It is January 1, 2003. Today, in Mexico, in accordance with the North American Free Trade Agreement all tariffs will be lifted on 45 basic agricultural imports, including wheat, rice, sorghum, milk, eggs, chicken, pork, apples and other hard fruit. Mexican farmers fear the flood of imports from the North will ruin them.
On December 10th they rode their horses and tractors into the Mexican Congress to protest the lifting of the tariffs and the failure of the Mexican government to provide subsidies that would allow them to compete with the heavily subsidized agribiz conglomerates of the US.
Just as the farmers were protesting in Mexico City, the former world leaders who pushed NAFTA through in the first place Carlos Salinas de Gortari of Mexico, Brian Mulroney of Canada and President George Bush Senior were throwing a gala celebration of NAFTA at 10 in Washington. The treaty was signed in 92 but did not kick in until January 1, 1994.
Not coincidentally, Jan. 1 marks the date the Zapatista Army of National Liberation stepped out of the Chiapas jungle and announced themselves to the world by taking over the city of San Cristobal de Las Casas.
Despite their militant image, Zapatistas have spent the last seven years training teachers and health workers while launching numerous innovative (and non-violent) peace initiatives. Government attempts to portray these rebels as terrorists or drug traffickers have generally been unsuccessful. However today the Zapatistas are concerned their centrality to the movement opposing the international corporate agenda could make them the target of increased attack.
The Zapatistas also inspired a backlash against NAFTA and sowed the seeds of the anti-globalization coalition that first exploded at the December 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle.
- Bill Weinberg, award-winning investigative journalist and editor of the on-line weekly World War 3 Report (WW3Report.com) He is the author of Homage to Chiapas: The New Indigenous Struggles in Mexico (Verso Books 2000), and War on the Land: Ecology and Politics in Central America (Zed Books 1991).
- Franc Contreras, second-generation Mexican-American from Tucson, Arizona. He has been reporting from Mexico City since 1996. He covers Mexico, Central and South America for Public Radio International s daily news broadcast, The World. Contreras stories have also been broadcast on NPR, the BBC, and Pacifica radio.
- Peter Brown, known as Pedro Caf in the Chiapas Highlands. He is the director of the Schools for Chiapas program. After he raised money and built a school for Zapatista children in one of the autonomous communities he was arrested, deported, and banned for life . He joins us by phone from San Cristobal de las Casas.