The Mayas and The Global Market Salvador Peniche describes a fight for cultural identity and physical survival. I'm resolved to struggle against everything and everybody. --Emiliano Zapata, Revolutionary Proclamation of War in 1911 What is happening now in the Mayan lands (the historic Maya territory includes Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and southern Mexico, with an estimated indigenous population of six million people) is the latest battle in the Maya peoples' long resistance war for survival. In Western history, the Mayas have had no place other than as a curiosity in a museum. Nevertheless, their role in the consolidation of modern capitalism has been great. To understand the present situation -- the socio-economic evolution of the "National States" that have been built on land of the Maya and their link to the world market -- a different perspective on Maya history is indispensable. The Mayas have always demonstrated a great capacity for survival. Theirs is a resistance based on intense pride and adherence to their beliefs. They never surrendered to the Spaniard conquistadors or other aggressors. (This applies equally to the British in Belize, landlords in Yucat n and Criollo armies in recent history.) They have always found ways to survive -- if not freely on their lands, at least in the mountains or valleys of the region. In response to this vocation of freedom they have been treated with discrimination, genocide and exploitation. Their "crime" has been to oppose the type of life that the system had planned for them -- to function as a slave labor force in coffee, corn, or henequen plantations. (Henequen is the cactus used to supply the fibers for a range of products. It was a major industry in southern Mexico until the turn of the century.) THREAT OF EXTINCTION In the 1990s the situation has changed. We now live under what the leaders of the new transnational world refer to as the "Global Economy." The international order of the 21st century is profoundly different from that of the past, as are the roles that its component parts are expected to play. If the Maya resisted integration into the market system before, they have every reason to intensify their opposition now. For the Maya and other indigenous peoples know that in an era of production based on high technology and massive agribusiness, the global economy threatens them with extinction. The global economy threatens the Maya and any other community rooted in a collective, social model of land exploitation with an irreversible separation from their lands. The Maya have survived for hundreds of years thanks to their profound understanding of the relation between people and their environment. Their cultural identity and their physical survival is rooted in the integrated relationship they have built between the land and community. The arrival of the global market, with its emphasis on maximizing agricultural production no matter what the social cost, means a death sentence for them. The defenders of free trade promise a future in which the standard of living of campesinos in general and of indigenous peoples in particular will rise. For them, the past 10 years of the neoliberal agenda with its accompanying massive social dislocation does not constitute evidence that their policies have failed. Instead, neoliberals affirm with a religious-like conviction that these socio-economic consequences of modernization are a necessary sacrifice to a better future based on integration with the world market. NAFTA is an important step towards the consolidation of a region integrated according to corporate priorities. It is also clear there is no turning point after which the free market will "bring back" the socio-economic benefits for the common citizen. The market just does not work that way. The agreement will deepen and perpetuate the destructive processes that communities, including those of the Maya, have suffered. The implementation of the free trade agenda allows capital to flow freely into Mexico's agricultural sector, which affects the Maya most. Until 1993, this was impossible in Mexican agriculture. Emiliano Zapata was personally responsible for this fact. His struggle promoted the basic principle of land possession in the country based on traditions of the indigenous peoples of Mexico, that the state should own all the land of the nation and give access to it to field workers to work. This principle, promoted by the armed forces Zapata led, was the basis of the famous Article 27 in Mexico's National Constitution. The resulting communal lands, the ejidos, were designed to counteract the anti-social effects of the market. The state ensured that the people benefited from the country's agricultural economy by supporting this system. This situation prevailed until 1993, when the Salinas government effectively repealed Article 27. With this change, it is now possible for Mexico's fieldworkers to own their lands and compete "freely" for their survival. President Salinas has realized the Zapatista slogan "land for the fieldworkers" by perverting its fundamental meaning. The new law places the campesinos on an equal footing with domestic and transnational agribusiness. Thanks to dogmatic adherence to classic economic thought, a basic premise -- that equal treatment among unequals is unjust -- has been forgotten. CAN MEXICO COMPETE? For the past 50 years, government "economic development" policies have used the surplus generated by Mexico's agricultural sector to promote the country's industrialization. The transfer of resources from the agricultural sector to the industrial sector has been continuous and massive. In this process, the state abandoned the ejido system, creating a capitalist elite and leaving millions of Mexicans out of the national project. This process resulted in the technical and economic inefficiency that have characterized Mexico's traditional agriculture system, the breakdown of production and the impoverishment of the country's campesinos. Over time, two types of production resulted: a relatively small, highly productive and profitable type of export production of vegetables closely linked to the North American market; and a mass of small, inefficient campesino holdings which provided the food supply for the country's internal market. It is obvious which of these two sectors will survive in the global economy and which is promoting the recent changes. The gradual opening of the economy, which began January 1 and will be carried out over a period of 15 years, means a slow death for the campesino sector. We have already seen the effects. There has been the loss in the country's food supply with the shift in agricultural production from grains and cattle raising to export-oriented production of flowers, tropical fruits, vegetables and fodder. This is where there are opportunities to compete -- against other Latin American countries! What will be the effect of the transformation of the land tenure system? In the study on the likely impact of NAFTA on Mexican agriculture, Probables efectos del Tratado de Libre Comercio en el campo mexicano, Dr. J. L. Calva estimated that at least 15 million people would be expelled from their lands as a result of the opening of the agricultural market. That is the death sentence that the Zapatistas referred to. In the Chiapas uprising, the Maya have taken the option that they have always been forced to take throughout their history: to fight for their right to survive, to reject a life of misery, hunger and fear, and to insist on the right to develop their own community life. They have no other real options. What do they have to lose?