NAFTA and Mexico's 10-Year Lethargy

Photo: Roger Viollet/AFP-Getty Images

Rip van Winkle emigrated from Holland. He was fond of beer and skittles, and one day some dwarfs who pretended to be his friends cast a spell on him and put him to sleep in the Catskills of New York. He awoke 20 years later and found that everything had changed. His wife had died, his daughter had married, and the War of Independence had ended.

Rómulo Rozo, a Colombian sculptor who assimilated into Mexican society, involuntarily led the world to think of Mexicans as sleepy vestiges from days gone by. Rozo, who, with Carlos Mérida, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Diego Rivera, was a pioneer of Latin American art, was the artist who created the 61-
centimeter-high sculpture called “El Pensamiento.” He left the Mexican forever in stone, sitting on the ground, his arms wrapped around his knees, with his pointed, wide-brimmed sombrero to protect him during his eternal lethargy.

But Rozo didn’t see us as slumbering. During 12 years, he carved 400 figures chosen from Mexico’s pre-Hispanic, colonial, independence, reform, and revolutionary periods in his “Monumento a la Patria” on the Paseo Montejo boulevard in Merida, Yucatan.

Those who have always been asleep, or allow themselves to be put to sleep, are the country’s “leaders” and their gabinetazos [“marvelous Cabinets,” an allusion to the way President Vicente Fox refers to his Cabinet], as well as most of the major businessmen, labor leaders, members of the high clergy, and the old generals who assumed ownership of the Revolution.

Ten years have passed during which Mexico’s federal executives and the “fauna” that accompany them have obliged ordinary Mexicans to comply “to the letter”—despite the violations perpetrated by our major trade “partner” [the United States]—with the commitments personally agreed to by the country’s president when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed.

NAFTA—an instrument that was supposed to transport us to a status similar to that enjoyed by countries of the First World—has brought more wealth to those who have been receiving the government’s assistance since the last century: exporters. This commercial group—which does not create any jobs—has taken the domestic market to a prostrate position, due to the devastation of small and medium-sized industries—which previously hired the greatest number of workers. And it has plunged Mexico’s rural sector into desolation.

The money sent back home by millions of small farmers who have emigrated [from Mexico] has become Mexico’s primary source of income in dollars. Ironically, the Mexican president boasts of this disgraceful statistic.

Mexico is the only country that brings together the characteristics of a precarious economy, an elevated rate of unemployment, absolute food dependency, and the highest level of emigration, both documented and undocumented. And if this were not enough, it shares the most extensive border in the world with the country that—without admitting it and without its inhabitants knowing—has become an empire that determines the domestic and international behavior of all the countries on the planet. If an empire of this nature can be said to be harmful to one’s health, then the results are fatal for those with whom it shares such a long, vast border.

Those with financial, commercial, industrial, and agro-industrial control would have the populations of the United States, the European Union, China, and the Russian Federation believe that they conquered the terrible Soviet bear. The result of the triumph is that U.S. military and economic power and its culture, economic ideas, and social organization are those that must be imposed on the rest of the world. The imposition is brutal. U.S. intervention in the lives of the inhabitants of other contemporary nations is greater than that of their own governments. And everyone gives in. The Chinese and Russian markets depend on such hegemony.

Perhaps some exceptions will emerge in the southern part of the Western Hemisphere. There are traces, in any case, of this possibility in Lula da Silva’s Brazil and Néstor Kirchner’s Argentina. Against all predictions, financial groups and government bureaucracies have accepted the Argentine moratorium [on debt repayment] without much fuss. Argentina and Brazil are growing economically, and their domestic markets are becoming stronger.

The Mexican government has not yet awakened. It still doesn’t perceive the new hegemonic reality. Just like Rip van Winkle, after 10 years of deep sleep it will sluggishly open its eyes to find that everything has changed and that it didn’t notice because a dwarfs’ spell kept it absorbed in lethargy.

The author is a professor at the School of Political and Social Sciences at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.