As I looked out of my window flying from Monterey, Mexico to Houston, Texas one afternoon two weeks ago I looked out on a landscape that once contained hundreds of ejidos, now vacant…emptied out under the pressure of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and the United States. Ejidos were guaranteed under the Mexican Constitution to return land to indigenous Mexicans as a part of a massive land reform program fought out in a revolution led by Emilio Zapata.
Since the Mexican Revolution descendants of the original peoples of this land produced their own food, shared benefits in common and sold the excess of their produce to earn some money for things they could not make–largely a subsistence economy that ensured life and happiness. Indigenous Mexicans were once again–since the Spanish invasion of the 1520s–living as producers and consumers of their own self-sustaining goods and services. That all came to an end when under pressure from the United States, the World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Mexican government repealed the ejido system guarantees against land alienation. In 1997 25% of the ejidos were sold mainly to large corporations and the community members became consumers and low wage workers (about 35 cents US per hour) (mainly in American companies along the northern border of Mexico) producing products for the world market. Self-sufficient people were once again turned into dependent consumers…unable to feed and house themselves. Is it any wonder that mostly Mexican Indian people cross the US border to secure jobs that pay substantially more to help feed family members back home?
I am sitting in the city of Puerto Vallarta today looking out across the skyline filled with derricks with pulleys and long cables lifting cement, tiles, windows and other building materials to new hotels and office buildings. Workers from the country-side now come into town on buses, in the back of pickups and in dump trucks to sweat and labor to build the new city growing on top of the old village that was located on the east shore of Banderas Bay.
A few people in Mexico, mostly those descendant from Spaniards, have become fabulously wealthy and others moderately wealthy while the vast majority of Mexico’s indigenous peoples (about 70% of the population) try to play catchup economics–the possibility of which remains illusive at best. Indeed, the trickle down doesn’t and hasn’t trickled down. Mainly those who once produced the food, clothing, housing and other life supporting goods have been alienated from their role as producers–forced now to become laborers and consumers rushing into Wal-Mart to gather up moderately priced goods manufactured in China.
While Mexico is experiencing a building boom is several cities, and a few have become fabulously rich, the vast majority, the descendants of Mexico’s Aztec, Zapotec, Mixe, Maya and other nations have rapidly lost their main food source (maize) to Monsanto Corporation, their livelihood to corporations buying up their land for massive farms to produce export soybeans and their capacity to determine their own future. The only exception to this general rule is the choice and the risky effort on the part of many Indian people to cross the US/Mexico border to perform back breaking work in the United States for wages that help sustain their families back home.
The Americans helped create this mess in the last twenty-five years. This is not the new economy. This is the old economy of the 19th century writ in the 21st century.
The irony is that as I write today, siting in a Mexican city that is booming, this is a day Mexicans celebrate their Revolution that was to bring new freedoms and self-reliance back to the majority of the people. Today, however, there is less to celebrate in Mexico as the people, mostly the Indian people, suffer.
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The library is dedicated to the memory of Secwepemc Chief George Manuel (1921-1989), to the nations of the Fourth World and to the elders and generations to come.access here