Rich Land, Poor People: Exports vs. Food Security in Mexico
The real reason for the stream of flight northward across the border,
is that post-NAFTA the Mexican Government has leased or sold out all
the ejidos - communally owned farmlands - to American Agribusiness.
NAFTA broke the people's ability to farm. Don't blame them for trying
to survive. Global fascism has stolen their farmlands. They can't
feed themselves anymore. If you don't like Mexican immigrants then
stop buying fruits and vegetables out of season and start buying
locally. Support your local farm markets.
As Oakley Biesanz, Octavio Madigan Ruiz, Amy Sanders, and Meredith Sommers write:
Global trade is bringing U.S. and Canadian consumers a year-round supply of fresh flowers; fresh and processed fruits such as tomatoes, melons, pineapples, strawberries, and mangos; and fresh vegetables such
as artichokes, cucumbers, cabbage, cauliflower, green beans, peppers, broccoli, snow peas, and asparagus. All these are flown in daily from Mexico. In addition, there are the traditional exports that feed Mexico's northern neighbors, such as sugar, coffee, bananas and cattle. During winter and spring, more than half the fresh vegetables consumed in the United States come from Mexico.
The growth of these exports has bittersweet outcomes, depending on one's perspective. These products have proven very profitable for foreign investors, transnational food corporations, and many large-scale Mexican farmers. These exports both satisfy the appetites of North American consumers and create jobs in Mexico. On the other hand, these exports have serious economic, personal, and environmental effects, and cause grave problems for small-scale farmers, or campesinos.
Mexico's Dual Agricultural Structure
Mexico has two agricultural systems, operating parallel to each other. Producing foods as cash crops for export is the primary goal of large-scale farmers. Although only about 15% of Mexico's land is arable, or suitable for cultivation, 88% of the arable land is used for cultivation of export crops and for grazing cattle. What large-scale farmers produce is determined by what brings the highest prices in international markets. Since the 1970s, most large-scale farmers have been producing the non-traditional crops listed above. They sell to transnational corporations that process or directly transport the products to warehouses and eventually to grocers.
Among those who benefit from the large-scale agricultural system are transnational corporations such as Del Monte, Green Giant, Heinz, United Brands, Castle and Cooke, PepsiCo, Ralston Purina, Campbell's, General Foods, Beatrice Foods, Gerber, Kellogg, Kraft and Nestle.
Rarely do these corporations own land. Instead, they contract with large-scale farmers. The corporations have capital to invest in technology, seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, transport systems, and marketing.
The other agriculture system involves about 60% of Mexico's farmers who have access to the remaining 12% of arable land. This includes individual small-scale farms that produce for local markets, and farms known as ejidos. Ejidos are a system of community-owned lands which, in some cases, have been owned "in trust" by communities for centuries.
Ejido lands were protected from sale as a result of the 1910 Mexican Revolution. However, a significant amount of ejido land passed into private hands during the 1980s and 1990s due to extreme credit pressures and changes to the Mexican Constitution. These constitutional changes allow, for the first time since the Revolution, the sale of ejido land to private owners. The changes were a crucial concession by Mexico to ensure the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993.
Ejido lands rarely have been more than subsistence farms, where corn and beans are grown for the consumption of campesinos and their families. They have, however, provided a way for poor families to at least provide basic grains for themselves. With the ongoing loss of ejidos to private producers and the general inability of campesinos to gain access to other arable land, there is a growing problem of malnutrition in Mexico. The World Bank estimates that half of all rural Mexican children are malnourished.
Furthermore, small-scale farmers have considerable difficulties competing with large-scale farms because they lack access to money for seeds, water, transportation and information required for success in agribusiness. They tend to be unfamiliar with non-traditional crops and production technology. Gaining entry into the export market is very difficult for small farmers, if that is what they choose to do.
Sunday, June 30, 2002
Rich Land, Poor People: Exports vs. Food Security in Mexico
Tuesday, June 18, 2002
Too Much A Company Man?
As FBI director Robert Mueller takes on the daunting task of reforming his agency, some of the criticisms he's faced from FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley and congressional inquisitors echo charges that arose more than 10 years ago during Mueller's handling of the investigation into the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.
At the time, the criticism of Mueller focused on his willingness to defend the Justice Department and its employees, and his refusal to admit error in an investigation that, critics alleged, went awry.
As assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department's criminal division in the early 1990s, Mueller oversaw the department's investigation into BCCI, which was eventually found to be involved in a host of criminal activities, including international money laundering, the support of global terrorism, and the selling of nuclear technology, according to a 1992 congressional report on the bank.
Mueller came to the Justice Department after U.S. attorneys in Tampa, Fla., had brought an indictment against BCCI in 1988 for laundering drug money. Congressional critics, including Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., argued Tampa investigators "failed to recognize the importance of information they received concerning BCCI's other crimes, including its apparent secret ownership of First American," then the largest bank in the Washington area. Kerry and his investigators said the Justice Department failed to connect the dots and allowed BCCI to continue its illegal operations in the United States and abroad.
A 1992 report by a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee, chaired by Kerry and Sen. Hank Brown, R-Colo., stated that "the decision to stop investigating BCCI appears to be an example of poor communication, overwork, under-staffing, inadequate understanding of the meaning of information in the possession of Justice, and a flawed prosecutorial and investigative strategy" -- a summary that sounds as though it could come from a congressional report about the FBI and Sept. 11.
"Mueller back then was faced with a very similar situation," says Jim Winer, a Washington lawyer who served as a congressional investigator into the BCCI probe. "The prosecutors in Tampa had made a very narrow case against BCCI, when BCCI was a much more substantial, international problem. They indicted local money-laundering accounts without looking at the fact that the bank actually had $4 billion missing and was engaged in massive fraud all over the world, including its secret and illegal ownership of what was then the largest bank in Washington, D.C., First American Bank.
"There was a failure of coordination between FBI and CIA that was very substantial, and allowed a criminal enterprise to take over the largest bank in the Washington metro area," he says. "And what Bob Mueller perceived his job to be was to defend the department for institutional reasons."
Kerry, who has known Mueller since their New Hampshire prep school days, now downplays his confrontation with him over the BCCI probe 10 years ago, noting that he supported Mueller's nomination last summer to be FBI director. "I don't think you would call it a dust-up, and I don't think anyone characterized it as such at the time," Kerry says. "It was a difference of opinion over prosecutorial judgment about a particular case. It's just one of those things that happen around here."
But Kerry was severely critical of the department's handling of the BCCI investigation, and a report by his committee castigated the Justice Department for "failing to provide adequate support and assistance to investigators and prosecutors working on the case against BCCI in 1988 and 1989," a year before Mueller took his position at the department.
Back then, testifying before the Senate about charges that his new subordinates had botched the job, Mueller staunchly defended his people.
"The allegation that prosecutors have deliberately failed to do their duty is absolutely and categorically false," said Mueller, under questioning by Kerry at a contentious hearing in November 1991. "The department has been criticized for reported delays in bringing indictments against BCCI and its officers. And I must say that the claim is simply untrue."
Defending the institution was also Mueller's first instinct when the FBI came under criticism last month. After a pair of memos -- one from before Sept. 11 from Arizona FBI agent Kenneth Williams, and another written last month by Minnesota agent Coleen Rowley -- raised doubts about the FBI's performance both before and after Sept. 11, Mueller went on the defensive.
"The agent in Minneapolis did a terrific job in pushing as hard as he could to do everything we possibly could with Moussaoui," Mueller said at a May 8 hearing of the Judiciary Committee. "But did we discern from that that there was a plot that would have led us to Sept. 11? No. Could we have? I rather doubt it."
That led Rowley to charge "that a delicate and subtle shading/skewing of the facts by [Mueller] and others at the highest levels of FBI management has occurred." She also claimed that certain facts "have, up to now, been omitted, downplayed, glossed over and/or mischaracterized in an effort to avoid or minimize personal and/or institutional embarrassment on the part of the FBI and/or perhaps even for improper political reasons."
Mueller initially marked Rowley's letter confidential, but copies were sent to senators, and an edited version was obtained by Time magazine. Only after the memo was made public did Mueller concede, "I cannot say for sure that there wasn't a possibility we could have come across some lead that would have led us to the hijackers."
He made a similarly steadfast defense when Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., a member of the Senate Judiciary committee, complained that his staff was not told of Williams' memo -- which urged the counterterrorism unit to probe flight schools for possible al-Qaida terrorists -- or concerns from the Minnesota office about the FBI's handling of the Zacarias Moussaoui case when the staff was briefed in January by FBI counterterrorism chief David Frasca and Spike Bowman, the FBI's associate general counsel for national security affairs.
Winer says it is not surprising that Mueller, a former Marine who earned a bronze star in Vietnam, offered a steadfast defense of Bowman and Frasca. "The first thing, he was going to defend his people against what he perceived to be political attacks," Winer says. "It so happened that the political attacks were utterly accurate and fair, but he was still going to defend his people as an institutional matter, because Marines defend their people."
Mueller has repeatedly assured members of Congress that the FBI is conducting a thorough review of its shortcomings leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks. Of course, the overhaul of the FBI is a much larger task than the one Mueller faced as assistant attorney general a decade ago. But as he was in the BCCI case of more than 10 years ago, Mueller is being called on by Congress to clean up a mess made on somebody else's watch, and so far, as it was then, Mueller's instinct seems to be to defend his institution before all else.