[Marxism] NY Times op-ed - How To Be a Good Neighbor

Dbachmozart at aol.com Dbachmozart at aol.com
Sat Jul 8 06:41:06 MDT 2006

Op-Ed Contributor  NY Times - 7/8/06  
How to Be a Good Neighbor 

Published: July 8, 2006
THE Aztecs used to believe that history is not linear but circular, with  
great events repeating themselves on a regular basis. That certainly seems to be  
the case with Mexico, which has a revolution once every hundred years.  
In 1810, peasants thrown off their land by plantation owners led a violent  
five-year rebellion that paved the way for Mexico's independence from Spain. In 
 1910, an instance of electoral fraud ignited an agrarian revolution, which 
in  turn kicked off a decade-long civil war in which millions of Mexicans died. 
Nearly a century later, Mexico's current electoral crisis likewise is  
propelled by rural unrest — this time largely brought about by the anger of  
agricultural workers displaced by the North American Free Trade Agreement.  Andrés 
Manuel López Obrador, the center-left presidential candidate who is  contesting 
the declared victory of Felipe Calderón in last Sunday's election,  draws much 
of his support from this increasingly restive population of rural  poor. 
Before Nafta, Mexico was self-sufficient in corn and bean production. Today,  
one out of three Mexican tortillas is made with cheap corn meal from the 
United  States. In 1993, more than 10 million Mexicans made their living off the 
land.  Today, even as Mexico's population has grown, that number has plummeted 
to about  seven million.  
Mexican farmers simply can't compete with capital-intensive United States  
agribusiness, which continues to enjoy generous government subsidies. Moreover,  
Mexican commodity importers receive low-interest loans to buy crops from the  
United States. Every year, nearly three million tons of harvested Mexican 
corn  is left to rot because it is too expensive to sell. 
Mexicans have reason to worry that this is not all the trouble Nafta has in  
store. In 2008, the agreement's final provision is set to go into effect,  
eliminating the last tariffs on United States corn and beans and ending the  
subsidies Mexico gives to its peasant farmers — all the while leaving untouched  
the far larger subsidies Washington doles out to its own agricultural sector.  
During his campaign, Mr. López Obrador pledged to renegotiate this provision,  
but J. B. Penn, the United States undersecretary of agriculture, last month  
pre-emptively responded by saying that "we have no interest in renegotiating 
any  parts of the agreement." 
For the last decade and a half, Washington and its allies in Mexican  
politics, including Mr. Calderón, have promoted a free-trade economic model that  has 
failed to deliver the prosperity its advocates promised. Although the  
Mexican economy grew by 3 percent last year, the country's poverty and  inequality 
indicators remain typical to bad by Latin American standards, with  the richest 
10 percent of citizens controlling 43 percent of the country's  wealth, while 
some 40 percent of Mexicans live below the poverty line.  
These problems, combined with Mexican anger over the immigration debate in  
the United States, run the risk of souring relations between our two countries  
for the foreseeable future. 
But there is a way the Bush administration can help to set things on a  
different course. Although election officials say Mr. Calderón won the  
presidential vote, the United States should not rush to embrace him as the  election's 
victor. The official tally gives Mr. Calderón a razor-thin lead, and  there are 
credible reports of significant irregularities that could, at best,  weaken 
the legitimacy of a Calderón presidency, and at worst, lead to escalating  
protests. The disputed votes include the 904,000 annulled ballots that come  
primarily from regions that went heavily for Mr. López Obrador, as well as  
discrepancies between the numbers handed in by polling stations and the actual  
ballots cast. 
The best thing the United States can do now is to support the push for a  
recount and to refrain from calling on Mr. López Obrador to concede. Then, no  
matter who finally wins the election, the White House should renegotiate Nafta,  
allowing Mexico to set its own policy in support of its rural economy. If the 
 Bush administration does otherwise, it might help begin yet another season 
of  Mexican upheaval — just as the Aztecs might have predicted.  
Greg Grandin, a professor of history at New York University, is  the author 
of "Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States and the Rise  of the 
New Imperialism."

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