[Marxism] NY Times op-ed - How To Be a Good Neighbor
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Sat Jul 8 06:41:06 MDT 2006
Op-Ed Contributor NY Times - 7/8/06
How to Be a Good Neighbor
By GREG GRANDIN
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
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
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