Arnaldo Garcia on Chiapas, NAFTA and 187

Arnoldo Garcia is a member of the coordinating committee of
the National Commission for Democracy in Mexico, the group
set up by the Zapatistas to organize support in the U.S. He
is also a poet, an editor of CrossRoads magazine, and a
longtime immigrant rights activist. In an interview with the
News' Marcy Rein, he detailed some of the links between
NAFTA, immigration and the troubles in Mexico.

Q: What do immigration and NAFTA have to do with Chiapas?
AG: They are all products of the integration of the U.S. and
Mexican economies.
When the opposition to NAFTA was being organized, one of the
main constituencies was overlooked completely, which was the
immigrant Mexican community. Neither side [in the NAFTA
debate] gave a damn about immigrant rights. Any issues of
labor mobility and cross-border rights just weren't

Q: How does that affect the people left out of the
AG: Because NAFTA is a neo-liberal policy, it means that
social services must be privatized. Families, workers
themselves are going to pay for housing, education, health
care, all of that. In order to change the profit margin,
they're going to shift the burden onto the workers to pay
for the social costs.
The first attempt at doing that in terms of the immigrant
population  is 187. Even before 187 it was unlawful for
undocumented persons to get social services, other than
emergency care, but they could get schooling for their kids.

Q: Exactly what is economic integration-could you give an
AG: One is the presence of Mexican national labor in the
U.S., like in agriculture in California. Another way of
looking at it is the availability of vegetables all year
round. Some people don't even realize we're eating Mexican
winter tomatoes or avocados and we're dependent on that, and
on that labor force being available to subsidize our
standard of living.

Q: And how does that relate to immigration?
AG: What creates the migratory flows, the push and pulls, is
that the U.S. has invested capital, and when it does that it
reinforces the social links between both countries.
When the Green Giant plant in Watsonville moved to Irapuato,
the ironic thing is that the people it displaced in
Watsonville were originally from the same area it was going
to. And when it goes to Irapuato it's going to displace the
agricultural labor force there even further. The people who
are displaced have to either adapt themselves or move. When
you lose your job you operate through social networks;
international migrants act the same way

Q: Is it true that NAFTA hit Chiapas especially hard?
AG: Before even NAFTA was signed the land was being leased
to timber companies and oil exploration companies, from the
U.S. mainly, and to coffee growers that were part of the
international market. Part of the thing that triggers the
uprising in '94 is that international coffee prices bottomed
out, which really hit small producers hard, who were mainly
indigenous campesino cooperatives.
And when NAFTA was signed it allowed foreign and private
ownership of communally held indigenous land. It really
ravaged the indigenous communities because they couldn't
compete with the multinationals, they didn't have access to
credit or seed or fertilizer and they were pushed into the
worst lands.

Q: Is access to energy resources a factor?
AG: It's safe to say Chiapas produces 80 percent of the
hydroelectric energy of the country, and has the main oil
reserves of the country.
One of the things the U.S. wanted with NAFTA was access to
the oil reserves and petroleum deposits of Mexico, and other
energy resources. By changing the land-tenure laws, it gave
companies access to the land through leasing.

Q: And how does this affect how people respond around
AG: The only way they can implement the process of
integration which is on a basis of inequality is through
force. They're going to force those Native American
communities to accept NAFTA, to give up their land or try to
compete on the same basis as multinational agribusiness. And
when those people are displaced, some of them are going to
end up in international migration. [Some here] are going to
say, "They're coming here and taking away our jobs, they're
coming here and violating our sovereignty, they're going to
be illegals."

Q: Is there a direct link between Chiapas and Prop. 187?
What's happening in Chiapas on one level is what is
happening  with 187. 187 was a signal to people who are here
undocumented saying 'look, you can stay here, you can pay
taxes, but you're not going to have the same rights, you're
not going to be able to get any services.'
In Chiapas they're telling indigenous people the same thing:
if you want to own land, be productive or have services,
you're going to have to pay for it yourself.
That's why the Zapatista demands begin with land, education,
health care, social services, water, food. They have 11
basic demands and it's galvanized a whole country, because
everybody needs those things.

Whole communities in Chiapas have fled as far as anybody can
go into the jungle, leaving everything behind. The NCDM is
organizing an shipment of food and supplies. Money is
urgently needed. Contact NCDM's national office, 601 N.
Cotton, Ste. A-103, El Paso, TX, (915) 532-8382, e-mail