AMLO outside the Senate, Monday, October 26

Worker's Party Deputy Mario di Costanzo Tears Apart Carstens Economic Plan

Friday, June 13, 2008

Free for Whom? (part 2)

An article by David Bacon entitled "How Do You Say Justice in Mixteco?" that appeared this week on the Truthout news site ( begins by discussing the case of several Mixteco farmworkers living in California who were evicted from their trailers at the butt of a forklift, which lifted the trailers into the air and tipped them over, possessions still inside. One of the farmworkers, Erasto Vasquez, had lived in the trailer for seventeen years and raised his family there. Though the workers eventually won a settlement thanks to the efforts of the California Rural Legal Assitance (CRLA), the case is emblematic of the new wave of Mexican immigration into the United States and the dangers that new wave of immigrants faces. Bacon writes: "While farmworkers 20 and 30 years ago came from parts of Mexico with a larger Spanish presence, migrants today come increasingly from indigenous communities...[E]conomic changes like NAFTA are now uprooting and displacing Mexicans in Mexico's most remote areas, where people still speak languages that were old when Columbus arrived in the Americas." According to the Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations, 500,000 indigenous people from Oaxaca alone are currently living in the United States, 300,000 of them in California.

In another piece on the Truthout site (, Maya Schenwar considers the implications of the Plan Mexico, which is at the point of being tucked into the - note - Global War on Terror supplemental spending bill and approved, to the tune of $1.1 billion dollars over the next three years. After objections from Mexican lawmakers that they didn't want any strings attached to the funding, the American Congress (how nice of them to have listened!) dutifully took all the teeth out of the accountability and human rights provisions. Senator Chris Dodd, after first warning that the United States doesn't write "blank checks," later stated that the US would drop any provision that "smacks of certifcation." Yes, Chris: sounds like the only smacking that's going to be done is US-bought weaponry on the backs of protestors' heads.

The circle at work here is so elementary, yet so effective: free trade aggravates poverty, increasing immigration - US employers benefit from low-wage labor - increasing poverty aggravates social conflicts in Mexico - US contractors benefit from the sales of weapons used to crack down on the restive populace. Schenwar references a Mexican government study which concluded that 90% of the illegal guns seized in Mexico come from the United States (not to mention what the government acquires: a friend of mine, during the Oaxaca conflict of 2006, found and photographed tear gas cannisters from Pennsylvania among the debris left behind by the crackdown here - having breathed in said gas, I can attest to their effectiveness). As she further points out, much of the Plan Mexico money will never leave the States, but will go to buy "Bell Helicopters, CASA maritime patrol planes, surveillance software, and other goods and services provided by private US defense contractors." The drug trade, of course, will not be stopped - the Mexican government and military is far too complicit in it and demand from the US is certain not to fall off anytime soon. Not to worry: the militarization model is "easily and inevitably adapted to fighting internal dissidence." Gives 'em something else to do, you know.

Needless to say, the US is not alone in benefiting both coming and going from this most vicious of circles: the Mexican political elite do quite fine by the process themselves, thank you very much. It has often been said that immigration functions as an "escape valve" for the Mexican economic structure, siphoning off workers the system can't provide jobs for and getting back money in turn in the form of remittances the immigrants send back to their families from the States. This is doubtlessly true: with the twin pillars of remittances and oil money, a rigid, corrupt and hierarchical system has propped itself up for decades without ever having to face the need for a fundamental housecleaning. Less often mentioned, however, is how this "escape valve" functions in a political sense, siphoning off potential dissent. Forced immigration breaks up families, breaks up communities, and it is a no-brainer that communities that are less cohesive, less united, are easier to control and keep down. There are entire pueblos in Oaxaca where there is hardly an able-bodied man to be found, leaving behind women and the elderly to run the roost. Mixteco, for example, is the language spoken by the majority of those indigenous farmworkers in California, and it is in fact the case that the Mixtecs who have stayed behind are not, as a whole, as politically active in the state of Oaxaca as the Zapotecs of the coast (where the first ever socialist government was elected a generation ago and which is still a hotbed of activism) or the Trique or Mixe, groups who, not coincidentally, have also been more active on the linguistic front, preserving and promoting their languages. This is hardly the Mixtecs' fault - the loss of their forests years and years ago have led to their arid territory in the northwest part of the state becoming amongst the most eroded landscapes in the world - but rather a commentary on how displacement fosters passivity. The United States knew this very well in places like Vietnam, Guatemala and El Salvador: to control a nation, civic and religious groups must be broken up and ethnicites split up and moved. What the ancient Scandanavians called landnama - claiming the land you inhabit by naming it and ideally becoming one with it - must be reversed to make for rootless, disoriented peoples, whose only goal is to survive, both psychologically and culturally. And mass immigration from Mexico to the United States does this work for those in power without their having to lift a finger. Escape valve, indeed.

For me, one of the most telling parts of the documentary Fraude by filmmaker Luis Mandoki, which documents the fraudulent Presidential election in Mexico in 2006, was the part of the interview with Andrés Manuel López Obrador where he recalls receving the results of a national poll in his tent in Mexico's Zocalo, where he lived for a month-and-a-half along with his fellow protestors. The poll, taken by the respected Mexican polling firm Mitofsky to gauge the political climate in Mexico at that moment, found that a full 10% of those polled were willing to take up arms against the government. Projected onto a nation of over 100 million, that makes for fully 10 million potential citizens in open revolt. And even if many, or even a majority of those polled wouldn't actually go through with it, the fact that they felt strongly enough to say so to Mitofsky should indicate to somebody who's listening that even the escape valve won't be able to let off enough pressure to keep the tottering old system in place forever. López Obrador, to his credit, has eschewed the route of violence, opting for non-violent civil resistance. Provoke enough more people with American arms through the Plan Mexico, however, and it may become harder and harder, if not impossible, to convince people with nothing to lose that the path of non-violence is the most appropriate one to take.


jas_weidner said...

Excellent post, Kurt. And as you are no doubt aware the situation you describe in Mexico is repeated in countless other 'developing' countries around the world.

I particularly like your succinct description of the cynical and nefarious military-corporate complex and the interconnection of NAFTA and Plan Mexico:

"The circle at work here is so elementary, yet so effective: free trade aggravates poverty, increasing immigration - US employers benefit from low-wage labor - increasing poverty aggravates social conflicts in Mexico - US contractors benefit from the sales of weapons used to crack down on the restive populace."

Well said, my friend.

Saludos desde Miami,

Anonymous said...

Do you remember what make those shell casings were? An acquaintance of mine (maybe the same person?) from NYC-IMC photographed tear gas cannisters which were also manufactured in Penn. Perhaps if a lot of the weaponry/ammo being used for repression is coming from the same US-based company, that could be a potential target for actions.

Kurt Hackbarth said...

Now that you mention that (I do in fact believe it may be the same person), I think the photographed US contribution in this particular case were in fact tear gas cannisters, and am amending it to that effect in my post in order to set the record straight - thanks for the message. Will try to get hold of one of the photos to post on the site. KH