Chanting “Sin maiz, No hay pais” (Without Corn, the country doesn’t exist), Mexican farmers by the tens of thousands demonstrated in Mexico City against NAFTA.
Join me across the Rio Grande.
Led by a column of tractors, tens of thousands of demonstrators marched through downtown Mexico City on Thursday to protest recent trade openings that removed the last tariff protections for ancestral Mexican crops like corn and beans.
Chanting “Without corn, the country doesn’t exist!” farmers and farm activists from across the nation demanded the Mexican government renegotiate the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, to reinstate protection for basic crops.
Farmers here say they can’t compete with bigger U.S. farms which receive more government support. Under the terms of NAFTA, Mexico got a 15-year protection period to improve its farms, but that phase-in period ended Jan. 1, and Mexican farms – mostly tiny plots of 12 acres or less – still lag behind.
“The truth is, we can’t compete, that is why we’re demonstrating … because we’re really getting hit hard,” said Telespor Andrade, 44, a weather-beaten farmer from central Mexico who grows corn and beans on about 7 acres of land.
Andrade is typical of Mexican farmers who grow corn for subsistence. I’ve written about this extensively here and the inescapable conclusion is that NAFTA is making Mexican farmers leave their homes and emigrate the the US. That’s right. US economic policy is directly forcing farmers to leave their homes and migrate to the US, with or without documents.
Protesters pastured their cows outside the Mexican Stock Exchange on the city’s main boulevard, and burned a tractor at a nearby monument to the 1910 Mexican Revolution.
Mexican officials say farmers are getting help, and that Mexico’s corn production is rising. But activists say farm policies have benefited mainly big producers, not small producers who make up the vast majority of farmers here. U.S. farmers, they say, have much better transport and distribution systems, lower costs and bigger subsidies.
“We’re up against all the might of the developed countries,” said Martin Perez Santiago, 60, a farmer from the Gulf coast state of Veracruz. “We can’t compete because of a lack of support, a lack of subsides, technology, better seed varieties.”
When Santiago mentions “better seed varieties,” the sound you hear is the door in Mexico opening for genetically modified seed from the US rather than the indigenous species that have been doing quite well for centuries. In other words, not only is NAFTA a disaster in terms of immigration from Mexican family farms, it’s an ecological disaster in the making.
This is an extremely important story. NAFTA has created consequences that are disastrous for Mexico. It’s forcing subsistence farmers to flee to the US. It’s pressuring them to introduce GMA corn. It’s already requiring Mexico, the birthplace of corn, to purchase animal corn from the US. It’s creating an ecological disaster.
This is an important story, but I don’t expect it to be discussed in the presidential race in the US, and I don’t expect it to have much of a life in the traditional US press.