million contract to increase the plant’s power output by 20 percent.
Iberdrola announced the successful conclusion of the five-year, $605-million modernization project in February, noting that it overhauled equipment dating back to 1990, in the project that created more than 2,000 jobs.
The president of Alstom in Mexico, Cintia Angulo, was arrested a week after the announcement of the upgrade conclusion on charges of giving false testimony in an unrelated French case of non-payment.
However, the more spectacular fraud for both firms will prove to be the Mexican uprate contract, which not only failed to accomplish the goal of boosting Laguna Verde’s power output, but also left the reactors in worse condition than before, Salas and employees charge.
The Federal Electricity Commission responded to Salas’ inquiries, saying that Reactor Unit 2 would be operating at 100 percent of planned output in April and Unit 1 would be at 100 percent in May.
Nonetheless, after further information requests, Salas revealed that the National Nuclear Safety Commission has denied both reactors the licenses to operate at higher output in the aftermath of the contract, due precisely to the fact that the guidelines for the nuclear steam supply system were not followed.
Employees say the failure to follow the guidelines during the uprate cracked the jet pumps that inject the water to the core of the General Electric boiling water reactors, the same kind that melted down due to a generator system crash at Fukushima.
“The situation of the reactors is not serious yet, but operating with fissures could cause a major problem to the extent that it could endanger national security. (Remember Fukushima and Chernobyl.)” the letter to President Peña Nieto says. The employees consider it “risky and unacceptable for both reactors to continue operating with the fissures that have been encountered.”
Simultaneous suspension of operations at both reactors in September 2012 and related confusing news releases, some blaming the pump fissures, caused alarm in the communities around the installation.
Authorities first said a diesel generator breakdown was at fault for the interruption in service of one reactor, while fuel-cell restocking was the reason for a stoppage at the other.
The next day they said a clogged seawater intake was part of the reason for removing both reactors from service. An escape of hydrogen gas from a condenser was posited. And finally, officials stated to the public that the fissures in both reactors’ water pumps were to blame.
Government secrecy about details surrounding the event accentuated longstanding worries in the population near the plant. The fear of accidents and serious concerns over the ongoing situation was highlighted by an NGO’s court appeal arguing that people should be exempted from paying their light bills due to the fact that their civil rights had been violated by the lack of safety measures and accountability at Laguna Verde.
In response to Salas’ information requests, the Energy Secretariat, in charge of the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) and the National Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSNS), said it didn’t have the answers to his questions.
Its commissions presented incongruous replies. The vagueness of the answers provided by the Federal Electricity Commission prompted the researcher to appeal to the IFAI to require revised responses.
After his second round of questioning, he was able to deduce that the cooling water intake channel had indeed filled with sediment and it had been dredged, so it did not present a hazard and did not cause the reactor operations’ interruption.
He also then could determine that the hydrogen had been released from the ductwork into the cooling water of the main generator, during the month of August. While the amount of gas was unknown, the escape was not to the atmosphere, and neither presented a danger nor was cause for halting operations.
The CSNSNS responded that the diesel generator failed when a piston stuck due to lack of lubrication resulting from a bearing problem on Sept. 12. The event did not endanger life and limb, according to Salas.
Simultaneous reloading of fuel cells at both reactors was the most likely reason for the concurrent stalling, Salas concluded after the numerous freedom-of-information requests.
While the main present dangers appear to be the fractures in the cores’ water pumps, a Jan. 11, 2013 scram (emergency reactor shutdown) remains to be inspected under the looking glass of the IFAI.
The institute created by decree in 2002 has provided important tools for shedding light on the machinations of the nuclear plant, among other formerly opaque federal operations.
Yet, as this case underscores, IFAI should strengthen its own processes in order to avoid the kind of inconsistent and self-belying responses that ensnared this most recent of many investigations into the lack of security at Laguna Verde.
Even so, that won’t protect the population from the specter of accidents or deteriorating health and safety in the advent of air and water pollution from the facility, which is located on a part of the coast with only poorly maintained roads to offer escape routes.
If Peña Nieto and company are to be more responsive to community needs than their predecessors, one way to show good intentions would be to comply with demands for conducting an emergency public evacuation drill, something that never has been done in the history of the 17-year-old nuclear plant. Another would be to take the irresponsible parties to court to establish accountability.
- A sad week for the nuclear industry: 6 reactors to go
- Nuclear station insider says San Onofre should stay closed
- Fukushima decommissioning to last for up to 40 years – IAEA
- Potential Cost Of A Nuclear Accident? So High It’s A Secret!
- ‘Irreparable’ safety issues: All US nuclear reactors should be taken out of commission
As closed-door negotiations concluded in Singapore on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, opposition begins to build in many countries. At the urging of the United States, Canada and Mexico have joined the nine countries in the talks and now Japan has announced it too wants to be part of this new free trade pact of Pacific rim countries, described by its critics as “NAFTA on steroids”.
Going into its 17th round of negotiations, the Obama administration aims to wrap up an agreement by October, hoping to push ratification through the Senate on a fast- track basis. Called Trade Promotion Authority, fast track would mean an up or down vote without amendments or even hearings on the agreement presented to it. It is a profoundly anti-democratic procedure because it shuts down debate.
But from start to end, TPP has been thoroughly anti-democratic. On the first day of the Singapore talks a broad range of civil society organizations issued an open letter to Congress calling for greater transparency in the proceedings. The agreement is being hammered out in secret discussions among trade ministers. Even Senators have been denied a look at its draft provisions.
However, some 600 transnational corporations are in the inner circle. They are writing the rules for trade in their own interests without any democratic input from the people whose lives will be profoundly affected. If adopted, TPP will deny citizens their democratic rights to shape public policies on a host of domestic issues, conceding those decisions to the large corporations.
Some sections have been leaked. They reveal “an agreement that actually formalizes the priority of corporate power over government,” according to Lori Wallach of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. Only 5 of the 29 chapters have to do with trade. Wallach says the rest of the draft “include[s] new rights for the big pharmaceutical companies to expand, to raise medical prices, expand monopoly patents, limits on Internet freedom, penalties for inadvertent noncommercial copying, sending something to a friend. There are the same rules that promote off-shoring of jobs that were in NAFTA that are more robust that literally give privileges and protections if you leave. There is a ban on ‘buy American’ and ‘buy local’ or ‘green’ or sweat-free procurement. There are limits on domestic financial stability regulations. There are limits on imported food safety standards and product standards. There are limits on how we can regulate energy towards a more green future – all of these things are what they call ‘Behind the Borders’ agenda. And the operating clause of TPP is: ‘Each country shall ensure the conformity of its domestic laws, regulations and administrative procedures with these agreements.’”
Global Class War
Free trade is about more than trade. It is about favoring corporations over the democratic rights of citizens and the sovereignty of nations. As the former Director-General of the WTO, Renato Ruggiero, said in 1995, “We are no longer writing the rules of interaction among separate national economies. We are writing the constitution of a single global economy.”# What is being created is a global governance order in which corporations are the citizens, not flesh and blood humans like you and me. With free trade, corporations are making an end run around democracy.
TPP is the latest offensive in a global class war. For nearly 40 years now, since the mid 1970s, corporations have been rolling back the popular gains of the New Deal era and the 1960s. Democracy has been the target of a class war to restore the class power of capital. And there has been weak resistance, at best, by the popular classes. But the stakes have become increasingly clear to more and more. Indeed, on the issue of free trade, there is now a broad public sentiment against this aspect of the corporate offensive.
The US has become the world advocate of “free trade,” promoting it through trade agreements like NAFTA and other bi-lateral agreements as well as through global governance institutions it has sponsored such as IMF, World Bank and WTO. The US has promoted free trade for much the same reason Great Britain promoted it in the 19th century, viz. the economically strongest country in the world benefits from free trade. It is the weaker countries that seek tariff protection for their infant industries, protection from competition with cheaper and higher quality imports. That protection is what enabled the US to industrialize in the last half of the 19th century. But then when the US became economically strong enough to compete regionally and eventually globally, it became an advocate of free trade and demanded that others abandon protectionism.
The justification for free trade rests on the theory of comparative advantage. This is the view that if countries trade free of government impediments, the market will tend to direct each to export that which they can produce most efficiently and import what can be produced more efficiently and thus more cheaply elsewhere. The invisible hand of the market will guide each to specialize in producing what they have a comparative advantage in. Thus a rational production and trading system will emerge that maximizes efficiency.
Free trade agreements like NAFTA were sold to the US public by appealing to consumer’s interest in having access to cheaper goods imported from Mexico. What was deliberately soft-pedaled was their interest as workers in having jobs. Organized labor opposed NAFTA, fearing it would pit US workers in competition with low wage Mexican workers. Independent presidential candidate Ross Perot warned of “a giant sucking sound” as jobs would be off-shored to Mexico.
But the Clinton administration said US exports to Mexico would create new jobs. And so, ignoring opposition from its traditional base in the unions, new Democrat Clinton pushed ratification of NAFTA through the Senate as his first priority. Perot proved to be correct as US companies shifted production to low wage Mexico – until even lower wage Chinese workers were brought into play when China joined WTO. But Clinton was also right as cheaper consumer goods from abroad filled the shelves of Wal-Mart with bargains welcomed by US workers who found their wages reduced. Free trade proved to be a mixed blessing.
Capital Becomes Global
One important point about free trade that is often overlooked is that it is not only about the free, frictionless movement of goods and services across borders, unrestricted by tariffs, quotas and regulations. It assures the free movement of capital, as corporations are freed to invest abroad. The mobility of investment capital is of utmost importance, with profound economic consequences and consequences for democracy.
Unable to find sufficiently profitable venues for investment in the overdeveloped US economy, large corporations have increasingly moved abroad. They sought not just new outlets to sell their commodities, but low wage workforces that would decrease their production costs and thus boost their profits. Frequently that would involve locating different stages of the productive process in different countries so as to take optimal advantage of local conditions. The assembly lines of US industry were disaggregated and disbursed across the globe.
Global assembly lines emerged. These global production chains have become a signature feature of contemporary capitalism. Components may be manufactured in Singapore, transported to China for subassembly and then shipped to Mexico for final assembly before sale in the United States. Although global assembly lines are geographically dispersed, they overcome the limitations of the fixed assembly lines of the Fordist era in that they no longer have to rely on a fixed labor force that can organize itself to effectively claim a share of the surplus they create.
Instead, the global assembly line gives capital the flexibility to seek out the lowest wage workforce and friendliest business environment available anywhere in the world. This has been made possible by the development of a global computerized network of instant communications via satellite. That and the computerization of banking have made money transfers and the movement of capital both easy and instantaneous. The communications network also allows the decentralization of technological development and design. Technicians can work at points distant from the processes of production to which they address themselves. And the entire process can be coordinated by management located anywhere on the globe. The limitations of space and time have been overcome by digital communications and cheap energy for transporting goods to their ultimate consumers.
For such globalized production to be possible, capital must be able to flow freely across national borders and products have to be able to move with minimum friction across those borders, unhampered by tariffs or quotas or non-uniform standards. In other words, there must be free trade for transnational capital to optimize accumulation.#
But transnational corporations also need legal protection of their investments. They need protection from expropriation of their assets, laws and governments that can ensure their property is secure. A crucial part of free trade agreements is protection of what are called investor rights. This involves more than just protection from expropriation, as happens with revolutions. It also involves protection from governmental actions that might reduce the value of their property or potential profits by environmental and health regulations, labor laws or other such measures even though they might be for the public good. What in US law is called “regulatory takings” are seen as tantamount to expropriation.
When such governmental actions do occur, free trade treaties give the foreign corporation the recourse to sue. The suit is not adjudicated in a national court, but by a transnational body of experts operating in secret. States are expected to enforce its decisions on their own nation’s taxpayers and consumers. This favors investor rights (i.e. the interests of transnational corporations) over the democratic rights of a nation.
As corporations have globalized, morphing into transnational corporations, they have promoted free trade agreements to get national governments to assist them. But when “investor rights” trump the democratic rights of citizens, the transnational corporations become the real citizens of the emerging global order. TPP is a further step in this direction, making an end run around a number of important issues –banking regulation, extension of patent protection, food inspection, environmental protection, food sovereignty, internet freedom, health care, job creation policies, and more, denying voters the opportunity to decide such matters when they impinge on corporate profit making.
Here are a few of the issues around which opposition to TPP is beginning to emerge.
* Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, MSF) is concerned that TPP would “enhance patent and data protections for pharmaceutical companies, dismantle public health safeguards enshrined in international law and obstruct price-lowering generic competition for medicines.” The intellectual property provisions would give pharmaceutical companies prolonged monopoly protection for medicines and delay access to cheaper generic versions. This would have disastrous consequences in poorer countries.
* Internet freedom is also in danger. The Council of Canadians and OpenMedia have warned that the TPP would “criminalize some everyday uses of the Internet,” including music downloads, making no distinction between commercial and non-commercial copyright infringement. The TPP imposes a “three strikes” system for copyright infringement, where three violations would result in the termination of a household’s Internet access.
* Japanese farmers are concerned that TPP will force removal of protections from Japan’s agriculture needed to maintain food sovereignty for the country. They are protesting Japan’s decision to enter into TPP negotiations at all.
* Guaranteed compensation for loss of “expected future profits” from health, labor or environmental regulations.
* Corporate performance requirements are banned.
* Capital mobility is to be guaranteed, preventing capital controls in event of a financial crisis. TPP will require countries to let capital flow in and out without restriction, not allow the banning or regulation of risky investments like derivatives and credit-default swaps and will prevent the formation of much-needed public banks
Most fundamentally what is at stake with TPP and existing free trade treaties is the sovereignty of nations and the ability of their peoples to make democratic decisions. This is a concern on both the Left and the Right, suggesting the possibility of a broad coalition opposing TPP, bridging our otherwise polarized politics.
A major NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll from September of 2010 revealed that “the impact of trade and outsourcing is one of the only issues on which Americans of different classes, occupations and political persuasions agree,” with 86% saying that outsourcing jobs by U.S. companies to poor countries was “a top cause of our economic woes,” with 69% thinking that “free trade agreements between the United States and other countries cost the U.S. jobs.” Only 17% of Americans in 2010 felt that “free trade agreements” benefit the U.S., compared to 28% in 2007.
Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of Citizen Trade Campaign said: “If they were to negotiate an agreement that put human rights ahead of corporate profit, creating more just and sustainable social policy, the TPP could be a tool for incredible good. But if you look at who has a seat at the table, with the public shut out and more than 600 corporate lobbyists included, there is nothing to indicate that’s the deal we’re going to get.”
The developing opposition to the corporate coup that the TPP represents has the potential to win. It’s about time for the people to win one victory in the corporate class war. Our first chance in this campaign will be over granting fast track Trade Promotion Authority. And that battle will be followed by the fight over Senate approval of TPP itself. This is one that we can win. The stakes are high. The alternatives are democracy or plutocracy.
Cliff DuRand is a Research Associate at the Center for Global Justice and a contributor to the CIP Americas Program http://www.cipamericas.org. He is co-author and co-editor of Recreating Democracy in a Globalized State (Clarity Press, 2012). Contact him at email@example.com
For More Information:
Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch http://www.citizen.org/trade
on TPP http://www.citizen.org/TPP
Citizens Trade Campaign www.citizenstrade.org
A coalition of labor, environmental, religious, family farm, and consumer organizations united in the pursuit of socially and environmentally just trade policies.
It’s Our Economy www.itsoureconomy.us
It’s Our Economy seeks to educate, organize and mobilize Americans to shift the power from concentrated capital to the people. http://itsoureconomy.us/occupy-the-tpp-stop-the-global-corporate-coup/
- NAFTA at 20: The New Spin (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Only a few years ago, analysts were warning that Mexico was at risk of becoming a “failed state.” These days, the Mexican government appears to be doing a much better PR job.
Despite the devastating and ongoing drug war, the story now goes that Mexico is poised to become a “middle-class” society. As establishment apostle Thomas Friedman put it in the New York Times, Mexico is now one of “the more dominant economic powers in the 21st century.”
But this spin is based on superficial assumptions. The small signs of economic recovery in Mexico are grounded largely on the return of maquiladora factories from China, where wages have been increasing as Mexican wages have stagnated. Under-cutting China on labor costs is hardly something to celebrate. This trend is nothing but the return of the same “free-trade” model that has failed the Mexican people for 20 years.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was ratified in 1993 and went into effect in 1994, was touted as the cure for Mexico’s economic “backwardness.” Promoters argued that the trilateral trade agreement would dig Mexico out of its economic rut and modernize it along the lines of its mighty neighbor, the United States.
The story went like this:
NAFTA was going to bring new U.S. technology and capital to complement Mexico’s surplus labor. This in turn would lead Mexico to industrialize and increase productivity, thereby making the country more competitive abroad. The spike in productivity and competitiveness would automatically cause wages in Mexico to increase. The higher wages would expand economic opportunities in Mexico, slowing migration to the United States.
In the words of the former President Bill Clinton, NAFTA was going to “promote more growth, more equality and better preservation of the environment and a greater possibility of world peace.” Mexico’s president at the time, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, echoed Clinton’s sentiments during a commencement address at MIT: “NAFTA is a job-creating agreement,” he said. “It is an environment improvement agreement.” More importantly, Salinas boasted, “it is a wage-increasing agreement.”
As the 20th anniversary of NAFTA approaches, however, the verdict is indisputable: NAFTA failed to spur meaningful and inclusive economic growth in Mexico, pull Mexicans out of unemployment and underemployment, or reduce poverty. By all accounts, it has done just the opposite.
The Verdict Is In
Official statistics show that from 2006 to 2010, more than 12 million people joined the ranks of the impoverished in Mexico, causing the poverty level to jump to 51.3 percent of the population. According to the United Nations, in the past decade Mexico saw the slowest reduction in poverty in all of Latin America.
Rampant poverty in Mexico is a product of IMF and World Bank-led neoliberal policies—such as anti-inflationary policies that have kept wages stagnant—of which “free-trade” pacts like NAFTA are part and parcel. Another factor is the systematic failure to create good jobs in the formal sectors of the economy. During Felipe Calderon’s presidency, the share of the Mexican labor force relying on informal work—such as selling chewing gum and other low-cost products on the street—grew to nearly 50 percent.
Even the wages in the manufacturing sector, which NAFTA cheerleaders argued would benefit the most from trade liberalization, have remained extremely low. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Mexican manufacturing workers made an average hourly wage of only $4.53 in 2011, compared to $26.87 for their U.S. counterparts. Between 1997 and 2011, the U.S.-Mexico manufacturing wage gap narrowed only slightly, with Mexican wages rising from 13 to 17 percent of the level earned by American workers. In Brazil, by contrast, manufacturing wages are almost double Mexico’s, and in Argentina almost triple.
Mexico’s stagnant wages are celebrated by free traders as an opportunity for U.S. businesses interested in outsourcing. According to one report by the McKinsey management consulting firm, “for a company motivated primarily by cost, Mexico holds the most attractive position among the Latin American countries we studied. … Mexico’s advantages start with low labor costs.”
But even as the damning evidence against NAFTA continues to roll in, entrenched advocates of the trade agreement have been busy crafting new arguments. In his recent book, Mexico: A Middle Class Society, NAFTA negotiator Luis De la Calle and his co-author argue that the trade agreement has given rise to a growing Mexican middle class by providing consumers with higher quality, U.S- made goods. The authors proclaim that “NAFTA has dramatically reduced the costs of goods for Mexican families at the same time that the quality and variety of goods and services in the country grew.”
Most of the economic indicators included in the book conveniently fail to account for the 2008-2009 financial crisis, which hit Mexico worse than almost any other Latin American country. The result has been skyrocketing inequality. As the Guardian reported last December, “ever more Mexican families have acquired the trappings of middle-class life such as cars, fridges, and washing machines, but about half of the population still lives in poverty.”
The indicators of consumption that suggest the rise of Mexico’s middle class also exclude the dramatic increase in food prices in recent years, which has condemned millions of Mexicans to hunger. Twenty-eight million Mexicans are facing “food poverty,” meaning they lack access to sufficient nutritious food. According to official statistics, more than 50,000 people died of malnutrition between 2006 and 2011. That’s almost as many as have died in Mexico’s drug war, which dramatically escalated under Calderon and has continued under President Enrique Peña Nieto.
The food crisis has coincided with the “Walmartization” of the country. In 1994 there were only 14 Walmart retail stores in all of Mexico. Now there are more than 1,724 retail and wholesale stores. This is almost half the number of U.S. Walmarts, and far more than any other country outside the United States. The proliferation of Walmart and other U.S. big-box stores in Mexico since NAFTA came into effect has ushered in a new era of consumerism—in part through an aggressive expansion built on political bribes and the destruction of ancient Aztec ruins.
The arguments developed prior to the signing of NAFTA focused primarily on the claim that the trade agreement would make Mexico a nation of producers and exporters. These initial promises failed to deliver. Throughout the NAFTA years, the bulk of Mexico’s manufacturing “exports” have come from transnational car and technology companies. Not surprisingly, Mexico’s intra-industry trade with the United Sates is the highest of any Latin American country. Yet the percentage of Mexican companies that are actually exporters is vanishingly small, and imports of food into Mexico have surged.
Same Snake Oil, Different Pitch
Because their initial promises utterly failed to deliver, the NAFTA pushers are now hyping “consumer benefits” to justify new trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership. One of the most extreme examples of this spin is an article in The Washington Post that celebrates a “growing middle class” in Mexico that is “buying more U.S. goods than ever, while turning Mexico into a more democratic, dynamic and prosperous American ally.” Devoid of all logic, it goes on to say that “Mexico’s growth as a manufacturing hub is boosted by low wages.” How can low wages make people more prosperous?
The Post also boasts that in “Mexico’s Costco stores, staples such as tortilla chips and chipotle salsa are trucked in from factories in California and Texas that produce for both sides of the border.” Is this something to celebrate? The influx of traditional Mexican food staples, starting with maize, and goods from the United States has displaced and dislocated millions of Mexican small-scale farmers, producers, and small businesses. And not only that, Mexicans’ increasing consumption of processed foods and beverages from the United States has made the country the second-most obese in the world.
In essence, NAFTA advocates have been reduced to saying: “so maybe NAFTA didn’t help Mexico reduce poverty or increase wages. But hey! At least it gave it Walmart, Costcos, and sweat shops.”
The bankruptcy of NAFTA’s promises is only compounded by the poverty of this consolation.
- Facing the Threat of the Trans-Pacific Treaty (ips-dc.org)
Citing documents and interviews with several US officials, Kimberly Dozier of the Associated Press wire service reported on Jan. 17 that the US military’s Northern Command (Northcom) has a new special operations headquarters in Colorado, to be used “to teach Mexican security forces how to hunt drug cartels the same way special operations teams hunt al-Qaida.” A Dec. 31 memo signed by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta transformed the Northcom special operations group into the new command headquarters, which will be led by a general rather than a colonel. The staff will increase from 30 to 150.
According to Dozier, this is the latest effort by US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) head Adm. Bill McRaven “to migrate special operators from their decade of service in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan to new missions.” SOCOM “has already helped Mexican officials set up their own intelligence center in Mexico City to target criminal networks, patterned after similar centers in war zones built to target al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Dozier wrote. Mexican military, intelligence and law enforcement officers have reportedly visited SOCOM facilities at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, and Mexican officials also visited a SOCOM targeting center at the Balad air base in Iraq before the US troop withdrawal in 2011, according to a former US official.
The Mexican government hasn’t expressed an opinion on Northcom’s plan to help with its “war on drugs,” but Agnes Gereben Schaefer of the California-based Rand Corporation intelligence group told Dozier that Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto would probably support the plan. “He has talked about setting up a paramilitary force…made up of former military and police forces, which he has described as more surgical” than the current effort, Schaefer said. At least 50,000 Mexicans have died in the wave of violence that followed the militarization of anti-narcotics efforts that former president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa started at the beginning of his 2006-2012 administration. (Miami Herald 1/17/13 from AP)
Mexico – December 30, 2012
To the People of Mexico:
To the Peoples and Governments of the World:
Brothers and Sisters:
Compañeros and compañeras:
This past December 21, 2012, in the pre-dawn hours, tens of thousands of indigenous Zapatistas mobilized and we took over, peacefully and in silence, 5 municipal seats in the Mexican southeastern state of Chiapas.
San Cristobal, Chiapas. December 21, 2012
In the cities of Palenque, Altamirano, Las Margaritas, Ocosingo, and San Cristobal de las Casas, we watched you and we watched ourselves in silence.
This is not a message of resignation.
It is not one of war, death, or destruction.
Our message is one of struggle and resistance.
After the media-driven coup d’état that exalted a poorly concealed and even more poorly disguised ignorance to the federal executive branch, we made ourselves present so that you would know that if they never left, neither did we.
Six years ago, a segment of the political and intellectual class went out in search of someone to blame for its loss. At that time we were in cities and communities, struggling for justice for an Atenco that was not fashionable at that time.
On that yesterday first they defamed us, and then they wanted to shut us up. Too incapable and dishonest to see that within themselves they had and have the seeds of their own destruction, they tried to make us disappear with lies and complicit silence.
Six years later, two things remain clear:
They don’t need us to fail.
We don’t need them to survive.
We never left, even though media from all over the spectrum have dedicated themselves to making you believe that, and we are reemerging as the indigenous Zapatistas that we are and will be.
In these past years we’ve strengthened ourselves and we have significantly improved our living conditions. Our standard of living is superior to that of the indigenous communities that are linked to the governments in power, that receive charity and squander it all on alcohol and useless things.
Our homes improve without hurting nature by imposing roads upon it that are foreign to it. In our villages, the land that was previously used to fatten estate owners’ cattle is now used to grow the corn, beans, and vegetables that brighten our tables.
Our work has the double satisfaction of providing us with what we need to live honorably and to contribute to the collective growth of our communities.
Our boys and girls go to a school that teaches them their own history, that of their fatherland and of the world, as well as the sciences and techniques they need to grow without no longer being indigenous.
The indigenous Zapatista women are not sold as merchandise. The indigenous PRI members go to our hospitals, clinics, and laboratories because in those provided by the government there are no medicines, nor equipment, nor doctors, nor qualified personnel.
Our culture flourishes not in isolation, but rather enriched by contact with the cultures of other peoples of Mexico and the world.
We govern and we govern ourselves, always seeking agreement before confrontation.
All of this has been achieved not only without the government, the political class, and the media that accompanies them, but also while resisting their attacks of all kinds.
We have demonstrated, yet again, that we are who we are. With our silence, we were present.
Now, with our word we announce that:
First: we reaffirm and consolidate our membership in the National Indigenous Congress [CNI],a space for meeting with the original peoples of our country.
Second: we will resume contact with our compañeros and compañeras who are Adherents to the Sixth declaration of the Lacandon Jungle in Mexico and around the world.
Third: we will try to construct the necessary bridges towards the social movements that have arisen and will arise, not to lead them or take their place, but rather to learn from them, from their history, from their journeys and fates.
For this we have achieved the support of individuals and groups in different parts of the world who comprise the support teams for the EZLN’s Sixth and International commissions, so that they will become communication links between the Zapatista Support Bases and the individuals, groups, and collectives that are Adherents to the Sixth Declaration in Mexico and around the world who still maintain their conviction and dedication to the construction of a leftist non-institutional alternative.
Fourth: our critical distance from the Mexican political class will continue; they have done nothing but prosper at the cost of the necessities and the hopes of humble and simple people.
Fifth: regarding the federal, state, and municipal bad governments–executive, legislative, and judicial–, and the media that accompanies them, we say to them the following:
The bad governments from all over the political spectrum, without exception, have done everything they can to destroy us, buy us, and make us give in. The PRI, PAN, PRD, PVEM, PT, CC, and the future RN party have attacked us militarily, politically, socially, and ideologically.
The corporate media tried to make us disappear, first with servile and opportunistic slander, later with cunning and complicit silence. Those whom they served and whose moneys breastfeed them are no longer around. And those who have taken their place won’t last longer than their predecessors.
As was evident on December 21, 2012, they’ve all failed.
It remains to be seen if the federal, executive, legislative, and judicial government decides to once again resort to the counterinsurgency policy that has only achieved a rickety farse clumsily based on media management, or if it recognizes and fulfills its duty and raises indigenous rights and culture to constitutional ranking as established by the so-called “San Andres Accords,” signed by the federal government in 1996, which was ruled by the same party that now controls the executive branch.
It remains to be seen if the state government will decide if it continues its dishonest and despicable strategy of its predecessor which, in addition to being corrupt and deceitful, used the Chiapan people’s money for his own enrichment and that of his accomplices and set about openly buying voices and pens in the media, while he heaped misery upon the Chiapan people, at the same time that he was using police and paramilitaries to try to stop the organizational advance of the Zapatista villages; or if it will instead, with truth and justice, accept our existence and the idea that a new form of social life is blossoming in Zapatista territory, Chiapas, Mexico. Blossoming that draws the attention of honest people all over the planet.
It remains to be seen if the municipal governments decide to keep swallowing the millstones that the anti-Zapatista or supposedly “Zapatista” organizations use to extort them to attack our communities, or if they instead use that money to improve the living conditions of their constituents.
It remains to be seen if the people of Mexico who organize themselves in electoral struggle and resist decide to continue viewing us as the enemies or rivals upon whom they can unload their frustration about the frauds and attacks that, in the end, all of us suffer, and if in their struggle for power they continue to ally themselves with our persecutors; or if they finally see in us another way of doing politics.
Sixth: in the coming days the EZLN, through its Sixth and International commissions, will announce a series of initiatives of a civil and peaceful nature, to continue walking together with the other original peoples of Mexico and the whole continent, along with those in Mexico and around the whole world who resist and struggle down and to the left.
Brothers and sisters:
Compañeros and compañeras:
Before, we had the good fortune of honest and noble attention from various media outlets. We thanked them for it then. But that was completely erased with their later attitude.
Those who bet that we only existed in the media and that with the siege of lies and silence we would disappear were wrong.
When there weren’t cameras, microphones, pens, ears, and looks, we existed.
When they defamed us, we existed.
When they silenced us, we existed.
And here we are, existing.
Our pace, as has been demonstrated, does not depend upon our impact in the media, but rather upon the world’s and its parts’ understanding, upon the indigenous wisdom that dictates our steps, upon the unflinching courage that comes from below and to the left.
From now on, our word will begin to be selective in its recipient and, with the exception of a few occassions, will only be understood by those who have walked and walk with us without giving in to the media and current trends.
Here, with not a few errors and a lot of difficulties, another way of doing politics is already a reality.
Few, very few, will have the privilege of knowing it and learning from it directly.
Nineteen years ago we surprised them by taking over their cities with fire and blood. Now we’ve done it again, without weapons, without death, without destruction.
That is how we differentiate ourselves from those who, during their administrations, delivered and deliver death to their constituents.
We are the same from 500 years ago, from 44 years ago, from 30 years ago, from 20 years ago, from just a few days ago.
We are the Zapatistas, the smallest, the ones who live, struggle, and die in the last corner of the fatherland, those who don’t give up, those who don’t sell out, those who don’t give in.
Brothers and sisters:
compañeros and compañeras:
We are the Zapatistas, and we send you a hug.
From the mountains of the Mexican southeast,
For the Indigenous Revolutionary Clandestine Committee — General Command of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation.
Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos.
Mexico. December 2012-January 2013.
Translation: Kristin Bricker
Weekly News Update on the Americas | December 11, 2012
On December 9th Mexican authorities released 56 of the 69 people who had been in detention for more than a week on suspicion of “attacking public peace” during protests in Mexico City against the inauguration of President Enrique Peña Nieto. A total of 106 people were reportedly arrested on a day which included violent confrontations between police and protesters and widespread destruction of property [see Update #1154], but 28 were quickly released. Judge María del Carmen Mora Brito of the Federal District (DF, Mexico City) court system ordered the December 9th releases after “analyzing videos, testimonies and expert witnesses’ reports,” the DF Superior Court of Justice announced in a communiqué. (Europa Press 12/10/12)
The judge’s action followed a week of demonstrations against police repression and charges that agents had repeatedly attacked, beaten and arrested peaceful protesters and bystanders while failing to arrest the people who had been engaged in vandalism. There were also accusations that agents provocateurs had infiltrated the protests. Complaints about the police seemed to be supported by videos that circulated widely on the internet. One, a compilation by the student video collective Imágenes En Rebeldía, appears to show unprovoked police attacks, arrests of nonviolent protesters, and men dressed in civilian clothes and armed with crowbars and chains standing and walking among uniformed federal police agents behind metal barriers around the Chamber of Deputies building.
On December 6th the DF Human Rights Commission (CDHDF) reported that the DF police had arrested at least 22 people arbitrarily and that four people showed signs of having been tortured. A total of 88 people claimed to have been arrested without justification, the governmental commission said; 15 youths were charged with taking part in vandalism on Juárez Avenue even though the vandalism occurred after the time of their arrests. Among the people arrested on December 1rst was Mircea Topolenau, a Romanian photographer covering the events for a magazine. CDHDF president Luis González Placencia noted that his organization was only reporting actions by the DF police and that it was up to the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) to investigate alleged abuses by the federal police. (La Jornada (Mexico) 12/7/12)
Two protesters were seriously injured during the December 1rst protests. Drama teacher Francisco Kuykendall Leal was hit by a tear gas canister and was hospitalized with cranial injuries. He is an active supporter of The Other Campaign, a political movement inspired by the rebel Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) [see Update #832]. Uriel Sandoval Díaz, a student at the Autonomous University of Mexico City (UACM), lost an eye and suffered fractures when he was hit by a rubber bullet. “This struggle won’t end until poverty ends,” Uriel said from a wheelchair as he was being released from the General Hospital on December 6th. “An eye is nothing [when] every day thousands of human beings have nothing to eat.” (Kaos en la Red 12/4/12 from Desinformémonos; Milenio (Mexico) 12/7/12)
In related news, an online petition has been started calling on Harvard University president Drew Gilpin Faust to withdraw the offer of a fellowship at the university’s John F. Kennedy School of Government to outgoing president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa (2006-2012). Tens of thousands of Mexicans have died in the militarized “war on drugs” Calderón initiated soon after he took office in December 2006. The petition is at http://www.change.org/petitions/harvard-university-president-faust-deny-outgoing-mexican-president-felipe-calderon-employment-at-harvard
- Mexico: Peña Nieto Takes Office as Youths Riot (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Mexico’s government oil and gas giant Pemex confirmed the discovery of a crude reserve which could hold over 500 million barrels, and described as the largest on land strike in the last decade.
“Navegante 1” is located in the southern state of Tabasco, 20 kilometres from the state capital of Villahermosa and was drilled to 6.800 metres. The 3P reserves test (proven, possible, probable) of the well is estimated in over 500 million barrels, although other exploratory wells in the basin could take that figure to a billion barrels.
Pemex said that the drilling showed the existence of a column of 315 metres of light crude covering an area of 87 square kilometres, which makes it the largest discovery on land in the last decade in the country.
“The assessment of the oil potential of the field which covers 87 square kilometres indicates a 3P reserve estimate of over 500 million barrels of oil equivalent” said Pemex anticipating that further wells to establish the delimitation of the deposit are to be drilled.
The ‘Navegante 1’ on land adds to several discoveries offshore in the Gulf of Mexico which ensures Pemex can recover its level of reserves that have been falling for years. The discovery was also excellent news for the recently sworn in President Enrique Peña Nieto. Oil is a major export of the country and a strong contributor to the national budget.
Protests against Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto during his inauguration on Dec. 1 quickly turned into violent confrontations between police and demonstrators that disrupted much of downtown Mexico City. The protests were called by the National Convention Against the Imposition, a coalition of groups holding that Peña Nieto’s election last July was manipulated, and #YoSoy132 (“I’m number 132”), a student movement that arose in the spring in response to the election campaign [see Update #1130]. But masked youths, many of them wearing black t-shirts with anarchist symbols, quickly became the center of attention at the Dec. 1 demonstration.
The confrontations began around 7 am near the San Lázaro subway and bus stations at the heavily guarded and barricaded Chamber of Deputies, where the inauguration was to take place about three hours later. Determined to break through the metal barriers, the masked youths threw rocks, metal pipes and Molotov cocktails at the federal police, who responded with exceptional violence, using tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons. The media reported that the agents also used rubber bullets; police spokespeople denied the reports. Many #YoSoy132 supporters moved away from the masked youths, as did the famously militant teachers from the southern state of Oaxaca, although both groups organized brigades to assist protesters who were wounded or were overwhelmed by the tear gas.
Dozens of protesters were injured. At around 10 am #YoSoy132 reported that a youth named Carlos Yahir Valdés had been killed by a tear gas canister or a rubber bullet; Adrián Ramírez, president of the Mexican League for the Defense of Human Rights (LIMEDDH), said the victim was named Carlos Valdivia and had been seriously wounded but not killed.
Eventually the youths in black moved west towards the Zócalo plaza and then on to the Palacio de Bellas Artes cultural center and the Alameda park. Along the way they smashed windows, streetlights, phone booths and ATMs; looted stores and gas stations; and battled the Mexico City police. At times passers-by supplied the protesters with bricks to throw at the police, while smiling tourists took pictures. At least one private car was destroyed and one motorcycle was set on fire. (La Jornada (Mexico) 12/2/12)
During his first day in office, President Peña Nieto announced “13 specific decisions” to improve the situation in Mexico, including a universal social security system, life insurance for heads of households, educational reforms, and revival of passenger railroads. He also promised to maintain a zero deficit in the budget while carrying out his programs. (LJ 12/2/12)
Outgoing president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa (2006-2012)–whose militarized fight against drug trafficking set off the violence in which 50,000 Mexicans died, according to critics—is planning to leave Mexico, at least temporarily. On Nov. 28 Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts, announced that Calderón will hold a one-year fellowship at the school starting in January. “This fellowship will be a tremendous opportunity for me to reflect upon my six years in office,” Calderón said in a statement.
Calderón received a master’s degree from the Kennedy school in 2000. The Reuters wire service noted that other recent students at the school include Bo Guagua, son of ousted Chinese politician Bo Xilai, and Paula Broadwell, co-author of a book about former US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director Gen. David Petraeus, who resigned after acknowledging that he’d had an affair with her. (Reuters 11/28/12) Another former student was the late Guatemalan general Héctor Alejandro Gramajo Morales. At his graduation in June 1991 human rights activists served Gramajo with court papers for a federal civil suit under the Alien Tort Claims Act; nine Guatemalans charged him with acts of torture, abduction and murder during counterinsurgency operations in western Guatemala in 1982, when he was army chief of staff. Gramajo lost that and another human rights suit later in the year by default [see Update #737].
- Photos: Protests as Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto takes office (photos.denverpost.com)
Against the sharply contrasting backdrop of violent conflicts in the streets and carefully staged official events, Enrique Peña Nieto took office yesterday. The general outlines of the plan for his six-year term, although still not detailed, reveal proposed changes not unlike the new president–mostly cosmetic and devoted to appearances on the surface.
After taking the oath of office in the Chamber of Deputies at San Lazaro and swearing in his cabinet, the newly inaugurated president appeared before guests at the National Palace in the central plaza to deliver his first speech as Chief Executive.
Peña Nieto began his speech with a rapid pass through Mexican history, citing pre-hispanic and Spanish culture, the liberal and revolutionary currents and “the recent past”. Without mentioning the PRI, he emphasized the orderly change of power since 1934 and “accelerating democracy”, ironically dating from 1968–the year his party massacred hundreds of students in Tlatelolco.
He concluded with what would be the tonic of the speech-that Mexico is “ready to take off” and “everyone agrees that we have an historic opportunity.” His speech centered on the “Mexican Moment”, the idea of a turning point when Mexico would finally enter into a period of peace, prosperity and global recognition.
He did mention the challenges along the way, stating that Mexico is a nation that “grows at two speeds, one of progress and development and the other in backwardness and poverty” and citing the lack of employment and educational opportunities. His speech included a number of specific if not detailed measures that provide fodder for analysis.
Peña Nieto began with the “five strategic points” of his new government:
1. Mexico at peace: Peña offered to “put the citizen at the center of security policy.” He referred to this as a “change in paradigm”, without mentioning the drug war by name or the 60 to 80,000 killed under this model during the Calderon administration. He promised greater coordination between agencies and an effort to combat impunity and concluded, “There can be no security as long as there is no justice.”
2. An inclusive Mexico: Peña Nieto promoted to build an “inclusive” Mexico and close the gap of inequality so all mothers and fathers can support their families. He said Mexico should become a fair, middle-class society.
3. Quality education for all: that educates students to be responsible and committed to their communities.
4. Economic growth: through greater competitiveness, more credit, more investment in infrastructure, strengthening the domestic market and expanding the global market so Mexico can take its place as an emerging economy.
5. Mexico as a responsible global actor: Participation in the world through modern diplomacy, so Mexico becomes a factor of stability in the world and a voice that defends liberty. He also used this point to thank the leaders from abroad present.
Behind the promises
The five points are formulated in vague terms, as is usually the case with presidential promises. However, we can use what was said to anticipate the challenges and possible contradictions they pose, and gauge the political will to carry them out over the next six years.
Security policy. Peña Nieto explicitly referred to “a change in paradigm”. This is notable, since it is what the peace movement and critical analysts (CIP Americas Program among them) have been calling for for years. But there is very little in the strategic point or the “13 decisions” listed afterward to back it up.
A real change in paradigm would require two measures that the Peña government has said it will not take: withdrawing the armed forces from counternarcotics efforts and renegotiating security cooperation with the U.S. government. Peña has proposed a “gendarmery”, which is a militarized police force, or a military force charged with police duties among civilian populations. This is what Mexico already has, as the lines between police and military have been blurred precisely by the drug war. Without a plan for reducing militarization, promises to “rethink” the drug war pale.
The U.S. government has actively promoted and supported the drug war model of enforcement and interdiction through the Merida Initiative and spearheaded the massive expansion of U.S. counternarcotics activities in the country. Although both the US and Mexican governments have privately (in Wikileaks cables) and publicly admitted that the strategy has not worked — they insist it’s just a matter of time–the response is to continue with no major adjustments or real evaluations.
U.S. defense, intelligence and security companies depend on the Mexican drug war to obtain multi-million dollar government contracts. The Pentagon and other U.S. agencies have achieved unprecedented freedom to act and even direct actions on Mexican soil as a result of the Merida Initiative. The hawks in government and the war industry will not give that up easily. Peña Nieto knows that and he also knows that his nation’s economy is highly dependent on its northern neighbor. U.S. politicians worried aloud that his government would attempt to negotiate deals with drug cartels, an option which is practically impossible now due to the changes in structures of organized crime. Peña Nieto has reassured the U.S. that his administration will continue the drug war. That means continued deaths, disappearances and social upheaval. There is no mention of redefining security or human security, although the concept of putting the citizen in the center, rather the state, could be construed as coming closer to that concept.
Referring to the need for justice and eliminating impunity is a politically correct but unsubstantiated move. Impunity underlies government institutions and the corruption of the justice system historically is a PRI construct. Impunity has to be attacked from above, because it has been condoned and even promoted from above for so long. The examples of what has happened to former PRI governors accused of serious crimes against the population such as Ulises Ruiz in Oaxaca and Mario Marín in Puebla and even Peña Nieto himself for his role in the murders and rapes in the community of Atenco are illustrative. Nothing at all has happened to them. The teflon coating of PRI politicians has been carefully preserved, with a few notable exceptions such as ex-governors Tomas Yarrington (charged and on the run) and Mario Villanueva (extradited to the U.S.), who have been prosecuted for drug war crimes at the behest of U.S. authorities.
Economic policy:Making Mexico truly “inclusive” would require some structural changes in economic policy that are not likely to come about in a Peña government. The goal of this strategy is largely contradicted by the formula for economic growth indicated in the fourth point and in other statements by the new president.
He has committed to deepening rather than fixing NAFTA, meaning the countryside will continue to be decimated by unfair competition with subsidized U.S. agricultural imports and the state is barred from basic measures such as favoring national industries in purchases and contracting or protecting vulnerable sectors from oblivion. Strengthening the internal market while expanding the global market sounds great, very balanced, but in reality they require different, and often contradictory, policies.
For example, building a strong domestic market requires supporting national production, which is logical and needed but prohibited under neoliberal trade rules, where Mexico is a world leader in signing draconian free trade agreements. It also requires having a population with purchasing power, while emphasizing foreign investment and being competitive on a global market rigged against workers requires suppressing salaries–something Mexican governments have been doing over the past three decades of PRI and PAN governments.
The laudable goal of investment in infrastructure begs the question of ‘investment for who?’ and leaves open how the administration will deal with controversial infrastructure projects that violate indigenous and human rights. More credit would be a good idea, but up to now what little has been available has gone overwhelmingly to large and powerful producers, further skewing the distribution of income.
Improving education: This requires two major moves–devoting more public resources to education and taking on the entrenched leadership of the corrupt teachers’ union. Several analysts have stated that the appointment of Emilio Chauyfett as Secretary of Education is a blow to Elba Esther Gordillo, the life-long leader of the teachers’ union (SNTE). I am not convinced.
Gordillo is a political operator who climbed to the top by wielding the power of an enormous machine for generating votes and political clientele. This machine was created and sustained by the PRI. Her capacity to exchange favors allows her to call the shots in the nation’s education system. To change that would require democratizing the union. The principle forces to democratize do, and must, come from below. The CNTE, organized to crack open the patronage and corruption of the union, is largely anti-PRI and opposed Peña Nieto. His administration is unlikely to do anything that would strengthen the grassroots union democracy (his party blocked the transparency in union matters part of the labor reform) or permanently alienate the SNTE leadership.
Global affairs: So little of substance was said here that it’s hard to know what the Peña administration will change. The written version speaks of restoring Mexico’s rightful place in the concert of nations” as a “country supportive and committed to the best causes of humanity”. It’s anyone’s guess what that refers to. Peña Nieto told Wolf Blitzer of CNN, who pointedly asked what relations with Castro and Hugo Chavez would be like, that he would be building relations in the south and north. This is a recognition that the PAN governments were early exclusively oriented northward to the U.S. and hostile to center-left governments of the South.
Mexico has at times acted as a U.S. proxy in the region, causing other countries to view it with certain suspicion. The U.S. government has actively used the Mexican government in this sense. As the Obama administration pushes divisions in the region with the Pathways to Prosperity program that allies only nations that agreed to sign free trade agreements with the US and increasing military presence of allied countries under the drug war strategy, it will not be easy for Peña Nieto to trace a neutral or balanced foreign policy within the hemisphere, if that is indeed the objective.
Opposition organizations have vowed to shift their efforts from challenges to the elections to challenges to policies they believe are harmful to the country. The center-left leader and former candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador refused to recognize the new president and is building a new party. The youth movement now is stunned and angered by the violent response of the police while also calling on its members to reject violent confrontation.
The most commonly heard phrase from analysts following Peña Nieto’s inaugural speech, is “the devil’s in the details”. Although Peña Nieto followed up on these five strategic points with 13 decisions that included more specific actions, he still left much room to speculate.
Political promises are often, if not usually, set aside when the real task of governing begins, and one is left to wonder if they were sincere and not practical, or designed to build an image, not a government. The PRI is well-practiced in the art of simulation, of developing a public discourse and a backroom practice.
In any case, the country and the rest of the world now have more clues as to what the return of the PRI will mean for Mexico, for the United States and for the region.
Laura Carlsen is Director of the CIP Americas Program in Mexico City http://www.cipamericas.org.
Diatribes and Curious Silences
The Democrats just put out their platform on Latin America, and it demonstrates only the loosest connection to reality. Thus, while praising the “vibrant democracies in countries from Mexico to Brazil and Costa Rica to Chile,” as well as “historic peaceful transfers of power in places like El Salvador and Uruguay,” the Democrats continue to point to Cuba and Venezuela as outliers in the region in which the Democrats plan “to press for more transparent and accountable governance” and for “greater freedom.” Of course, it is their Platform’s deafening silence on critical developments in the region which says the most about their position vis a vis the Region.
Not surprising, the Democrats say nothing about the recent coups in Honduras and Paraguay (both taking place during Obama’s first term) which unseated popular and progressive governments. They also say nothing about the fact that President Obama, against the tide of the other democratic countries in Latin America, quickly recognized the coup governments in both of these countries. Also omitted from the platform is any discussion of the horrendous human rights situation in post-coup Honduras where journalists, human rights advocates and labor leaders have been threatened, harassed and even killed at alarming rates.
As Reporters Without Borders (RWR) explained on August 16, 25 journalists have been murdered in Honduras since the 2009 coup, making Honduras the journalist murder capital of the world. In this same story, RWR mentions Honduras in the same breath as Mexico (a country the Democrats hold out as one of the “vibrant democracies” in the region) when speaking of the oppression of journalists and social activists, as well as the general climate of violence which plagues both countries. As RWR stated, “Like their Mexican colleagues, Honduran journalists – along with human rights workers, civil society representatives, lawyers and academics who provide information – will not break free of the spiral of violent crime and censorship until the way the police and judicial apparatus functions is completely overhauled.” And indeed, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 38 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 1992, and it has been confirmed in 27 of these cases that the journalists were killed precisely because they were journalists. Meanwhile, in Mexico, over 40,000 individuals have been killed due to the U.S.-sponsored drug war – hardly a laudable figure.
Of course, in the case of Honduras, and Paraguay as well, things are going fine for U.S. interests post-coup, with Honduras maintaining the U.S. military base which President Manuel Zelaya, overthrown in the coup, had threatened to close. Similarly, in Paraguay, one of the first acts of the new coup government was agreeing to open a new U.S. military base – a base opposed by Porfirio Lobos, the President (and former liberation Bishop) overthrown in the coup. The other act of the new coup government in Paraguay was its agreement to allow Rio Tinto to open a new mine in that country, again in contravention of the deposed President’s position. The Democrats simply do not speak of either Honduras or Paraguay in their Platform.
Instead, the Democrats mostly focus on their alleged desire to bring freedom to Cuba, saying nothing about the strides already made by Cuba itself where, according to a January 27, 2012 story in the Financial Times, entitled, “Freedom comes slowly to Cuba,” “there are currently no prisoners of conscience.” This is to be contrasted with Colombia, the chief U.S. ally in the region, which houses around 10,000 political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. The Democrats, shy about such unpleasant facts, simply say nothing about Colombia – this despite the fact that Colombia just announced historic peace talks with the guerillas which have been engaged in a 50-year insurgency in that country. Apparently, this does not deserve a mention amongst the Democrats’ anti-Cuba diatribe.
Meanwhile, the Democrats also single out Venezuela as a country which it is hoping to free from its alleged chains. What the Democrats fail to note is that Venezuela already has a popular, democratically President in Hugo Chavez who is making life better for the vast majority of Venezuelans, and who appears poised to receive the majority of the votes of the Venezuelan people in the upcoming October elections as a consequence. Thus, according to Oxfam, “Venezuela certainly seems to be getting something right on inequality. According to the highly reputable UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, it now has the most equal distribution of income in the region, and has improved rapidly since 1990.” Again, contrast this with the U.S.’s chief ally Colombia and with Mexico, the two countries with the worst problems of inequality in the region. As the Council on Hemispheric Affairs noted earlier this year, “both Colombia and Mexico suffer from some of the world’s most unequal distributions of wealth. In 1995, Colombia was ranked the fifth most unequal country (of those with available statistics), with a Gini coefficient of 0.57, while Mexico was ranked the eighth worst with a Gini coefficient of 0.52. Between 2006 and 2010, Colombia’s inequality ranked 0.58, while Mexico’s coefficient was 0.52, qualifying them as two of the lowest ranked countries in the world.” The Democrats, uninterested in such trivialities as social equality, simply ignore such inconvenient data.
For its part, U.S. labor, as represented (albeit very poorly) by the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center, continue to march in step with the U.S. government and the Democrats in their imperial delusions about the Region. Thus, while for some time simply hiding the fact that it has been working in Venezuela at all, the Solidarity Center, in response to pressure about this issue, has recently admitted on its website that it has been continuously working in Venezuela these past 13 years – i.e., to and through the coup in 2002 which the Solidarity Center aided and abetted by funneling monies from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) to the anti-Chavez CTV union which was a major player in the coup.
Stinging from the just criticism over this, the Solidarity Center now claims — reminiscent of George W. Bush who fancied himself a “uniter” as opposed to a “divider” – claims that it is in Venezuela to unite the divided labor movement. Thus, the Solidarity Center states: “[g]iven the political fragmentation and divisions between unions in Venezuela, Solidarity Center activities work to help unions from all political tendencies overcome their divisions in order to jointly advocate for and defend policies for increased protection of fundamental rights at the workplace and industry levels. The Solidarity Center currently supports efforts to unite unions from diverse political orientations (including chavista and non-chavista, left and center) to promote fundamental labor rights in the face of anti-labor actions that threaten both pro-government unions and traditionally independent unions.” In its statement, the Solidarity Center says nothing about the progressive labor law which President Chavez just recently signed into law without any help from U.S. labor. This law, among other things, outlaws outsourcing and subcontracting, shortens the work week, increases minimum vacation time, increases maternity leave and requires employers to provide retirement benefits.
The Solidarity Center statement about Venezuela is laden with irony as well as hubris. The U.S. labor movement is itself greatly fragmented, with two competing houses of labor (the AFL-CIO and Change to Win) as well as divisions even within these two confederations. That the Solidarity Center would presume to be able to unite any union movement outside its borders is laughable. Indeed, only imagine the reception from the labor movement in this country if China’s labor confederation purported to intervene in the U.S. to help unite the labor movement here. Aside from wondering how exactly the Chinese unionists planned to do this, many would wonder about the ends to which such unity, once miraculously created, would be applied. And, one must wonder the very same about this in regard to the Solidarity Center’s role in Venezuela. First of all, the so-called “chavista” unions want nothing to do with the Solidarity Center, funded as it is by the NED and U.S.-AID, especially after the 2002 coup. Again, they would have to question what the Solidarity Center, which just received a massive grant of $3 million for its work in Venezuela and Colombia, would want to “unify” the Venezuelan union movement to do. The question appears to answer itself, and it is not a pretty one.
A modest proposal for the AFL-CIO and its Solidarity Center is to focus on uniting the labor movement at home in the U.S. to challenge the power that capital has on our political system; pressing for better U.S. labor law (on this score it could learn a lot from Venezuela and its labor movement); abandoning its labor paternalism (if not imperialism) and leaving it to the Venezuelans to unite their own labor movement. Similarly, the Democrats, instead of worrying about ostensibly bringing U.S.-style democracy (more like social inequality and militarism) to other countries in the Region, should spend more time trying to make this country less beholden to corporate and monied interests, and thereby more democratic in the process. But again, this is not what the Democrats are about. What the AFL-CIO is about, aside from blindly supporting the Democrats, is anyone’s guess.
Alberto C. Ruiz is a long-time labor and peace activist.
The United States is leading the way to another corporate-friendly free-trade agreement, and it’s bringing its NAFTA partners along for the ride.
The United States recently announced that Canada and Mexico will join negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—a secretive U.S.-led multinational trade and investment agreement currently being negotiated with eight other countries in the Pacific Rim region.On the other side of the Pacific, Japanese legislators are defecting in droves to try to stop the country’s entry into the negotiations. But the situation is much different in Canada and Mexico, which were admitted to the table with much fanfare during the G20 summit in June. The Japanese response is justifiable, and a recent statement of solidarity against the TPP by North American unions offers a good building block for resisting an agreement that for Mexicans and Canadians amounts to a neoliberal expansion of NAFTA on U.S. President Barack Obama’s terms.Mexico and Canada had been trying to secure a spot at the TPP table for months prior to the G20, and it became a leading story in both countries. Their anxiety played nicely into Obama’s hands, allowing the U.S. trade representative to put humiliating entry conditions on both countries — essentially giving these NAFTA neighbors a second-rate status, or what in Spanish is called convidados de palo (to be invited but without a say). Neither Canada nor Mexico will be able to see any TPP text until they finally join the negotiations in December, following the required 90-day U.S. congressional approval process. Once at the table, they will not be able to make any changes to the finished text or propose any new text in the finished chapters. There is a very real possibility that the existing TPP countries, the United States in particular, will use the following months to fashion a trap for the TPP latecomers.
North American Labor Solidarity
While most media outlets welcomed the NAFTA partners to the TPP table, national labor federations from the United States, Mexico, and Canada were cautious for very good reasons, and it wasn’t just the obviously imbalanced negotiating dynamic. On July 11, the AFL-CIO, the Canadian Labour Congress, and the National Union of Workers (UNT) of Mexico outlined some of those reasons in an important statement of solidarity, which included a vision of what they believe a 21st-centry trade agreement should look like.
The labor unions state that although they “would welcome a TPP that creates good jobs, strengthens protection for fundamental labor rights—such as freedom of association and authentic collective bargaining—protects the environment, and boosts global economic growth and development for all, American, Canadian, and Mexican workers cannot afford another corporate-directed trade agreement.” The joint statement explains that to have any positive effect on the region, “the TPP must break from NAFTA, which imposed a destructive economic model that expands the rights and privileges of multinational corporations at the expense of working families, communities, and the environment.”
The unions conclude that if “the TPP follows the neoliberal model and substitutes corporate interests for national interests, workers in all three countries will continue to pay a high price in the form of suppressed wages, a more difficult organizing environment, and general regulatory erosion, even as large corporations will continue to benefit.” Unfortunately, by all accounts, including leaked TPP chapters and statements from the U.S. trade representative, this is exactly what the Obama administration hopes to achieve through these negotiations.
Expanding Investor Rights
Instead of breaking with NAFTA, the TPP expands it in almost every chapter, from intellectual property rights to “regulatory coherence,” and from rules for increased “competition” in state-owned enterprises to opening government purchases to foreign bidders.
Particularly worrying to Canadians and Mexicans, and not mentioned in the joint statement from North American unions, are the extreme investors’ rights foreseen in the TPP. Under NAFTA, Mexico and Canada continue to be pummeled by investor-state lawsuits from U.S. and Canadian companies, or international firms using their U.S. registration to challenge government measures that can be shown to interfere with profits, even if that interference is not intended. These investment disputes, launched under NAFTA’s Chapter 11 protections, have resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in fines or settlements to be paid out from public funds. Two recent cases against Mexico and Canada help describe the problem.
In 2009, two separate NAFTA investment panels established through the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) ruled in favour of U.S. companies Cargill and Corn Products International in their nearly identical cases against a Mexican tax on drinks containing high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a sugar alternative. The tax was a means of levelling the playing field for Mexican cane sugar producers, who were having no luck accessing the U.S. market on equal terms to U.S. sugar producers despite NAFTA’s promises of open borders.
Cargill and CPI argued in part that the Mexican tax made soft drinks sweetened with HFCS less competitive on the Mexican market, depriving them of their national treatment rights in NAFTA. The ICSID panels did not agree that the HFCS tax amounted to a form of regulatory expropriation or performance requirement as the firms had also argued, but did agree on the national treatment claim. Cargill was awarded more than $77 million and CPI more than $58 million in damages. In the CPI case, the ICSID panel deprived Mexico of any countermeasures to defend against a one-way inflow of cheap sugar supplements from the United States.
Canada also just lost an important investor-state dispute with Exxon Mobil, which could cost the Canadian government as much as $65 million. At issue were measures requiring offshore oil and gas producers in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador to turn over a portion of their profits to research and development or education and training programs. A NAFTA investment panel ruled in favor of the company, which claimed that the measures were an illegal performance requirement on the firm. Three Canadian courts had previously upheld the legality of the measures, and the Canadian government had excluded the legislation enforcing the measures from national treatment and other investment protections in NAFTA, making the investment panel ruling extremely perplexing. The frustration is worsened by the fact that Exxon Mobil was the richest company in the world in 2011. Under NAFTA and the TPP, investors have rights but no enforceable responsibilities to the countries in which they are operating.
These are just two local cases amid a myriad of investor lawsuits against countries all over the world. Though the Obama administration recently released a new model Bilateral Investment Treaty, it is almost identical to NAFTA, with only modest safeguards for regulation in the public interest — safeguards that closed-door tribunals are under little obligation to take into account. In fact, the trend globally is for these secret tribunals to rule expansively in the interest of corporations, perhaps as a means of perpetuating the system by making it more attractive to investors. There is simply no justification for reproducing the investor-state dispute regime in the TPP. In fact, NAFTA should be renegotiated to remove investor-state dispute settlement from Chapter 11.
This outcome—removing extreme investment protections from the TPP—is not out of the question. In June of this year, before a negotiating round in San Diego, California, 130 state legislators from all 50 states and Puerto Rico signed a letter to President Obama’s senior trade official warning that they will oppose the deal unless the administration alters its current approach. In the letter they say that “Our experience with NAFTA and other trade deals shows that investor-state dispute settlement is used by large corporations to undermine state and federal laws they don’t like – laws that are fully constitutional, that do not discriminate, and that are needed to protect public health and safety.”
There is also the question of Australia, the one TPP partner refusing to abide by these investment rules. In April 2011, the Australian government released a new trade policy that discontinues the inclusion of investor-state dispute settlement in bilateral or regional trade agreements. Despite their second-rate status at the TPP table, Canada and Mexico could eventually help the United States put pressure on Australia and others who doubt the value of these extreme corporate rights. But public pressure might prove strong enough to foil these efforts, as it did when the Multilateral Agreement on Investment was ditched in 1999, followed by the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in 2005.
A New FTAA, A New Struggle
With Canada and Mexico joining the TPP, the agreement is looking more and more like a substitute for the FTAA. So it is not surprising that opposition to the TPP is growing as quickly as it did against that former attempt to expand the neoliberal model throughout the Western hemisphere.
The intense secrecy of the TPP negotiations is not helping the Obama administration make its case.In their statement, North American unions “call on our governments to work with us to include in the TPP provisions to ensure strong worker protections, a healthy environment, safe food and products, and the ability to regulate financial and other markets to avoid future global economic crises.” But the truth is that only big business is partaking in consultations, with 600 lobbyists having exclusive passwords to online versions of the negotiating text.
A majority of Democratic representatives (132 out of 191) have expressed that they are “troubled that important policy decisions are being made without full input from Congress.” They have written to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to urge him and his staff to “engage in broader and deeper consultations with members of the full range of committees of Congress whose jurisdiction touches on the wide-ranging issues involved, and to ensure there is ample opportunity for Congress to have input on critical policies that will have broad ramifications for years to come.” In their letter, the representatives also challenge “the lack of transparency of the treaty negotiation process, and the failure of negotiators to meaningfully consult with states on the far-reaching impact of trade agreements on state and local laws, even when binding on our states, is of grave concern to us.”U.S. Senators, for their part, have also sent a letter complaining of the lack of congressional access to the negotiations. What openness and transparency can we in Canada and Mexico expect when the decision to join the TPP, under humiliating conditions, was made without any public consultation?
NAFTA turns 20 years old in 2014. Instead of expanding it through the TPP we must learn from NAFTA’s shortcomings, starting with the historic lack of consultation with unions and producers in the three member countries. It is necessary to correct the imbalances in NAFTA, which as the North American union statement explains enhanced corporate power at the expense of workers and the environment. In particular, we need to categorically reject the investor-state dispute settlement process that has proven so costly, in real terms and with respect to our democratic options in Canada and Mexico. The unions’ statement of solidarity provides a strong foundation for the growing trinational opposition to the TPP in Leesburg, Virginia, and beyond.
- TPP plus NAFTA plus SOPA=Big Trouble (intrepidreport.com)
Perhaps the most humiliating legacy of our nation-building venture in Afghanistan is the stubborn narco-state flourishing under our noses. The opium crop in Afghanistan has doubled since US forces deposed the Taliban, and the drug trade threatens to dominate the country as never before when our forces leave in 2014. How did this happen?
By and large, it seems US forces followed a policy of turning a blind eye to the opium crop, on the premise that poor farmers are not our main enemies in Afghanistan, and attacking their livelihood would turn them to the Taliban. To combat opium production, our principal initiatives included helping farmers cultivate alternate crops, and setting up an independent court system to try traffickers. While these have shown some promise, progress has been slow, and funding for these programs is drying up. Crop eradication was on our minds, too, but we charged the Afghan forces with that task. Their efforts, however, have been undermined by political corruption on the ground.
Underscoring the futility of our drug war in Afghanistan is the impact of the current blight on opium poppies in the country. At first glance, this might sound like a God-send: crop eradication at its best. However, something happened that we American capitalists should have anticipated. With opium supply suddenly scarce, the price of the crop soared. This has in turn enriched –and entrenched—the big dealers, inspired farmers to double down on next year’s crop to make up for current losses, and likely attracted more people to the drug trade in a very poor country. The result of this blight illuminates the main problem of crop eradication: it drives up prices, providing more incentives surrounding the drug trade.
In Latin America, our anti-narcotic efforts have largely featured interdiction, eradication, and assaulting the drug gangs. Our tactics on this front were recently highlighted by reports of a bloody incident in Honduras where local forces, with US financing and support, have been intercepting drug traffickers from South America in the remote Honduran jungle. The Honduran forces mistakenly killed unarmed civilians while intercepting a drug shipment. Notable in our efforts in Honduras is the extensive involvement of the US military. The Honduran forces who conducted this raid flew out of one of the three bases the US military operates in that country. The forces were tipped off by our military’s Southern Command in Miami, carried to the location by State Department helicopters, and accompanied by DEA agents. For all intents and purposes, the US seems to be waging war in Latin America.
So far it seems the most obvious result of our aggressive approach in Latin America is increasingly grotesque violence. Since Mexico started its crack down on the drug cartels, thanks to US prodding and support, the country has suffered 50,000 deaths. Mexican cartels have exploded, resorting to mass killings, beheadings, mutilation—body parts found in bags in public squares—assassinations of government officials. Savage violence surrounding the drug trade is spreading through the countries of Central America as we ramp up interdiction efforts there. The brazen and pervasive violence is testimony to what’s at stake, namely, the incredibly lucrative US drug market. The sum total of our efforts in Latin America compounds the problem.
As the New York Times Magazine explained in a recent expose on the Mexican drug cartels (“The Snow Kings of Mexico”, 6/17/12), the cost of drugs on the street is largely determined by the amount of risk assumed in getting the product to market. So: make the risk greater and the prices rise; more dealers get involved, and jockey (or kill) for a piece of the action.
This is why, our former ambassador to Colombia has argued, we must pair our negative policies with economic development in Latin America. If we build schools and hospitals, and help develop businesses in the region, we can reduce incentives to enter the drug trade. And yet, as long as the drug trade remains so lucrative, it’s reasonable to suppose, incentives to enter it will always be powerful.
What strikes me in the many prongs of our current war on drugs is how we seem to focus on everything but ourselves—and go to great efforts in so doing. We monitor the nations our drugs come from, and toil to frustrate traffickers thousands of miles from our borders. We work to change the economic conditions on the ground in very poor nations—no small task—while poor neighborhoods at home beg for attention. We enlist our military, the largest in the world, to stem the flow of drugs northward. And none of it works. These efforts have the opposite effect of what we intend, for they drive up prices and stoke the drug trade. The traffickers will do anything to get the product to market as a result: Colombian gangs have built submarines for this purpose; the Mexican cartels use catapults to launch drugs over our multi-million dollar border fences.
We’d rather do anything but zero in on demand here, but it’s so clear this would be the cheapest, most direct, most effective, most humane solution. It makes you wonder if we want to win the war on drugs at all.
Firmin DeBrabander is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the Maryland Institute College of Art.
- Honduras counts the human rights cost of America’s war on drugs (guardian.co.uk)
- The DEA and the Massacre in the Moskitia (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- More Drug War Failures in Latin America (nationalinterest.org)