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1000 march to demand fairer North American trade; Public forum calls for immediate renegotiation of NAFTA

A march through downtown Guadalajara, Jalisco on the first day of the fifth North American leaders’ summit drew between 800 and 1,000 people with a strong message for Obama, Harper and Calderón: NAFTA has failed and we need a new era of fair trade on this continent. Partially organized by Red Mexicana de Acción Frente al Libre Comercio (RMALC), the march and subsequent public forum brought together a variety of farmers, migrant, human rights, environmental and labour groups united by a conviction that the NAFTA and NAFTA-plus Security and Prosperity Partnership were barriers in the way of a more just society.

Security was at a minimum despite news stories leading up to the march on the threat of drug violence, and others reminding North American audiences of the police violence and human rights abuses from a Latin America-European Union summit in 2004. The history might have explained a somewhat lower turnout than expected but where we lacked in numbers we made up for in energy.

Marchers chanted the equivalent of “Obama understand, Mexico is not for sale,” and “We don’t not feel that the colonial North America is our home — We want an independent Mexican nation!” (It sounds much more poetic in Spanish, trust me.) Several placards took aim at Harper and the visa issue, and as John Dillon (Common Frontiers) pointed out after passing the U.S. Consulate, there is no Obama mania here as there was in Ottawa this February.

Mexican groups recognize that agenda has not changed all that much under Obama. The U.S. President is dancing around migration policy reform, while promising to increase military funding for Mexico’s disastrous war on drugs, the Merida Initiative. In fact, NAFTA’s inability to spread wealth evenly across Mexico, on top of the new threats from the government’s war with drug cartels that has killed over 10,000 in two years, is the reason over half a million Mexicans migrate into the U.S. and Canada each year. (U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy‘s recent blocking of a 15 per cent hike in military aid to Mexico based on military and police human rights complaints is a rare bit of good news.)


The short-sightedness on the link between NAFTA, Merida and migration was matched in Obama’s statement prior to the Guadalajara summit that he would not renegotiate NAFTA just yet because the economies of all three countries are in bad shape. Isn’t this the perfect time to rethink an economic model whose regular booms and busts leave millions jobless, hungry and generally insecure?

That was a theme of an alternative summit attended by about 400 people immediately after the march. John and I took part in the first tri-national panel. John suggested that Harper needs to look into abuses by the Mexican military and police that are likely contributing to increased refuggee claims. He also explained the links between Swine Flu and a lack of health and environmental safeguards at Smithfield Foods Granja in Ver Cruz, as well as the way pigs are raised there — conditions that NAFTA not only supports but encourages.

John also criticized how the G20 in April rehabilitated the IMF while marginalizing the United Nations, saying the leaders are avoiding real solutions to the financial crisis like those contained in the Stigltz Commission report.

I focused on three ways that NAFTA has been successfully renegotiated since the SPP dialogue began in 2005: Regulatory harmonization of food safety policies (i.e. recent approval of SmartStax corn from Monsanto) is putting corporate profits ahead of public health; Security policy integration is creating a trade deficit in personal information heading into U.S. security databases with little information coming out on how that information is used, while real security and punishment is distributed unevenly based on racial, class and gender lines, and; Buy America hysteria is leading to a renegotiation of NAFTA to include municipal and provincial procurement, further deregulating local economies.

It’s noteworthy that after the tri-national panel had ended, two of the four questions were about what Canadians are doing about the abuse of Mexico’s workforce and water by major multinational mining and resource companies. We assured them that efforts are under way to legally bind these companies to strict new rules on corporate actions overseas. But it reinforced the impression that Canada’s global reputation is worsening as the Canadian government continually prioritizes the interests of its corporate elite over many other priorities.

Following two more panels of labour, migration and environmental issues, including one very powerful presentation on the right to water, a final declaration on the need to renegotiate NAFTA was made. So were declarations of solidarity with Honduran supporters of ousted President Zelaya and opposition to U.S. military bases in Colombia and anywhere else in Latin America.