Issue 3 TOC
 
Pinche Progress


 

by Kate Petre



    There are few people in the world who actually love the effects of globalization. The sickeningly rapid urban developments that center around unattractive, putty colored strip malls with chain stores that have exploded in places like Fresno and Riverside along with similar infringements upon quaint communities like Julian are Californian examples of a worldwide phenomenon.  The man or woman who pockets the money from this build up lives in places like Malibu, La Jolla, Knob Hill or Palo Alto where they can afford to avoid the fruits of their labor. Rich people and even the dwindling middle class that is left in our country don’t regularly shop at Wal-Mart. The bulk that is bought for cheap from child labor in China is to accommodate the piddling salaries of the poor; globalization is a gift from the haves to the have nots so that the have nots can try at a cheap replica of the excessive lifestyles of the haves. So given that the rich have deigned to give unto the poor, if the poor don’t like it they should be the ones finding an alternative.

    Welcome to Mexico, land of poor people. Down in the South where there’s been some activity in the last 30 years or so, they are working on this alternative. Some history: On January 1st 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) knocked down the economic pins of Mexico like a marbled bowling ball from a fat drunk man’s fingers. As just one example among thousands that can be almost directly blamed on NAFTA, the US government dumped an excess of hundreds of thousands of tons of corn on the Mexican market, flooding the previously 90 percent internally sustainable market with cheaper, genetically modified and therefore crappier tasting corn. In a place where for the last 9000 years farmers have taken breaks from harvesting corn to enjoy a boiled corn drink with corn tortillas, starting in 1994 they have been importing at times 50 percent of the corn they eat from the US.

    The FT or Free Trade inherent in NAFTA, the all-encompassing and somewhat didactic principle both Canada and the US imposed upon Mexico to ¨open¨ its otherwise tariff-protected markets, presented Mexico with this corn conundrum. On this newly imposed free market, United States corn is cheaper in Mexico than Mexican corn which is grown down the calle. Part of the reason is because of the highly advanced technology the US uses to harvest and transport the corn. In addition, the use of genetically enhanced seeds don’t require expensive pesticides which arguably lower the cost of farming despite the myriad and proven harmful side effects on both the environment and human health. The seeds, which are being supplied to Mexico by the US, won’t reap more than one harvest per seed thus forcing farmers (in both countries) to buy new seeds each year. The trade-offs are difficult to measure. This interchange (however one-sided) was, and still is, viewed as healthy competition to entice Mexican farmers to step up their production and burn the capitalistic midnight oil. But even if the communal farmer was able to somehow purchase advanced technology that would compete with that which is used by the enormous corn producers in America (they would have to buy it from the US anyway), there is still one more element left. American corn farmers are one of the most highly governmentally subsidized groups in the US. In economic terms this means that American corn farmers can’t sustain themselves. Now, in the all holy free market, these farmers should abandon their pursuits and take up something more lucrative, tobacco perhaps (oh wait, we’ve decided to wage a social war against tobacco companies. Soy beans perhaps? Oh shit, their heavily subsidized too.).

    But the tradition of corn subsidies in the US has existed for 70 odd years and would be very difficult to change. This, of course, is astoundingly hypocritical: The US demands Mexico ¨modernize¨ by opening its markets to free trade on the international level, but on a national level it is maintaining an ¨archaic¨ grasp on the crutch of subsidies. The elitist Mexican government sucks at the pap of American values like a pimply geek trying to hang out with the cool kids and in the process leaves its marginalized peasants (which happen to be in large part indigenous) to the wolves (or fat man with a bowling ball, as it were). Adaptation abounds and the 9000-year-old tradition of corn farming in Mexico is being destroyed because of a false market created by US government subsidies, a 70-year-old tradition that refuses to yield. The US is stronger, wealthier, better-connected at the international level. Everyone knows that. So do the Mexicans so they abandon their profitless corn farms and cross the border...

    Or not. In Chiapas, the state made famous as the bastion and breeding ground of subcomendante Marcos and his Zapatista army, the traditional farmer is trying to stand his or her ground. Within the infamous corruption of the Mexican government, the Zapatistas along with the literally hundreds of other indigenous and communal solidarity groups that exist in Chiapas and other states, struggle against a gnawing oppression that slowly assassinates, illegally imprisons, kidnaps or tortures the movement’s leaders and spokesmen (and sometimes American journalists like 36-year-old Brad Will in Oaxaca in 2006) in the name of enforcing international policies like NAFTA. These people aren’t fighting for the right to change, to lift themselves up from the poverty and lack of education their government has simultaneously condemned and enforced so that they can become champions and soldiers of the valiant capitalistic army. The campesinos of Mexico, and much of the world, are fighting to not be told what to do. They are fighting for the right to think of an alternative.

    Human rights aside, let’s take a look at what’s being fought over. At first look, it’s land. Most of the struggles of the peasantry in Mexico have centered around the simple desire to own their own small piece of land instead of being forced into debt by land-owning barons that hold land titles, legal or otherwise, in the same mindset as feudal lords in medieval Prussia. Unlike in the United States, there was never a small landing-owning class that gave way to industrial farming in Mexico. The romanticism of the rustic peasant on the rancho is in reality more akin to sugar plantations in the South than cowboys in the West. Because of this, agrarian reform has been the call to arms for every single revolution in Mexican history, if only as a way to collect the muscle of hundreds of thousands of Mexican peasants to one side of the fight. And now, possibly for the first time in history, the ownership of the land these peasants work and live on has been the autonomous cry from most communities in the South of Mexico and elsewhere; they’re trying to take it back themselves.

    But there is another aspect of the fight that has developed from the increasing pride and unification the necessity to organize has wrought. From the Pharaohs to the Catholic Church, from Lenin and Mao to the capitalistic governments of the West, the history-resistant peasantry have always been dealt with, herded, lectured, reformed. Despite this, it is safe to say very little has changed in the peasant routine (which says more about the ideologues than the peasantry themselves). From Canada to Africa, farmers wake up with the sun, feed their animals and work until there is no more light; they are slaves and worshippers of the elements; their hands are rough and strong; they eat heartily; they go to bed early. They know they can only control so much, that there is a great complex system to which they are merely reacting. They actually watch the sun rise and set every day, they feel the rain in the air. They don’t sleep when it’s unusually cold, not because they don’t have enough heat, but because they feel the cold on their crops, the cold on the earth. Politics and economics aren’t changing this. What they’re doing is destroying it. Peasants are changing, they’re disappearing, their warping into a semi-urban poor population that is forced to buy things from Wal-Mart because that’s all that’s left or, in the case of much of Mexico (along with Guatemala and El Salvador), migrate north and tear up whatever roots they had just to feed their families. What is not understood in the occidental world is that our way of doing things is not the end all be all. The concept of ¨healthy competition¨ that the powers that be who created NAFTA and the WTO think will uplift and help Mexican poverty is a new and somewhat falsely idealized notion. There was a period of one million years that our prehistoric ancestors lived without progressing much past the use of sharpened rocks. That is to say, archaeologists have found the same level of artistry in tools throughout a one-million-year time period. That there was no progress is uncertain; how can we be sure of anything we dig up in the ground? But if there wasn’t, this means that healthy competition is a fleeting ideology that may or may not work. And from what I've noticed personally in the progression of our world in the last two hundred years, it might be safe to say it doesn’t. Now, I don't want to tear down the advantages of competition in general. I myself enjoy the odd potato sack race or a ripping game of dominoes. The problem is the absurdly advanced level of competition that has developed from the creation of behemoth international companies. These monoliths result from capitalistic competition, merging, and the fat cat heads of business discussing what have you in a penthouse in Zurich, creating a boys’ club and not wanting anyone else to get in. These men (and women too, these days) insist that the almighty dollar is the overall issue, which consciously or subconsciously distracts farmers (or what have you) from the goal of what they’re doing. In the case of farmers, their goal becomes only to win the competition (make the most money), not to feed people. This is at the very heart of capitalistic dogma and admittedly was effective in creating a meritocracy based on acquiring something empty and void of emotion like money instead of titles or honor or whatnot. It lifted human history from the adolescence of monarchy. But there are too many talented people these days and we're all only constructing new ways to beat each other (or worse, fuck each other over) without regard for why.

Other reasons why Occidental countries think their way of doing things is better:
-Non-capitalistic farming is labor intensive, it would send populations back into rural areas and the western culture that permeates the world does not encourage this process, indeed it loathes it and views it as regression.
-We can't admit that farmers can know more than scientists.
-Subsidies supplied by rich countries protect national farmers and keep the country from importing food, and thus from accumulating debt. The opposite is true in poor countries so that, without subsidies, poor countries both import food so that their farmers don't make money and accumulate debt. Rich countries love it when poor countries are indebted to them (talk to China).
Just to clarify, our taxes pay these subsidies which go toward keeping food prices down so that corporations can profit more.

    It is selfish and self-degrading to force upon others what you don’t want for yourself. People mask it under the guise of self-expression, blaming others for not picking themselves up by their bootstraps in the American way. Despite the fact that most of the wealthiest businesspeople are children of an elite plutocracy that haven’t tied their own shoelaces let alone touched any sort of bootstrap, this culture of capitalism is not universal and no matter what people in the US think, in much of the world it is not looked upon as the best (thus all the problems in Iraq). So what is this alternative? In Mexico there are ideas spinning and turning, meetings and demonstrations are driving oppressive governmental forces up the wall, which are not reported on in either the national nor international media except in crazy anti-neoliberal, anti-capitalistic peanut galleries like Venezuela and select sites on the Internet. People are being killed and imprisoned, no joke. Unfortunately we are dealing with a population that has to both learned how to play with its enemy (which will hopefully eventually become its partner) and maintain strength in its own principles. And it is a slow process. If you're that interested in these developments, see my rant about II Encuentro de los pueblos Zapatistas con los pueblos del mundo (The meeting of the Zapatistas with the people of the world) in this here magazine. But nothing is really clear. Louis XVI was unaware how separated he was from the starving masses. He enacted laws with good intentions; his wife idealized the plight of the peasant and played at a simpler life out of homage, not mockery. But they lost their heads anyway. The powers that be, those that run governments, the WTO, Bill Gates (whatever he does), may not be maliciously trying to take advantage of the poor (although they are continuously trying to make a profit by giving food and medicine). They may actually think their research is helping. But they’re wrong. The question is: Can we compare places like Palo Alto to Versailles, and strip malls to the squalor of Paris in 1789? If not, the path we're headed down ain't look pretty.
 
 
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