Eye on the United States

No Smoke Without Fire

Pemex workers on the job
Pemex workers drill for natural gas near Tlalixcoyan, Mexico (Photo: AFP).

A group of Republican U.S. congressmen approved [on May 8, 2003] a resolution proposing a bilateral accord with Mexico: an agreement on migration coupled with the opening of Pemex—Petróleos Mexicanos, the Mexican national oil company—to American investment.

While it is true, as was stated, that this type of resolution does not have the force of law, and as [Mexico’s ambassador to the United States] Juan José Bremer put it in an article in La Jornada on May 9, “this will only have news value, it is not going anywhere,” the fact that the legislators combined migration with oil in the same package, after what has been happening around the world, cannot be taken lightly.

Let’s give a little history. It is not the first time that the United States has put pressure on Mexico about our oil. We should remember that in the negotiations creating the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), it was expected that Mexico would play a leading role, thanks to its importance as an oil producer. However, in the end, no doubt because of American pressure, Mexico decided not to join.

Many argued at the time, and some continue to do so, that Mexico should have joined OPEC. After all, it could have enjoyed the benefits of membership in the organization without having to assume a hostile stance toward the United States.

Being a member of OPEC would have left a lot to be desired, since our country was considered to be nothing but a “scab.” Mexico would have kowtowed to the interests of its neighbor to the north and sold oil to the United States on a preferential basis. This would have permitted the United States to buy Mexican oil at a good price and increase its reserves—which would have enabled it, in due time, to bring down global oil prices.

Another critical moment came when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed. We should remember that there was thought of an agreement on migration at the same time and that the argument of former President [Carlos] Salinas was that this could not be accomplished because the United States demanded preferential treatment on Mexican oil in exchange.

Since NAFTA was an accord that was not subjected to democratic or open domestic discussion—as was certainly the case in the United States—we cannot know for sure just what those conditions might have been. But what is known is that Salinas did not want to put any obstacle in the way of a project designed to enshrine him in the history books as the great modernizer of Mexico’s economy.

NAFTA was one of the strategies for joining the First World. So, there was no more talk about migration. We were once again relegated to a subordinate role.

There is not much to be said about NAFTA itself, since we have now lived for nine years under an absolutely asymmetric agreement that satisfies the needs of the colossus to the north but does not permit us to even come close to the levels of our partners.

We are the poor relatives. We send cheap labor, which has the advantage, for the United States, of course, of being mostly undocumented workers (4.5 million). That means that they can be terribly exploited in those areas of production where the United States plays a strategic role in the globalized economy, mainly the food industry.

And now, once again, a signal has been sent out: Migration and oil have been thrown together on the negotiating table. It is obvious that terrorism is the excuse. It allows the United States to invade every country that possesses the one strategic resource par excellence—oil—and Mexico is a very desirable target. It has also become clear that there is no world organization that can stop this from happening.

The worst thing is that the Mexican government—which had gained impressive political capital and created high expectations around the world by its independent stance when it refused to vote in favor of the war against Iraq—instead of reinforcing its status and emphasizing the importance of our migrants as a strategic resource for the United States, has once again demonstrated its great weakness.

It tried to smooth over any problems Bush might have had by sending high-level officials who accepted that national security has become a top priority. Meaning U.S. national security, of course. As for migration, perhaps in five or 10 years we will achieve something.

We have returned to the subordinate role. That is why it is hardly surprising that the Republicans, who have no respect whatsoever for Mexicans, as the Democrats say, have once again insisted on trading oil for migration.

How long will it take before the United States will offer its “aid” only in exchange for our supposed “terrorists,” the Zapatistas?