Maquiladora realities

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sun Feb 11 09:55:19 MST 2001

NY Times, February 11, 2001

Chasing Mexico's Dream Into Squalor


CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico  — Often looking as if he had slept in his clothes,
Salvador Durón does not cut the most distinguished figure. But even with
his gray stubble and grease-stained fingers, he is welcomed like a king
into the shantytowns at the edge of this teeming city on the border with
the United States.

Mr. Durón is the water man.

Maneuvering his 15-ton tanker up jagged mesas and down narrow ravines, he
delivers water to people the city cannot afford to supply. He is an
everyday hero to those who live in the cardboard shacks beneath the
broiling border sun.

To the local government, he is a crucial part of the struggle to absorb the
tidal wave of workers drawn here each week by increased trade between the
United States and Mexico. In the last five years more than one million
Mexicans have moved to the border. Many come not to cross the border but to
work in thousands of mostly foreign-owned manufacturing plants, known as

The factories sprouted in the mid-1960's, when Mexico and the United States
began an industrialization program along their border to ease chronic
unemployment in Mexico. Then with the North American Free Trade Agreement
came even more jobs, more shantytowns — and more demand for Mr. Durón.

Most days, he feels as if he cannot keep up. Parking his truck atop a ridge
that a year ago was the end of his route, Mr. Durón pointed to hundreds of
new shacks reaching out toward the horizon. A mother and three small
children emerged from one of the hovels and waved desperately for him to
bring water their way.

"The city keeps getting bigger and bigger," he said. "There's no way to get
water to everyone who needs it."

Ciudad Juárez, whose people he tries to supply, is only one dot in a rash
of overflowing cities and towns from Tijuana to Matamoros. Hundreds of the
world's wealthiest companies — Alcoa, Delphi Automotive Systems, General
Electric and others — have set up manufacturing plants south of the border,
drawn by lucrative tax breaks and cheap labor. While factories pay nearly
triple the Mexican minimum wage — about $4 a day — workers here make in a
day less than their American counterparts earn in an hour.

The explosion has created one of the most dynamic industrial zones in the
Americas — and all of the problems associated with explosive growth. The
overwhelmed Mexican border cities lack the means to provide the most basic
services. One of the country's powerful drug cartels holds sway here in
Juárez and drug-related crime is common. Dozens of women who have come to
work in the maquiladoras have been abducted, tortured, raped and murdered,
their bodies tossed like garbage in the desert.

All along the border, the land, the water and the air are thick with
industrial and human waste. The National Water Commission reports that the
towns and cities, strapped for funds, can adequately treat less than 35
percent of the sewage generated daily. About 12 percent of the people
living on the border have no reliable access to clean water. Nearly a third
live in homes that are not connected to sewage systems. Only about half the
streets are paved.

Mirror images of these communities dot parts of the Texas side of the line.
Last year the third world conditions became an issue in the presidential
race between Al Gore and George W. Bush. Democrats accused the Texas
governor of ignoring 400,000 people who live in more than 1,400
unincorporated encampments, or colonias. Mr. Bush lashed back, saying that
he and his supporters had done more to bring water, sewage and sanitation
services to people than any previous administration.

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Louis Proyect
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