“Regardless of the party in power, a key provision of the NAFTA treaty allows investors to sue governments if legislation negatively affects profits. With this, the Mexican state effectively passed control of environmental, labour and health and safety legislation to multinational corporations.”
2010 marks the centennial of the outbreak of the largest social upheaval in 20th century Latin America, the Mexican Revolution, and 200 years since independence from Spain. 200 and 100 years on, Mexico once again teeters on the verge of collapse, lacking basic services, blighted by poverty, hunger, environmental degradation, political corruption, human rights abuses and powerful drug cartels.
Some of this can be explained by Mexico’s treatment to a kind of free-trade shock therapy in the last two and a half decades which has transferred a large amount of power from the state to big business, international financial institutions and the US economy. Economists, politicians and the Mexican business elite originally presented free-trade, particularly under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Canada, the United States and Mexico implemented in 1994, as a potential solution to the country’s ills. Though there was no consultation with civil society in the signatory countries, proponents assured that the market, if left to do its magic work, would, if with some hardship in the initial years, solve many of the central problems affecting Mexican society.
NAFTA differed significantly from the kind of trade agreements drafted within the EU. Free movement across borders was granted to commodities but not to citizens of the three countries. Nor was there a commercial policy which treated the NAFTA signatories as a trading or political block – countries outside NAFTA would, as prior to the agreement, deal with the three governments separately. Other than entering new trade relations, the populations of the three countries would see no substantive change in their rights as citizens. From the outset, it was clear to critics that such an agreement would privilege the most powerful of the three economies and was an attempt to bolster economic and hegemonic control by the United States in Mexico and the region while leading to the increasing impoverishment of ordinary Mexicans.
In August of this year at the North American Summit in Guadalajara, Mexico, US President Obama reversed his campaign pledge to renegotiate NAFTA, claiming that in the midst of economic crisis, now was not the time to redefine the rules of free trade. Only a few months previously, when Obama met his Mexican counterpart, Felipe Calderón, both stressed the need for more free-trade and signalled that economic relations between the US and Mexico would continue unabated. In the third decade of neoliberalism and fifteen years since NAFTA then, how has free-trade affected Mexico?
In 1982 the economy entered a severe crisis caused by inflation, falling oil prices and high interest rates. In the same year, the government agreed to take on the debts of the Mexican banks, which were nationalised, with their owners heavily compensated for the inconvenience. The economy would be saved so long as the government agreed to adopt neoliberal measures, accept loans from the international financial institutions and effectively reverse the protectionist system President Cárdenas’s government had established in the 1930s. 
Many of the processes which had provoked the violent conflict which exploded in 1910 were now translated into the present. Public spending was cut back severely, wages lowered, ejidos (small, communal landholdings) were sold off and privatised, unions attacked, trade barriers reduced and farming subsidies slashed. Foreign capital, already a huge presence even under the relatively protectionist economy pre-1982, could once again operate freely without hindrance from national government. Wages in Mexico were significantly lower than in the US and health and safety and environmental legislation harder to enforce; nor would investors need be concerned about paying the benefits demanded by US workers.
What Pablo González Casanova termed ‘internal colonisation’ deepened post-1982, representing the logical outcome of centuries of colonialism, the development of the structures of exploitation initiated by Spanish conquest.  Whereas the state had, prior to 1982, principal control over the country’s internal affairs, it has since renounced its national ‘revolutionary’ project. Mexico joined the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) in 1986 and NAFTA, some eight years later, extended and deepened the system already in place.
Compromises made by the post-revolutionary government in the 1930s had been negotiated between political, military and business elites and the unions and peasant organisations in order to establish a system of stability and keep a lid on organised dissent. Since abandoning its social programme, the state, in the words of Miguel Tinker Salas, has become little more than a ‘manager of wealth’  whose role is to attract financial capital. With the removal of trade barriers in 1982, 1986 and 1994, Mexico was forced to accept subsidised products from abroad, principally the US. In return for the financial ‘aid’ and ‘loans’ provided by the IMF, WTO and World Bank, Mexico had to slash its already ailing social programmes and development of infrastructure. Previously established compromises between the state and civil society and social programmes were scrapped with the onset of neoliberal reforms in the early 1980s, a process which has intensified popular discontent and disillusionment with Mexico’s system.
Were inequalities not extreme enough prior to the 1980s, the gap between rich and poor has since intensified to unprecedented levels. The world’s richest man, a Mexican, Carlos Slim, acquires on average $27 million every day, while the majority of Mexico’s impoverished must make do with less than $2 per day. 
Proponents of free trade and its incarnation in NAFTA justified neoliberal policies by claiming that after an initial ‘shock’ to the economy, life for the majority would soon improve. ‘NAFTA’, claimed Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs, ‘really is a beautiful thing’, noting that its principal benefits were due to the low wages received by Mexican workers.  Like many arguments presented in favour of free-trade, it was, as Edward Herman comments, ‘immune to evidence’ and disregarded ‘conditions or effects’ on the lives of millions of Mexicans. 
The human costs of neoliberalism in Mexico were what economists refer to as an ‘externality’. Within the logic of the market, the social costs of a particular business deal are external to the concerns of those trading, unless they affect profit margins.  Thus, if corn, bean or coffee farmers can no longer scrape together a living as a result of a policy into which they never had any input, that’s not free-trade’s problem.
There being no alternative – at least in the orthodox thought of what Herman dubs ‘Marketspeak’ – GATT, the WTO and NAFTA were introduced to the world as solutions to poverty, rather than its exacerbators. ‘Future historians’, Mark Weisbrot observes,
will certainly marvel at how trade, originally a means to obtain what could not be produced locally, became an end in itself. In our age it has become a measure of economic and social progress more important even than the well-being of the people who produce or consume the traded goods. 
As free-market ideology contrasted with peoples’ lived experience, only a constant barrage of information and commentary on the wonders of the new socio-economic model would ensure that those with stakes in maintaining it would be immune to challenge. For journalist and author Carlos Monsiváis, the role of the Mexican media is to ‘persuade and dissuade Public Opinion, to neutralise “unorthodox inclinations”, to parody expressions of free thought and to convince of the inexistence of alternatives’. 
Trade agreements such as NAFTA were pushed through by underlining a sense of inevitability, ‘the inexistence of alternatives’ and although the public had no say, free-trade was soon to become a reality whether Mexicans wished it or not. If businesses and farmers failed or ran into debts as a result, this was explained as their failure to modernise, to adapt to the new realities of the global market.
Countering this sense of inevitability is a major challenge, because it is this sense that allows for the unthinkable to become acceptable, or at least tolerable. On this, journalist John Gibler comments that,
Ideology serves to normalise horrid social relations. With the magic of a well-placed word or two, duly impregnated with ideology, the most absurd and unacceptable of situations are made to seem natural. Ideology tells us that when the Mexican police routinely kill and torture, well, it is part of the rule of law; if twenty million Mexicans live in hunger, their children dying of diarrhoea, well, that is the sad reality of poverty; as nearly half a million Mexicans cross the border into the United States every year seeking their own labour exploitation just to keep their families alive, they are looking for a better life, hence they migrate; if Mexico’s twelve million indigenous people live on the margin of the state, constantly subject to massacres, everyday racism, and the ravage of hunger, well, the indigenous were always like that, even before the Spanish came, that’s the indigenous past. 
Neoliberalism, then, has reduced the ability of Mexicans to participate in any meaningful democratic process. While the 2000 elections in which the 70 year-long rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) came to an end represented a change on some level, it is difficult to see how this translated into outcomes that have beneficial consequences for peoples’ lives.
Regardless of the party in power, a key provision of the NAFTA treaty allows investors to sue governments if legislation negatively affects profits. With this, the Mexican state effectively passed control of environmental, labour and health and safety legislation to multinational corporations. As a result, laws which protect the natural environment are rarely enforced against corporations as the threat of legal action acts as a successful deterrent.
As part of neoliberal restructuring, Mexico would have to re-orientate its economy to the export rather than the domestic market. Mexico was already heavily dependent on trade with the US, but post-1982, Mexico’s dependency has become almost akin to that of a colony. US agricultural products – most notably corn – subsidised by American taxpayers now flooded the Mexican market, undercutting small domestic producers. For Mexican farmers the consequences have been ruinous and have devastated domestic production, a process which continues under the recent government of the National Action Party (PAN).
Concurrent with a reduction in real wages for the majority and cuts in public spending, Mexicans were dealt a second blow with the onset of neoliberalism. Prices for daily necessities, many of which previously were subsidised by the state, rose dramatically. Milk, tortillas, petrol, electricity and public transport all became more expensive just as personal incomes began to decline. In keeping with neoliberal logic, the government closed the CONASUPO shops which provided subsidised necessities cheaply to poor communities.  This had a knock-on effect on those producing subsidised corn and milk, who now found themselves not only undercut by imported food products, but also without CONASUPO stores to buy their produce. Soon after the implementation of NAFTA, Mexican corn farmers saw the price of their produce decline by 50 percent. Within the first decade of neoliberal reform, the number of people living in poverty in Mexico rose by a third and around half the population had no access to basic necessities. 
From the implementation of NAFTA in 1994 to 2000, 2 million farmers abandoned their lands. Fewer Mexicans now have access to health care and education than prior to 1980 as public spending has been cut as a result of ‘reforms’. By 2005 50 percent of the population had fallen below the poverty line, pushing some 3.3 million children under the age of 14 into work. Following the government’s agreement to exchange investment rights and trade barriers for loans and financial aid, Mexicans saw huge changes in their circumstances, such that by 1988 the cost of living had risen by 90 percent, while per capita income had fallen by some 50 percent.  With the abandonment of social programmes, which alleviated at least some of the worst hardships, many communities in Mexico, with little or almost no help from the state, have had to fend for themselves.
Much farming has since been replaced by agribusiness and large-scale meat farms, mostly foreign-owned. In recent years, widespread unemployment and the inability of farmers to gain an income from the land have meant that rural towns are being emptied of their inhabitants, leading to a tremendous population drain to the cities and the United States.
NAFTA had made some provision for Mexican farmers on the brink of seeing their livelihoods disappear. There would be a 15 year cooling period in which Mexican corn producers could still produce and find other work in the ever developing belt of sweatshops in northern Mexico, the maquiladoras, before the market was flooded with cheap subsidised corn from the US. Yet, in an effort to quicken the ‘reform’ process, the Mexican government scrapped this provision almost immediately.
As millions of Mexicans found themselves out of work or unable to eke out a living on the land, the labour pool suddenly increased. NAFTA thus not only provided a dumping ground for subsidised US goods – those who could not survive the new economic circumstances became the motor of international investment, providing an insecure and hence ‘flexible’ labour force. For companies closing shop in the US and Canada and relocating to northern Mexico, this was a virtual guarantee that profits would increase.
The growth of the maquiladora belt in northern Mexico is symbolic of the kind of commerce which neoliberal policies privilege. Much of what is termed ‘trade’ is in fact intra-firm trade which never enters the Mexican economy. The process of relaxing trade-tariffs and barriers, which began in 1982 and became increasingly pronounced in the following decades, allowed for multinational companies to source cheap labour in Mexico in maquiladoras and move commodities over the border freely. Products or product parts could now be manufactured at significantly lower cost to companies before being assembled elsewhere and sold as consumer goods. Obama’s and Calderón’s claims that Mexico needs more free-trade and that NAFTA benefits ordinary Mexicans look ever more unfounded. Despite what they maintain, it is increasingly difficult to deny that big business reaps the benefits while society pays the cost.
Six years into NAFTA, two thirds of exports were intra-firm trade.  Impoverished Mexican workers – employed primarily because they are cheaper to exploit than their US and Canadian counterparts – work to produce commodities which have no tangible benefit for their own society. As Raúl Delgado-Wise points out, ‘The concept of shared production inherent in intra-firm trade does not, of course, mean shared profits’. 
The improved leverage of US power over Mexico’s economy is not solely an issue of having a workforce so ‘flexible’ that much of it is forced into sweatshop labour. The maquiladora belt functions effectively as an economic colony, with the local Mexican police, paid for by the Mexican taxpayer, providing the ‘security’ necessary for factories to operate unhindered by nuisance unions and human rights activists.
One of Mexico’s chief exports, then, is labour. Just as profits and goods leave the country, significant amounts of labour time are not reflected in the Mexican economy. Corporations benefit enormously from this win-win situation resulting in the continuing breakdown of society, a state of affairs reminiscent of a colonial economy, albeit without foreign control of what in any case is a pliant government. As a result, Mexican workers in the maquiladoras, notes Delgado-Wise, are little more than ‘manpower for foreign capital’. 
While many of the poor seek work in factories owned by foreign companies or quit the countryside for work in the expanding metropolises, others cross into the US. If significant swathes of the arable land of northern Mexico are emptying, this is a trend connected intimately with free trade. Unable to scrape a living from small-time farming, many choose to go to the urban centres in search of work. Others, desperate for employment, take their chances with human traffickers known as coyotes by crossing the border into the United States. Often the coyotes will rob and abandon them, leaving them to cross the desert unguided and without water, equivalent to a death sentence. Still, for the hundreds of thousands of Mexicans who cross the border every year (some having already made numerous attempts) the risk is thought to be worth it.
The figures are quite astonishing, and their increase since the 1980s correlates with the introduction of neoliberal policies, with by now an annual 315,000 illegal crossings into the United States.  In the last few years this has declined somewhat but this does not seem to be as a result of fewer incentives but of increased spending on US border controls and the continued construction of the ‘security fence’. In addition, fewer Central Americans seem to be making it as far as the US border than in previous years. This is partly because the Mexican government has agreed to police its southern border under the Plan Sur in order to prevent Central Americans passing through Mexico and illegally crossing into the United States, a patent subordination to the interests of US capital and imperialism.
One argument claims that Mexico does in fact benefit from large-scale migration. Advocates of NAFTA offer proof that globalisation is working in Mexico because those migrants who have pursued their dreams of a better life and higher wages north of the border send home money, to the benefit of the economy. Mexico, alongside India, receives the largest amount of remittances in the world from relatives working abroad, totalling some $13 billion annually.  While it is true that many Mexicans (one in every five households and one in every two in some states) rely on remittances for survival, these dollars do little to rebuild a damaged infrastructure. 
In the absence of a functioning infrastructure and employment opportunities, an alarming development is now escalating Mexico’s difficulties. Job shortages and emigration to the United States in recent years have allowed the growth and increasing empowerment of drug cartels. Narcotrafficking, like neoliberal capitalism, it seems, thrives in areas of severe poverty and unemployment where the civilian population is economically and politically disempowered and where state authorities are not powerful or willing enough to prevent the violent conflicts that narcotrafficking has produced. Additionally, for those who now have few opportunities in the traditional and legal sectors of the economy, narcotrafficking proves to be the only lucrative alternative.
The growth of the narcotics industry in Mexico owes much to the US War on Drugs, ostensibly intended to eradicate coca production in South America. As Colombia became the centre for the cultivation of the plant as a result of weakened production in Bolivia and Peru, Bush I and Clinton then focused US policy there. Colombia became the leading recipient of US military aid after Israel and Egypt, with the US taxpayer providing $1.6 billion in 2000, more than it provided to the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean combined. As funding to and training of the Colombian military (and indirectly to paramilitaries) increased, Colombia’s human rights record worsened, to make it the worst in the Western hemisphere – a considerable achievement.  Plan Colombia had a two-sided approach: US interests in the region did not only involve eradicating coca production but also crushing the FARC guerrilla insurgency.
Additionally, the Plan was designed not only to eradicate but also to inhibit the coca crop and the importation of cocaine into the United States by sea routes. For Colombian drug producers the constant interception of boats carrying cocaine by the US Coastguard was a major threat to the industry so in the 1990s, the solution to this would be found by creating strong links with Mexican cartels, transporting drugs across Central America, through Mexico and then somewhere across the 2000 mile US border. From the perspective of the cartels, this opportunity could not have been timelier. Civil society found itself vulnerable, impoverished and unable to rebuild the damaged and broken social services and infrastructure demolished by structural adjustment and neoliberal policy. Furthermore, the power and influence of the state have weakened in the last two and a half decades to the extent that in some areas drug traffickers operate quite freely and are immune to prosecution. President Calderón’s deployment of 20,000 soldiers to combat the drug lords has been widely viewed as a failure, given the power of drug gangs and the corruption of the military, police and political leaders who at times are involved with or too intimidated to challenge what have become hugely powerful forces in Mexico. With this single increase in military deployment, the victims of drug violence increased threefold to around 8 executions per day. In 2007 alone, some 2,794 people were executed by drug gangs.  By 2008, the statistics had become even more startling, with 5,630 deaths as a result of the drug war. 
With the authorities weakened, the line between the state and the narcotics industry is becoming increasingly blurred. A United Nations report estimated that between 50 and 60 percent of Mexican municipal government offices have been ‘captured or feudalised’ and coopted by narcotrafficking organisations.  Mexican intelligence estimates that 62 percent of the Mexican police are presently under the control of the narco trade. According to rank and effectiveness, members of the police forces can receive anywhere between 5 to 70 thousand pesos monthly from cartels, a dramatic net increase on their state salaries. Of the 2.9 million arms given to the Mexican police forces, 57 percent are used in illicit activities. 
Human Rights Watch reports that the military, in its purported struggle against the narcos, commits serious abuses against the civilian population, exposing its role rather as an institution of internal colonisation than one protecting society from violence.  The same Mexican soldiers – potentially a force which could combat trafficking – are now deserting on a mass scale. Poor working conditions and pay led 217,000 Mexican soldiers to desert between 1993 and 2009.  Among them, many leave the army to join the cartels and take their arms with them. One of the most powerful factions, the mercenary army, Los Zetas, was formed by deserters from an elite anti-drug squad of the Mexican army, taking with them their arms and training. Their sophisticated and professional tactics were developed, ironically, from training in the US by the DEA, the FBI and the US military in the war on drugs.  It is purportedly in order to counter groups like Los Zetas and the cartels that the US government is providing further military assistance to the Mexican government under the Mérida Initiative.
Increasing violence in the municipalities and regions controlled by narcotraffickers is heightened by the substantial proliferation of arms, partially explained by the number of ex-army recruits joining the cartels and because narcos take payments from US buyers both in cash and in sophisticated high-powered weaponry. Drug trafficking now accounts for $23 billion of revenue per year, which means that illegal drugs in a NAFTA economy based on exports are Mexico’s number one export.  In terms of incoming revenue, drugs alone beat remittances sent home by relatives of Mexicans in the United States. NAFTA’s major achievement in Mexico then, has been to help create an economy based on illegal drug trafficking and remittances from economic asylum seekers.
Lacking social infrastructure and investment in social programmes in the NAFTA years, neoliberal capitalism has functioned unrestrained in Mexico at great cost to its society. The narcotics industry follows a similar logic – increase profits no matter the social consequences; thrive off poverty and unemployment and utilise police and military in order to protect investments.
Narcotrafficking, then, is not a clandestine operation or a marginal element of the economy: in the words of US journalist Charles Bowden, ‘it is the economy.’ With traditional sectors devastated by neoliberal policies and with the direct transfer of wealth from Mexico to big business, principally US-owned, narcotics are propping up the economy. In the context of a Mexico whose oil reserves, accounting for 40 percent of the federal budget, have by official estimates another nine years left of supply,  little wonder that the US and Mexican governments want control, rather than elimination, of the narcotics trade since the escalating violence is also affecting Foreign Direct Investment.
Mexico now outstrips Colombia as the leading recipient of US military aid, despite its egregious and continuing human rights violations. Mexican human rights groups report that in 2008 alone, the Mexican military committed 1,230 abuses with impunity. Mexican soldiers are not trained to protect civil society but rather view it as a potential enemy; with little chance that a foreign power will invade, the Mexican army functions as a force for quelling domestic dissent and promoting internal colonisation. Abuses against civilians include forced disappearances, routine use of torture, excessive use of force, rape, arbitrary detention, unfair trials and victimisation of human rights’ defenders.  In some cases, the government and cartels, like that of Chapo Guzmán, collude to eliminate competition from rival cartels and also in attacks on guerrilla insurgents, like the ERPI in Guerrero. Together, with the drug trade’s control of many of the police and municipal authorities, violence has escalated to unprecedented proportions. The Global Peace Index in 2009 rated Mexico 108th out of 144 countries, indicating that levels of violence there are higher than in Rwanda and Congo Brazzaville. 
Despite this, under the Mérida Initiative, President Obama has proposed increasing military aid, doubling the $1.4 billion (a tenfold increase from 2007) already proposed. Critics suggest this will lead to a climate of greater impunity for human rights violations and an ever more militarised society, particularly as the Obama administration has sought to have language removed in the agreement which relates to human rights. At the North American summit in August 2009, President Obama, ‘immune to evidence’ of human rights reports, stated, ‘I have great confidence in President Calderón’s administration applying the law enforcement techniques that are necessary to curb the power of the cartels, but doing so in a way that’s consistent with human rights [...] I am confident that as the national police are trained, as the coordination between the military and local police officials is improved, there is going to be increased transparency and accountability and that human rights will be observed’. The correlation between increased militarization and violence is far from theoretical; Plan Colombia, as Obama and Calderón must know, as they import the Colombian model to Mexico, stands as testimony to the human rights consequences of such policies.
Historian Miguel Tinker Salas has noted that in the case of Plan Colombia, military spending was intended to crush the strength of rural insurgents and guerrillas to offset the possibility of a popular rebellion, particularly as Colombia had among the worst levels of inequality in Latin America.  In Mexico, maintaining a status quo which sees unprecedented levels of inequality and widespread poverty – exacerbated since the 1980s – is likely to involve the increasing use of force in order to quash the threat to the established order posed by social movements and popular revolt, all the more real as Mexico inches closer to collapse. Increasing attacks on organisers and activists of the anti-capitalist Zapatista initiative, La otra campaña, in Chiapas and the prolonged assault on inhabitants of Oaxaca in 2006 remind us that the state will always use military might to repress challenges to its authority and to the socio-economic order. US training of the Mexican military should be viewed in this light, bearing in mind that imperialism has two arms in Latin America – one military, the other economic.
Increasing poverty levels hardly seem to be a top priority for the leaders of the NAFTA signatories. For it is a state of affairs which benefits elites who have no interest in seeing ordinary Mexicans rise from poverty. Vast gaps between rich and poor may seem inexplicably cruel to outside observers, but within is a logic of which NAFTA was a clear expression. Rendering the population more desperate, reducing services and public spending, aggravating society’s vulnerability, rewards the powerful with greater political and economic dominance.
Presidents Calderón and Obama have expressed their unwavering commitment to free trade in Mexico and, clearly, the powerful are unlikely to make any significant changes to policy unless under massive popular pressure to do so. Yet 100 years on from the Revolution, there may be reasons for some cautious optimism. A number of Latin American countries are now ruled by governments which came to power while vocally opposing neoliberal policy. In Central America, El Salvador this year hosted elections in which a progressive candidate won, ousting the traditional elite from power. In Honduras, President Zelaya – though he was overthrown by the traditional elite in a military coup for which Haiti and Venezuela were blueprints – popular anger and activism against the old order could translate into heightened political consciousness and organised revolt.
However, the Washington-backed coup against Zelaya was a sign that the US is still poised to react to political events throughout the region to protect US business interests and the established political order and it seems likely to lead to greater future conflicts. With a number of governments rejecting neoliberalism and therefore threatening US ‘credibility’ in the region, the US government has increased military spending for its allies – under the rubric of counter-narcotics – in order to offset the danger that its two major allies and trading partners, Colombia and Mexico, follow a path similar to Venezuela and Bolivia.
Whether the new progressive governments elsewhere in the continent are successful in delivering viable alternatives remains to be seen, though there have certainly been some significant changes in Venezuela and Bolivia – in health care and the nationalisation of national resources, for example – on issues which affect peoples’ everyday lives. Groups such as the Zapatistas in Mexico now find themselves in a position in which they have the support of a number of governments throughout the continent, despite the apparent contradiction that the Zapatistas do not propose taking state power. Indeed, the horizontal organising of zapatismo, of ‘mandar obedeciendo’ (‘leading by obeying’) offers a completely different vision from the ‘democracy of minorities’ described by Pablo González Casanova.  Of course, the 2012 Mexican presidential elections are likely to be fiercely contested, quite possibly with violent consequences. But popular activism and organising in Oaxaca and in Chiapas, for example, demonstrate that some popular movements in Mexico have gone beyond participation in electoral politics and pose alternative models to a system over which they have no control and in which they have no representation. For the problems which face Mexico must seem to many insurmountable, particularly since the mainstream parties have failed seriously to address the issues discussed above. Little surprise then, that only around 30 percent of the population takes part in elections and that a popular campaign to spoil votes as a protest against the system finds resonance among frustrated and exasperated Mexicans.
Yet, just as 100 years previously, as a result of the selling of land and resources to the highest bidders, pushing small-farmers into wage labour and weakening an already ailing social infrastructure, it is quite possible that the frustrations and discontent of the population translate into widespread political organising and action, a nightmare scenario for the minority currently rewarded by free-trade policies like NAFTA. That certainly is the fear of those who drafted the Mérida Initiative who, unlike the reformers of the 30s and 40s who made some concessions to the population in order to avoid conflict, believe the only way of preserving the present order is by investing in military training, Blackhawk helicopters and sophisticated weaponry. With the country verging on breakdown, Porfirio Díaz’s dictum – a spark of wit from a brutal tyrant – rings true a century later: ‘Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States’. Perhaps Díaz, when appealing, of course, to popular sentiment and outrage over the United States’ stake in the country’s national resources, was attempting to deflect popular disaffection from his own regime and Mexican elites. Nonetheless, the despised regime was overthrown and mass rebellion ensued.
Notes Comandante Ramiro of the EPRI rural guerrilla insurgency in Guerrero, in words which could have been uttered 100 years ago, ‘How are we going to confront the army, with flowers? No… if an armed movement exists, it is because the conditions for it also exist: poverty, injustice, and repression. That is why guerrillas arise. It is not something we do for fun.’  Resistance – both armed and unarmed – to the current order is growing, despite the Mexican state’s disavowal of the grave social problems discussed above and its increasing use of force to repress dissent.
Given the nature of the shock treatment tactics of what free-trade policies in Mexico proposed, it is little wonder that social disintegration has been a real and foreseeable outcome. Without a restructuring of social and economic policy, one which does not subordinate national sovereignty and basic human rights to the interests of caciques, elites, foreign investors and US economic (and now military) imperialism, it is difficult to see how Mexico will recover from such breakdown.
1. James Cockcroft, Mexico’s Hope: An Encounter with Politics and History (Monthly Review Press: New York, 1998), 244-255.
2. Pablo González Casanova, La democracia en México (Mexico: Ediciones Era, 2007), 85-126.
3. Interview with Miguel Tinker Salas, The Real News Network, therealnews.com. [accessed, 13/07/09]
4. John Gibler, Mexico Unconquered: Chronicles of Power and Revolt (San Francisco: City Lights, 2009) 98.
5. Jeffrey Sachs, ‘New Approaches to International Donor Assistance’ Speech delivered at International Development Research Centre, June 19, 2001.
http://www.idrc.ca/ [accessed 12/08/09]
6. Edward Herman, ‘From Ingsoc and Newspeak to Amcap, Amerigood, and Marketspeak’, in Abbott Gleason, Jack Goldsmith and Martha Nussbaum, eds., On Nineteen Eight-Four: Orwell and Our Future (Princeton University Press: Princeton, 2005), 113.
7. Joel Bakan, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power (Constable: London, 2004).
8. Mark Weisbrot, ‘Tricks of Free Trade’, Chain Reaction 88, 2002, 6.
9. Julio Scherer García and Carlos Monsiváis, Tiempo de saber. Prensa y poder en México (Nuevo Siglo/Aguilar: Mexico City, 2003), 163.
10. Gibler, Mexico Unconquered, 18.
11. David Bacon, ‘Oaxaca’s Dangerous Teachers’, Dollars and Sense.
http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2006/0906bacon.html [accessed 13 August 2009]
12. Noam Chomsky, Profit over People: Neoliberalism and the Global Order (Seven Stories Press: New York, 1999), 122.
13. Gibler, Mexico Unconquered, 95-96.
14. M. Ayhan Kose, Guy M. Meredith, and Christopher M. Towe, ‘How Has NAFTA Affected the Mexican Economy? Review and Evidence’, IMF Working Paper (IMF: Washington DC, 2004), 16.
15. Raúl Delgado-Wise, ‘Critical Dimensions of Mexico–US Migration under the Aegis of Neoliberalism and NAFTA’, Canadian Journal of Development Studies, 25(4), 2004, 593.
16. Delgado Wise, ‘Critical Dimensions of Mexico–US Migration’, 593.
17. Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, ‘International Migration Outlook’ (OECD: Paris, 2008), 262-263.
18. Gibler, Mexico Unconquered, 120.
19. Delgado-Wise, ‘Critical Dimensions of Mexico–US Migration’, 596-597.
20. Noam Chomsky, Rogue States (Pluto Press: London, 2000), 62.
21. Gibler, Mexico Unconquered, 52-53.
22. Esther Sánchez, ‘”Narcoguerra” alcanzó a civiles’, El Universal, 1 January, 2009, 1.
23. Gustavo Castillo García, ‘El narco ha feudalizado 60% de los municipios, alerta ONU’, La Jornada, 26 June 2008, 13.
24. García, ‘Controla el narco a 62% de los policías del país, dice informe’, La Jornada, 1 February, 2009, 9-11.
25. Human Rights Watch, Uniform Impunity: Mexico’s Misuse of Military Justice to Prosecute Abuses in Counternarcotics and Public Security Operations (Human Rights Watch: New York, 2009).
26. José Reyez, ‘Mercenarios en el Ejército Mexicano’, Revista Contralínea, 139, July 12, 2009.
27. Todd Miller, ‘Mexico’s Emerging Narco-State’, North American Congress on Latin America, July 1, 2009.
https://nacla.org/node/5963 [accessed 07 August 2009]
28. Gibler, Mexico Unconquered, 53.
29. Charles Bowden, ‘Mexico’s Dirty War against Drugs’, Democracy Now, 11 August, 2009.
http://www.democracynow.org/2009/8/11/charles_bowden_on_mexicos_dirty_war [accessed 11 August 2009]
30. Amnesty International, The State of the World’s Human Rights (Amnesty International: London, 2008), 204-207.
31. Alejandro Cruz Flores, ‘El nivel de la violencia en México, peor que en Ruanda o el Congo’, La Jornada, 31 July, 2009, 3.
32. Miguel Tinker Salas, ‘Free Trade and Mexico’s Drug War’, The Real News Network, May 3, 2009.
http://therealnews.com/t/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=3642 [accessed 13 July 2009]
33. Pablo González Casanova, ‘Negotiated Contradictions’, in Leo Panitch and Colin Leys, eds., A World of Contradictions: The Socialist Register 2002 (Merlin Press: London, 2002), 271.
34. Gibler, ‘The Hidden Side of Mexico’s Drug War: An Interview with ERPI Guerrilla Leader Commandante Ramiro’, Z Magazine, October 2009, 41.
Peter Watt is a Lecturer in Hispanic Studies at the University of Sheffield, UK. His teaching and research interests include contemporary Mexico, US/Latin American relations, new social movements in Latin America and representations of Latin America in the British media.