Observers describe free trade ‘disaster’

Published May 1, 2005

Bishop Sue Moxley (right) with Sister Maria de Los Angeles Chavez, a member of the Mazahua indigenous people, a group who migrated from Mexico City to sell goods in Ciudad Juarez.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has been a “disaster,” particularly for poor and working class Mexicans, an ecumenical delegation has declared after returning from a fact-finding mission to Mexico.

During the March 11-19 visit, the delegation, which included Sue Moxley, suffragan (assistant) bishop of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, met with human rights activists and workers from maquilas (factories that employ mostly young women who earn low wages to manufacture clothes and other export products). The mission was organized by Kairos, a Canadian ecumenical peace and justice network.

(Canada, the United States and Mexico launched NAFTA in 1994 and in the process formed the world’s largest free trade area. Touted as an example of the benefits of trade liberalization, it aims to bring economic growth and to increase the living standards of people in the three countries.)

“We heard about wages too low to live on, we heard about a variety of work conditions including 12 hour days with no breaks,” wrote Bishop Moxley in a report published on a Web log. “We heard how on-the-job injuries were not to be reported to the public healthcare system. We heard about how a TV costs about $25 to produce yet sells for $300 in Canada.” Bishop Moxley said the delegation also heard about unsolved murders of female maquila workers in Ciudad Juarez.

The delegation also visited the village of Cerro San Pedro, where an open pit gold mine has been proposed by Minera San Xavier, a subsidiary of Metallica Resources, a Canadian mining company in Cerro de San Pedro, San Luis Potosi. The Canadians heard that the project “threatens to destroy a historic community, an ecosystem and the water supply of a state capital.” A citizens’ group, Frente Amplio Opositor, has won several legal battles against the company but it has begun its operations with the backing of some Mexican federal government agencies.

In Chiapas, “thousands of small farmers have been put out of business by agricultural changes resulting from NAFTA,” the delegation said in a press statement, adding that more than 5,000 indigenous people, previously self-supporting, have been forced to leave and seek work elsewhere.

Centro Pro, a human rights organization begun by Jesuits, asked the delegation to urge the Canadian government to sign the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights to prove that it is serious about its commitment to human rights in the hemisphere. “They made it clear that trade regulations should never be put in place without considering the implications on people and communities.”

Members of the delegation discussed their findings and made recommendations to the federal government at lobbying sessions during the Global Week of Action on Trade in Ottawa April 13 to 15.

Other members of the delegation included Raymond Schultz, national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), Daniel Bohan, auxiliary bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, Rev. Paul Hansen, Redemptorist Catholic priest and chair of the Kairos board, Rev. J. Mark Lewis, former moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, Sr. Sheila Moss, of the Sisters of Saint Ann, and Wanda West, executive of the General Council, United Church of Canada.


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