After NAFTA: North and South Need a New Beginning
North and South Need a New Beginning

Arnoldo Garc¡a examines NAFTA's implications for social
movements in Mexico, the U.S. and Canada: Solidarity across
borders now!

     Probably not since the Mexican Revolution have U.S. and
Mexican activists worked together with such determination
and hope as in the fight against "this NAFTA" -- a North
American Free Trade Agreement tailored to suit transnational
capital. In 1911, a few months after the Mexican Revolution
had begun, several hundred Wobblies (among them Joe Hill)
joined Mexican revolutionaries led by the Flores Mag¢n
brothers and rode into Baja California from the U.S. side.
They seized control of the territory for several months,
helping to consolidate the overthrow of the Porfiriato, the
Porfirio D¡az dictatorship which had been in power from 1876
to 1910.
     What will happen now in the wake of the Chiapas
uprising against the Mexican government for signing NAFTA?
     Eighty years ago, a challenge to Mexico's subordination
to the U.S. was an integral component of the Mexican
Revolution. The Porfiriato had opened Mexico to foreign
capital and strategic sectors of the economy were dominated
by the United States. Minerals, oil, railroads and great
extensions of land were foreign owned. For the Magonistas
and Wobblies, this meant cross-border organizing as part of
the Mexican revolutionary struggle.
     Today, resistance to the consequences of global
economic integration demands a new beginning for cross-
border actions. Now that NAFTA has passed, we are going to
have to ride across borders north and south to bring about
an alternative to the agreement's corporation-shaped version
of political and economic integration.
     The cooperation and networking developed by U.S.,
Mexican, and Canadian activists who sought alternative
approaches to economic integration that would enhance labor,
environmental and human rights follows in the footsteps of
the Wobblies and Magonistas. It also opens a dramatic new
chapter in international organizing and networking in this
part of the world. The Canada Action Network and the Mexican
Action Network on Free Trade (RMALC) developed in opposition
to NAFTA. In the U.S., various fair trade and social justice
coalitions and campaigns were formed. Trinational
consultations on "free trade" and its impact were held in
Canada, the U.S., at the U.S.-Mexico border and in Mexico.
These were grassroots movements involving trade unions,
environmentalists, small farmers, social justice activists,
women's organizations and religious groups.
     Since NAFTA negotiations began in 1990, greater
awareness of the socioeconomic disparities among the three
countries grew. Regular exchanges and conferences between
sectors and organizations carrying on anti-NAFTA work have
become commonplace. Delegations from the U.S. and Canada
have gone to Mexico to observe state elections and now meet
regularly with their counterparts. Independent trade
unionists from Mexico and Canada tour U.S. communities. Much
as when the Wobblies joined in the action of the Partido
Liberal Mexicano of Enrique and Ricardo Flores Mag¢n --
anarcho-syndicalists who helped author the Zapatista
manifesto that proclaimed "Land & Liberty" and "the land
belongs to those who work it" -- the rise of bi-national and
tri-national movements for empowerment, democracy and
solidarity are a natural response to the global depravations
being brought on by predatory capital.
     In all three countries, the battle over NAFTA has
changed the political landscape. With NAFTA's passage,
internationalism has become a more-urgent-than-ever
imperative. This is no time for abstract sentiment or
rhetorical calls for "proletarian internationalism." NAFTA
forces all movements for progressive social change to focus
concretely on the diverse and heterogeneous working classes
which exist within each country and across their borders.
Building, maintaining and strengthening cross-border
alliances are not luxuries, but absolute necessities in
waging battles for equality, justice and human rights. As
Jorge Casta¤eda, prominent Mexican political analyst, wrote
in Proceso, an independent progressive Mexican magazine, the
democratic forces of Mexico (and elsewhere) must "struggle
to change NAFTA and transform it into a factor of growth
with justice, democracy and rule by law, of consolidating
what little we have remaining of sovereignty, and to
struggle against intolerable corruption that dominates the
country.... This is the only path that conjugates principles
and opportunity, conviction and realism."
     Today's cross-border organizing is also the result of
parallel political developments that affected all three
countries during the 1980s and have pushed everyone into the
same corner. In the U.S., the rise of the Rainbow Coalition
signalled a new stage in the fight for the unfinished civil
rights agenda, utilizing the electoral arena. In Mexico
during this same time electoral challenges to the ruling
government party, the PRI, arose. Changes in the left
resulted in the formation of the Mexican Socialist Party
(PMS). Combined with a split in the PRI and a growing
independent movement for democracy, this led to the
formation of the broad National Democratic Front (FDN) that
encompassed all the left parties and popular organizations.
In the 1988 elections, Cuauht‚moc C rdenas was chosen as the
FDN's presidential candidate; he won the election but his
victory was fraudulently stolen by the PRI. In the
aftermath, the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) was
formed with C rdenas at its head. Together with the
flourishing democratic movement of NGO's, human rights
groups, and independent unions, PRD supporters provided a
large base for the rise of trinational networking opposing
     One of the first fruits of NAFTA was 1994's New Year's
Day arrival: a new guerrilla movement.
     A U.S. tourist, who was cutting short his visit to
Chiapas, Mexico's southern-most state, told CNN: "I thought
Mexico was peaceful. But apparently this state is
different." Many of the proponents of NAFTA probably thought
so as well. The emergence of the Ej‚rcito Zapatista de
Liberaci¢n Nacional (Zapatista National Liberation Army,
EZLN) caught everyone by surprise. The EZLN declared war on
the central government of Mexico and timed their uprising to
coincide with NAFTA's implementation. An EZLN leader
declared that "The free trade agreement is a death
certificate for the Indian peoples of Mexico, who are
dispensable for the Government of Carlos Salinas de
Gortari." Choosing the name of Emiliano Zapata as the EZLN's
namesake identifies the movement with the symbol of
national liberation, of the unfinished agrarian revolution
in Mexico, and of the resistance to displacement of Mexican
indigenous peoples from traditional land holdings.
     The EZLN probably will not reach Mexico City, the seat
of power, though large demonstrations in support of the
group's fight for justice are now taking place there. But
the EZLN is an immediate sign that widespread resistance to
political and economic disenfranchisement is on Mexico's
agenda. And Mexico will not be alone. From Global Pillage to
Global Village -- a document endorsed by nearly 80
organizations and individuals representing working people
and people of color -- declares: "The current globalizing
process increasingly marginalizes and disenfranchises poor
women and men, migrant workers and immigrants. The concept
of citizenship and the practice of democratic rights are
becoming meaningless as nation-states either lack the means
or the will to regulate capital, to legalize labor mobility,
and to provide access to a dignified and participatory life
for great portions of their populations."
     For Mexico, NAFTA represents a reversal of gains
initially made by the Mexican Revolution. These included the
1938 nationalization of petroleum, a measure of agrarian
reform and other nationalist policies that favored Mexico's
economic and social needs and provided some benefits to the
millions who toiled in industry and agriculture. For the
last 12 years especially, these gains have been under fierce
assault. Now, with NAFTA, U.S. capital has opened up even
greater access to Mexico's resources, including energy
resources. Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution had
forbidden foreign ownership of land and re-distributed lands
seized from large-landowners as ejidos (small plots of lands
communally-owned by peasants and indigenous communities that
could not be sold); this Article has now been "reformed."
Now private and communal land holdings can be leased out or
bought by anyone.
     Canada's natural resources, markets and industries are
also opened by NAFTA. The U.S. and Canada have had a free
trade agreement since 1989, which has already cost Canadian
workers hundreds of thousands of jobs. Bertha Lujan, a
leader of the Mexican Workers Authentic Front (FAT),
declared that "the model of integration that is being
imposed on Mexico and the rest of Latin America... means
dependence on a hegemonic country...the U.S., which intends
to preserve its hegemony facing its Asian and European
competitors." Without strong "social contract" provisions
ensuring rights for workers and the weaker national
economies, this will almost always be the case when "free
trade" agreements are signed between countries with unequal
economic clout.
     NAFTA does not drastically change anything overnight,
but it codifies the subordination of the Mexican economy to
U.S. interests; and, in combination with Canada, pools
together natural resources, capital and labor to create the
largest trade bloc in the world with a combined gross
domestic product of $6 trillion and 362 million potential
consumers. NAFTA is not a small difference in the U.S.-
Mexico relations. It provides the mechanisms and guarantors
to safeguard U.S. capital investment in Mexico and locks
Mexico and Canada into U.S. global designs. NAFTA is also
the mechanism to incorporate other countries into a "free
trade zone." Mexico and the United States are already
seeking free trade agreements regionally and across the
Latin American continent. Mexico signed a preliminary
agreement with Columbia and Venezuela; the U.S. is
vigorously pursuing FTAs with Chile and the rest of Latin
America. Behind this process lies the struggle among the
three trade blocs represented by NAFTA, the European
Community and the Asian Pacific Rim led by Japan to dominate
the global economy.
     NAFTA did include two side agreements on labor and the
environment which were the result of the multiple pressures
to open up the negotiations to democratic input. In the end
the side agreements were very limited, morsels designed more
to defuse resistance than meet popular needs. Still they
provide opportunities to apply further pressure and to
demand that resources be channeled to ameliorate the impact
on the least protected communities, especially along the
U.S.-Mexico border.
     Noam Chomsky wrote that NAFTA will "impose a mixture of
liberalization and protection, designed to keep wealth and
power firmly in the hands of the masters of the `new
imperial age.'" However, as the trinational implementation
of NAFTA began January 1, 1993, those masters have their
hands full. They have their agenda for shaping North-South
relations -- but the popular movements have our agenda for a
new beginning between North and South as well. Solidarity
across borders lies at the heart of that project.
     On a map of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, Chiapas is at
the bottom. Here's to a resurgent tri-national movement for
social justice, from the bottom up.