Santa Rosa, CA — “The village is almost without people,” an elderly woman told a reporter in tiny San Jeronimo Solola, Oaxaca, earlier this year.
“Many houses are empty. The fathers and the sons have gone. If the young people keep leaving, what do you think will happen to us?”
Mexicans have grown corn for thousands of years. The corn-bean-squash agriculture they perfected—the milpa system—is perhaps the most successful and self-sustaining in the world.
But the capitalist oligarchs of Mexico and the United States are now systematically undermining the milpas—replacing them with large-scale, soil-depleting, irrigated farms—and forcing the small farmers off the land.
A century ago, when the government of Porfirio Diaz concentrated the land into fewer and fewer hands, the forebears of these farmers rose in rebellion against the hacendados—the owners of the great agricultural estates. Led by Emiliano Zapata in the revolution of 1910-1920, they fought for a redistribution of the land.
The corn grown by those small farmers created the surplus on which Mexican industry was built. But with the step-by-step dismantling of the Cardenas reforms, Mexican finance, industry, and agriculture is being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands again. And Mexico has been thrown open to the capitalists of the world, especially the United States.
At the end of the 20th century, Mexico’s economy became increasingly entwined in the integrated world economy, and Mexico’s small farmers faced the Mexican and North American oligarchies united against them.
In the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mexican capitalists, operating through the government of Carlos Salinas, simply abandoned the small farmers. They dropped the tariffs against imports of cheap U.S. corn, knowing full well that doing so would destroy traditional agriculture.
NAFTA has been primarily the project of the capitalists of the U.S. They, too, knew that opening Mexico to U.S. corn would destroy small Mexican farmers.
Operating through presidents George G. H. Bush and Bill Clinton, they were successful in winning NAFTA. And within a few years, U.S. agribusiness—dominated by giant corporations like Cargill—was exporting four times as much corn into Mexico as before.
The U.S. government was actually subsidizing large-scale corn production in the United States and dumping it on the Mexican market at less than it cost to produce.
Mexican small farmers could not compete with this. More than two million people were pushed out of agricultural work and another five million could no longer live on farm income. Millions streamed north. Whole villages hollowed out, dispossessed of their traditional livelihood, and, in effect, of their culture and their land.
The Mexican oligarchy, too, was substantially subsidizing its agribusinesses, which erupted into the world market. Since NAFTA began, Mexican companies like Grupo Bimbo and Maseca have become dominant players in the global food industry.
But none of this helped the economic refugees fleeing north. Does the story end here? Only if the global oligarchy continues to have its way.
Citizenship for Immigrants is Central to Working Class Unity
U.S. citizens and immigrants are part of the same working class. For many years, the capitalists have torn down the borders for their “free” trade. Now it is our turn to tear down the borders that divide us. We all have the same needs, whether born in the U.S. or another country. The technological revolution is eliminating industrial jobs for all of us. It is in our fight for survival and to provide for our families where we must unite with our same needs. This is why the demand for citizenship for immigrants is central to working class unity. There awaits a world of abundance, family unity, and happiness.