Good Neighbors

On May 28, Kristina Bravo reported in takepart that for the first time in sixteen years, the Colorado River has reached its final destination, returning to the Gulf of California. Finally, we in the U.S., are learning how to be good neighbors. For years, we have been denying our southern neighbors their right to fresh water. We have done this by building dams and diverting the Colorado River to places like Las Vegas and Los Angeles. This has prevented the river from flowing into Mexico as it once did, naturally and historically. This action violated treaties between the U.S. and Mexico, and has caused drought conditions, the loss of crops, the loss of livelihoods, poverty and many other social ills for the Mexican people.

In addition to limiting the availability of fresh water in Mexico, the U.S. also disrupts Mexican food markets in other ways. This is because the U.S. federal government subsidizes U.S. grain producers. That means that the taxpayers of the U.S. fund the grain producers, so that the prices of grain are kept artificially low. By this arrangement, commodity traders are able to flood the world markets with ‘cheap grain’, thereby displacing the farming economies in other nations, such as Mexico. These U.S. policies have negatively impacted the wellbeing of our Mexican neighbors in many ways.

The consequences of U.S. economic policies, such as these, are the impoverishment of our neighbors. Farming families in Mexico become no longer able sustain themselves, as they once did for generations.  Therefore they flock to border cities, to maquiladoras, the manufacturing facilities in the so called Free Trade Zones. They go to the maquiladoras looking for factory work. The Free Trade Zones are areas in Mexico where ‘American’ factories are set up in order to capitalize on cheap ‘foreign’ labor. Yet, these new jobs in the maquiladoras do not provide the Mexican people with an adequate compensation or means for survival.

The major labor force, in these maquiladoras, is that of young female workers, because they will work longer and harder, for less money, and with less protest than men will. This is the typical situation in any industry where the main labor force is that of women. In any industry that is mainly sustained by the labor of women, with very few men laborers, you can be fairly certain that the working conditions are such that men refuse to tolerate them. This is because young women are more willing than men to work in oppressive and exploitative conditions for poverty wages, and this is a perfect opportunity, for those with the power and desire to do so, to profit from capitalistic gain at the expense of vulnerable others.

Furthermore, the living conditions that surround the maquiladoras are meager. They are slums, without adequate housing, plumbing, electricity or fresh, clean water. This condition exists because too many displaced farming families have fled their homes hoping to find an economic means of survival elsewhere, but the jobs that they do find do not compensate them adequately so that they can improve their living conditions. It might be questioned why the displaced Mexican farmers migrate to such areas. An important consideration in this forced migration situation is asking where ‘elsewhere’ might be if one’s skills for their traditional way of life do not easily transfer to a new economy. What are the options that exist for the Mexican people in light of the affects of U.S. policy?

In order to survive, some Mexican people have risked their lives to come to the U.S. looking for work. The work that they find is generally in industries that citizens of the U.S. refuse. That is, many immigrants become migrant workers, working in dangerous conditions, harvesting crops that are grown here. Likewise, many become domestics, cleaning the homes of the privileged who can afford such luxuries..  These are professions that are essentially working in servitude.

Regardless of the work that they do find, the professions they take on are generally those of hard, backbreaking work for very little pay. This means that others benefit from their labor, while they barely survive. Because of U.S. economic policy, many Mexican people have found themselves trapped in a situation that offers them few choices and very little opportunity.

Therefore, it is clear that U.S. taxpayers subsidize the oppression, exploitation and abuse of the Mexican people, in order that we, as a country, may profit from commodity trading, and the cheap goods produced elsewhere, and also the cheap labor here for those tasks that we prefer not to do. It is good to see that our policy and actions are beginning to change. Restoring the Colorado River to more closely resemble its natural flow is a move in the right direction. Yet, restoring 1% of the river’s pre-dam flow is not enough. More still needs to be done, if we are going to become good neighbors.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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