Latin America and U.S. free trade

Several times in the past year, we heard of Mexican refugees dying of dehydration in the Arizona desert. Who were they?

A terrific pamphlet, “Cuban Leaders Speak on Neoliberal Globalization,” provides answers. (‘Neoliberal globalization’ is shorthand for measures embodied in U.S.-promoted “free trade” agreements.)

The pamphlet was issued earlier this year by the Detroit-based U.S.-Cuba Labor Exchange. Its aim is to warn against the proposed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA).

In the pamphlet, Osvaldo Martinez, director of Cuba’s World Economy Research Center, pointed out that with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), “the Mexican agricultural sector [has been] faced with a truly catastrophic situation. We could say that the Mexican agricultural sector, once it came into contact with U.S. agriculture and U.S. agricultural exports, is in contact with the most sophisticated system of subsidies found anywhere in the world ...”

The pamphlet documents NAFTA’s devastation of Mexico’s rice, potato and cotton farmers, many working in cooperatives.

In just six years, Martinez wrote, “six million displaced agricultural workers have been replaced [because of] crops imported from the United States. Those six million workers are looking for work and not finding it in the Mexican agricultural sector ...”

Far from being attracted to the U.S., the refugees dying in the Arizona desert were ruined farmers pushed there by NAFTA’s free-trade “bombs,” just as U.S. bombs are driving Afghan refugees to Pakistan. NAFTA, in turn, has helped cut U.S. workers’ (and farmers’) real income.

Fidel Castro is quoted as saying that U.S. food production receives $80 billion in annual subsidies, “and will continue receiving them in the future, whatever the disguise.” These subsidies mainly go to large businesses, while small family farmers are pushed to ruin.

Castro warned that with FTAA, “crops of corn, wheat, rice, soybeans and other grains will practically disappear from many Latin American countries.”

If free trade agreements were really intended to advance trade in goods and services, they would ban speculation in commodities and currencies. But U.S.-promoted free trade actively supports speculation through “freedom of capital movement.”

Martinez pointed out that “at least a third of imperialist capital in-flows into Latin America is speculative, short-term capital which comes and goes amazingly fast and acts as a destabilizing factor ...”

Joseph Stiglitz, chief economist at the World Bank from 1997 to 2000, recently admitted, “I have seen first-hand the dark side of globalization – how the liberalization of capital markets, by allowing speculative money to pour in and out of a country at a moment’s whim, devastated East Asia.”

“Two decades of ‘globalization’ in Latin America,” Martinez said, “has given the region the most inequitable income distribution in the entire world ...” Unemployment, according to [official] statistics, affects 9 percent of Latin America. [But] out of every 100 jobs held by those considered to be employed, 85 are ... characterized by extremely low salaries, the absence of labor rights, no pension rights, that is, the workers are completely at the mercy of the employers ...”

Since Sept. 11, the Bush administration has placed almost as much emphasis on free trade agreements as on its “war on terrorism.” Bush correctly links the two as efforts to defend “our” way of living. But Bush and his class’ “way of living” is just not the working class’ way.

Bush and his class actively and passively promote low wages and inequality, the inhuman right to throw people out of work, etc., all to defend a bankrupt system of exploitation. In just two months, his class has thrown two million people out of work in the U.S., millions more worldwide. His class has concentrated layoffs against African-Americans, immigrants, women and youth, without a word of protest from Bush.

The working class’ way of living, on the other hand, seeks equality, good jobs and good working and living conditions for all, our youth included, and an end to exploitation and poverty worldwide.

About the only shortcoming of the U.S.-Cuba pamphlet is its failure to emphasize capitalism’s real weakness and measures the working class can take to end the misery it describes.