NAFTA takes food dumps on indigenous communities

Map of the world with NAFTA participating coun...

Image via Wikipedia

But hey, it’s all fair trade right?

The North American Free Trade Agreement . . . That sounds pretty legit. I mean, who doesn’t like free trade? NAFTA is, after all, what ensures that Americans can sell their products in other countries that are a part of NAFTA, and their government can’t stop us. Not only that but NAFTA keeps our own government from dictating what other countries can sell in the United States.

Awesome.

Now lets look at why this can be a bad thing if not moderated. Our location is Chiapas, Mexico (Chiapas.kmz):

This location is inhabited by the largest indigenous population in the country and contains twelve federally recognized ethnic groups. Aside from the ethnic diversity, Chiapas is significant because when NAFTA began in 1994 the Zapatista led EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) declared war on the Mexican state.

Why?

Let’s look at Article 27 of Mexico’s constitution. This article was added in response to Emiliano Zapata’s revolution (1910-1919) and ensured that communal Indian landholdings would be protected from sale or privatization.

NAFTA did away with that—the article’s guarantee was a barrier to investment. Now Indian farmers would be at risk of loosing their remaining lands and their economy could be flooded with cheap imports. You see, the great thing about NAFTA is that when you have as much land as the United States, you produce agricultural products on a scale of which others can’t compete. Then all you have to do is flood local markets of states such as Chiapas with super cheap goods (food dumps). When local farmers can no longer compete with your super low prices, they will gladly take the chunk of change offered for their land by an American business so they can have enough money to move to the city to look for work. However, it won’t take long living in the city to realize this process has also flooded the local job market with unemployed farmers. Those that aren’t fortunate enough to find a job will probably head back to the fields to work the land they used to own.

But that situation surely sounds like a slippery slope, right? There have to be others that can compete and survive these food dumps. And there are. There are plenty of coffee growers that have been able to stay in the business and keep their land.

Victory?

Not quite. Thanks to a social movement known as “Fair Trade,” businesses have changed the way they market goods. This new approach “helps” producers in developing countries have better trading conditions and also promotes sustainability. Basically a company can certify their product so their customers will know they not only have higher environmental and social standards, but also pay better wages to their producers.

Naturally this certification comes with a price tag. Unfortunately the tag is usually so expensive only American owned businesses benefit from paying it. Now there is a bag of coffee beans produced by local farmers living on and working their own land sitting next to a bag produced by farmers working for an American business on the land they used to own. But this bag is labeled “Fair Trade”. Which do you think most end up buying?

Nicely done. I’ll raise my mug to that. Here’s to keeping neocolonialism classy.

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Google Earth, or Captian Planet?

Rather than throw useless entries up on this site as filler until I leave at the end of the month, I thought I would use this time to remotely take you to some locations that deserve some attention, even if you never step foot there. A great way to do this is using Google Earth.

For this entry I want to take you to Pike County, Ky. In reality though, it could be Anycounty, Appalachia. I am directing you there to show you a form of surface mining referred to as mountaintop removal. It’s Getting Hot In Here has a short video worth checking out and SEATTLEDIRT has some great aerial photography showing mountaintop removal sites in West Virginia. This is a site I found using Google Earth (click the image to view full size or download Mountaintop Removal.kmz):

Pike County, KY

If you don’t already have Google Earth, you can download it for free. It is a great resource and I have a link on my download page. If you have Google Earth, expand the Global Awareness layer and make sure the Mountaintop Removal layer is checked. This will show you many other landscapes that have been altered due to this process. Once you view a few locations you won’t really even need the layer because you will be able to identify these sites with little effort, even without zooming in very far. They literally scar the entire Appalachian landscape. If the process can create this much change in the physical landscape, can you imagine how great an impact it has on the lives of those inhabiting the surrounding areas?