Seeking a New Globalism in
by Tom Hayden
The Nation magazine, April
I am spellbound by the woman in the photo
sent by friends in Chiapas. She is a Mayan, a Tzotzil Indian in
her 20s with long lack braided hair and a turquoise sweater over
a colorful blue and-red blouse. This indigenous woman, whose name
is Maria, is working at a modern industrial loom amid a long line
of similar women. She is making sweaters at a new maquiladora
named Trans Textil Internacional in the old colonial city of San
Cristobal de las Casas, in Chiapas. The sweaters Maria knits are
entirely for North American consumers, there being no local market.
In fact, all the materials such as cotton come from the United
States and Europe; the role of Maria and the other workers in
the factory is simply to knit, cut, stitch and assemble. Companies
like Liz Claiborne, the Limited, Guess and Victoria's Secret will
buy Maria's sweaters for between $8.50 and $12 apiece and sell
them at $80-$100.
Maria makes 6 pesos, or less than 60 US
cents, for each of the six sweaters she can finish in a day. She
receives no benefits. She has two children back home in her village
and used to commute every day, but the transportation cost most
of her pay, so she now lives with two other workers in a cuartito,
or small room, near the factory and goes home to her children
only on Sunday, her day off. According to Trans Textil's manager,
all the workers are young women because the older ones, those
over 35, "don't produce as much as younger workers."
This is Ground Zero of globalization.
The maquiladoras-the assembly plants that first emerged on the
US-Mexican border in the 1 960s, in which cheap labor is used
to turn raw materials and parts from countries like the United
States into finished products, which are then exported back to
those countries-are now "marching south," in the phrase
of Mexican President Vicente Fox, to the regions of direst poverty
like Chiapas. The new strategy, known as the Plan Puebla de Panama,
must be seen in several contexts: the long conflict over the rights
of indigenous people, who are the majority in the path of el Plan;
the hyperexpansion of NAFTA; the militarizing of Mexico's southern
border against immigrants; and the low-intensity war against the
The PPP is an attempt to revive the failed
jobs promise of NAFTA. Sounding a bit like Ross Perot, the New
York Times acknowledged last year that NAFTA had failed to close
the divide "between the privileged few and the poor, and
left the middle class worse off than before." Few would argue,
the Los Angeles Times said, "that NAFTA has been anything
but devastating for Mexican farm families, which account for 23
% of Mexico's 100 million people." Relocating the crisis-ridden
maquiladora industry to southern Mexico, where wages are half
those at the Mexican maquilas on the US border, is a desperate
effort to prevent the hemorrhage of jobs to China, where "nimble
Chinese hands," in the words of the Los Angeles Times, sew
and stitch for 40 cents an hour, only one-sixth of the Mexican
The Trans Textil plant where Maria works
is Mexico's answer to the Chinese challenge, part of the global
"race to the bottom," as poor countries compete for
foreign investments. Another few dozen maquilas are soon to be
opened in Chiapas as part of a vast export-oriented industrial
zone in the heart of Maya country. The declining wages of Mexicans
have not lessened the Bush Administration's zeal to expand NAFTA
through the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). In
this scenario the PPP is to be the pilot project in an expanding,
investor-friendly economic bloc dominated by Washington. Those
who extol globalization like to describe sweatshop labor as "the
first step on life's escalator," as New York Times columnist
Nicholas Kristof so blithely put it, ignoring evidence that a
revolving cycle of poverty and cultural chaos is being produced
Chiapas is the poorest state in Mexico,
despite being the richest in natural resources. Its territory
is thick with oil and minerals, flowing water and ancient forests.
The biodiversity is spectacular, including 40 percent of Mexico's
plant varieties and 80 percent of its butterfly species. But when
the Zapatistas revolted in January 1994, half the people in the
highlands were illiterate, 70 percent of workers made less than
the minimum wage and two-thirds of the shacks in which poor people
lived lacked electricity, drinking water and drainage. The persistent
misery has caused the involuntary urbanization of more than 100,000
Mayans, who have moved to the shantytowns ringing San Cristobal
in the past three decades, resulting in a 500 percent increase
in their population in cities, according to the anthropologists
James Diego Vigil and Jan Rus.
The PPP is a giant infrastructure and
maquiladora zone starting in Puebla state in southern Mexico and
rolling east through Central America, an area with 60 million
people, most of them indigenous and poor, including thousands
of Zapatistas and veterans of the region's revolutionary wars.
The project, which is expected to cost billions, will be financed
by the Inter-American Development Bank and other international
bureaucracies that work for the benefit of multinational corporations.
The PPP would dam the Usurnacinta River
bordering Mexico and Guatemala, the largest river between Texas
and Venezuela, to generate electricity on a scale approaching
Egypt's Aswan Dam. The plans have included construction of two
dams 132 and 330 feet high that would create reservoirs each over
twenty miles long, displace thousands of indigenous people and
flood up to eighteen ancient Mayan sites. Not by coincidence,
the dams would also permit military control of the river, which
is a haven to migrants and smugglers and borders the eastern edge
of the zones now controlled by the Zapatista rebels. The Usumacinta,
which rises in the Guatemalan highlands and flows freely for 600
miles, is identified as a world "BioGem" by the Natural
Resources Defense Council. The NRDC, which, ironically, supported
NAFTA as providing a basic floor for cross-border environmental
policy, now laments that its inadequate standards have become
a ceiling for other trade agreements. The NRDC notes that the
proposed FTAA contains inadequate environmental safeguards, although
the organization at this writing has taken no position on the
scramble is under way as well to control
the massive oil deposits that are suspected to lie in the mountains
and rain forests of Chiapas, where the battle with the Zapatistas
has raged. While projections are uncertain, there are significant
deposits of high-quality natural gas and crude oil over several
thousand square miles. One analysis puts potential reserves at
3.7 billion barrels, "only a bit less than the five-billion-barrel
figure that the petroleum industry considers a mega-deposit,"
in the Chiapas region. Many of the oil deposits, according to
a scholar at Mexico City's National Autonomous University, "are
located near or directly beneath Zapatista communities" and
the road projects and base camps of the Mexican Army.
Another strategic objective of the PPP
is to build a modern highway infrastructure across the narrowest
corridor of the Americas to facilitate eastwest trade in containerized
goods, with the Atlantic side serving US export companies and
the Pacific side including a maquila zone for the Pacific Rim.
Interlaced throughout will be a tourist-friendly "Ruta Maya"
of archeological sites, presumably sanitized of any contemporary
Indian threat. Genetic-engineering projects, which local people
condemn as "biopiracy," are expected to complete technology's
triumph over the natural world.
What is striking about this dazzling scenario
is its disconnection from the people and natural environment.
The projected economy of the entire region will look like one
vast maquiladora. And like the maquiladoras, the PPP and FTAA
models are imposed from outside as substitutes for existing organic
communities, whose inhabitants must either adapt or migrate. Under
the neoliberal giobalization model, the primary factor that matters
is investment capital; human beings are replaceable, unions and
community groups are inefficient anachronisms and environmental
impacts simply "externalized" costs to be borne by others.
But reality matters-what Mexico and Latin
America are experiencing is the bankruptcy of the maquiladora
model and neoliberalism itself. Though the initial rebellion began
with campesinos, unrest is spreading throughout Mexico because
of planned and rumored privatizations of key industries like telecommunications
and energy. For example, before Enron imploded, the US energy
giant was advising the Fox campaign and spinning off subsidiaries
in Mexico's historically public energy sector. Where some progressive
realists accepted the neoliberal model as the only option just
a few years ago, today they agree with militant union leaders
at Nike's Kukdong plant, a focal point of antiglobalization activism,
who say the future of Mexican democracy depends on the unionization
of those workers. The only alternative to economic democracy is
Like the Christian conquest before it,
the neoliberal model cannot be installed without the threat or
use of force. In addition to the tens of thousands of Mexican
troops who have been engaged in low-intensity, low-visibility
operations in Chiapas, economic globalization has been increasingly
militarized since September 11, 2001. The borders of Central America
and Mexico, as well as those of Mexico and the United States,
are now under tighter military control than ever. Last year Central
American military budgets experienced some of their largest increases
in history. The Mexican government reinstated twenty military
bases in the Chiapas conflict zone ten days after September 11.
For women like Maria, not to mention her
children, the increased militarization does nothing about the
faded promise of the maquiladoras and leaves few alternatives
when they are dislocated from their traditional villages to the
migrant trail. Typically, many become homeless, their families
divided, begging on the streets of Mexico City (where former New
York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is providing high-priced advice on policing
them). Thousands eventually arrive at the northern border, where
they encounter the misery spawned by the original maquiladoras,
which 'were promoted as a solution to the southern poverty they
are migrating to escape. I toured these border maquilas as a California
official in the 1980s and remember most of all how a majority
of the workers were teenagers. They came from southern rural areas
and, I was told, would soon be magically transformed into progressive
modern women with useful job skills. Now, two decades into that
transformation, the lethal side-effects are dramatized in the
body counts of young women raped, murdered, mutilated and missing.
When more than 200 such murders were reported in Ciudad Juarez
in 2001, a Mexican state attorney general said reports of violence
against women were exaggerated because "there are many other
cities where the situation is worse."
The alternative to the northern border
maquilas for the Marias of Chiapas is to catch an aging bus north
to places like the church at Altar near the Arizona line, then
switch to trucks toward Sasabe, where they wait under moonlit
trees by the hundreds, finally crossing into the deserts of Arizona
or southern California. They are literally dying for work: Of
four migrants who died in Arizona's southern Cochise County during
one week I visited last year, three were from Chiapas. Those who
survive the infernal dryness of the desert are frequently victims
of vigilantes, sometimes aligned with Border Patrol officers,
who target them as if the US-Mexican War had never ended. Because
the intentionally cruel fences of the US "Operation Gatekeeper"
push immigrants toward the most harsh and remote border regions,
at least 2,000 people have died since 1994 (those who die on the
Mexican side of the border are not even counted). Last June was
the deadliest month in history on the southwestern border, with
sixty-seven migrants perishing in the heat, most of them in the
Border Patrol's Tucson sector. Fox's Bill O'Reilly recently proposed
sending the US military to force these "Mexican wetbacks"
back where they came from. O'Reilly should know that many migrants
are children searching for their mothers who traveled north to
seek work from cleaning toilets to becoming nannies, in order
to send paltry remittances back to the families they left behind.
According to studies of such children, most are robbed, beaten
or raped during their exodus, but they continue coming in many
cases because, as the Los Angeles Times put it in a recent article,
"they need to find out whether their mothers still love them."
Sometimes they carry along photos of themselves cradled in their
What began with the 1994 Chiapas rebellion
against NAFTA has now spread to all of Mexico and Central America.
I recently asked Rigoberta Menchu, the Mayan Nobel Prize winner
from Guatemala, what she thought of the PPP. She rolled her eyes,
threw her hands in the air and laughed with gusto. She had never
been asked to participate in the decisions concerning the PPP's
development projects. Communities of the indigenous are still
not considered the subjects of their own history, except in cases
where they are recruited to serve as paramilitaries for the armed
forces. Since early 2001 there have been regional resistance meetings
in Chiapas, Guatemala and Nicaragua involving thousands of delegates
from 400 local organizations. Protesters have blocked roads, demonstrated
at border crossings, at proposed PPP infrastructure sites and
at World Bank offices; barricaded themselves in the San Salvador
national cathedral; and even invaded the domed chambers of the
Mexican legislature on horseback. Recently the Zapatistas have
re-emerged from a long silence, marching by the tens of thousands
in San Cristobal and renewing their call for "the globalization
of freedom." Protests are sure to escalate further when the
World Trade Organization meets this September in Cancun, in the
heart of the Mayan region targeted by the PPP, and at the FTAA
summit in Miami in November.
Bush's FTAA proposal is meeting unprecedented
resistance throughout Latin America. Last October Brazil, the
world's ninth-largest economy, elected as president Luiz Inacio
Lula da Silva, who has criticized the FTAA as "annexation"
by the United States. (In an arrogant response to Lula, US Trade
Representative Robert Zoellick has warned that Brazil can trade
with Antarctica if it rejects Washington's terms.) Meanwhile,
neighboring Argentina has fallen from the status of poster child
for US-led globalization to that of a basket case. Since its government
defaulted on $140 billion in public debt in January 2002, Argentina
has been a scene of radical, even revolutionary, community actions,
with hundreds of democratic assemblies taking responsibility for
neighborhood recovery. In Buenos Aires alone, seventeen abandoned
factories have been seized and reopened by dispossessed workers.
Up to a million people have formed a barter-based economy to survive.
The popular cry in the streets is Que se vayan todos! ("Throw
them all out!") But unlike in Brazil, Argentines have no
Workers' Party and no Lula, only the remnants of Peronism and
the expectation of a meaningless election this April, in which
thousands will cast protest votes for a cartoon character who
has no hands and therefore can't steal.
And then there is Bolivia, where thirty
people were killed in riots in the capital city of La Paz in February.
The newly elected president was smuggled from his own palace in
an ambulance to save his life. The cataclysm was caused by the
International Monetary Fund's insistence that Bolivia lower its
deficit to 5.5 percent of GDP. Leading the opposition in the streets
was Evo Morales, an Indian and a Lula-style labor leader who did
surprisingly well in the last presidential election.
On March 16 in El Salvador, the former
rebels of the FMLN, campaigning against privatization of water,
won elections in the capital of San Salvador and ten other cities,
becoming the largest bloc in the National Assembly. And Ecuador
has elected a military strongman, Lucio Gutierrez, who says the
FTAA would be "suicidal" for his country. US military
involvement in Colombia is deepening into a bloody quagmire. Efforts
to overthrow left-wing President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, backed
at least indirectly by the White House, seem to have failed. Even
the US embargo of Cuba is opposed by a majority in the US House.
As the Bush Administration goes to war in pursuit of empire from
Iraq to Afghanistan, it is "losing" Latin America to
Few in North America are informed about
the passionate protests exploding to the south, largely because
of the absence of press coverage. For the flavor of events from
the ground up, take an eyewitness report of a street confrontation-on
the scale of the 1999 "Battle of Seattle"-that took
place in Quito, Ecuador, last fall during an FTAA summit meeting.
According to an Internet account, 8,000-15,000 activists, including
indigenous Ecuadoreans with rainbow-colored flags, traveled from
remote mountain villages to face the assembled thirty-four US
and Latin American trade ministers at Quito's Marriott Hotel.
Included in the ranks were shamans, trade unionists, campesinos,
students and Bolivia's Morales, who marched with coca growers
with coca leaves taped to their foreheads. According to the eyewitness
account, "old women chanted ceaselessly for four hours,
No queremos, y no nos da la gana,
Ser una colonia, norteamericana.
("We don't want, and it doesn't do
us any good'
To be a North American colony.")
The police bombarded the crowd with a
massive dose of tear gas, hospitalizing numerous people, before
eventually allowing a group of insistent protesters to address
the ministers. While they spoke passionately under an Inca banner
proclaiming YES TO AN INTEGRATION BASED ON SOLIDARITY, US Trade
Representative Zoellick "stared fixedly at his shoe."
Having made their point, they returned to join thousands in the
streets dancing to traditional Quechua music for five hours.
'he Quito confrontation was just one of
many that are erupting across Latin America. Most North Americans
would sympathize with the protesters' demands for minimum justice,
agrarian reform, free collective bargaining, a meaningful _ voice
in matters of trade and the inclusion of the indigenous as autonomous
beings. The programmatic demands, for now, are more radically
reformist than revolutionary, which makes their rejection all
the more disquieting.
What is new about corporate globalization,
and perhaps will prove its undoing, is that the process simultaneously
pushes manufacturing jobs to sweatshops abroad while pulling desperate
immigrants into the sweatshop economy of the United States. Without
fundamental change, sooner or later Maria or her friends will
be flowing northward with the human tide, where she will join
the growing immigrant underclass increasingly demanding a living
wage and political representation. Globalization as a return to
nineteenth-century class domination under military watchtowers
is a futile vision.
An alternative is emerging from the populist
dynamic set in motion first in Chiapas and now across Latin America.
Instead of NAFTA's corporate escape from New Deal-style regulation,
the new agenda would be an extension of the most progressive elements
of the New Deal to global society, a new social contract in place
of market fundamentalism. Globalization from the bottom up. Instead
of NAFTA-style agreements that solely protect foreign investors,
this alternative model would offer enforceable protections to
workers, women and the environment as well-on both sides of the
border. Instead of sweatshops and child labor there would be unions
and literacy programs. Instead of damming rivers and slashing
rainforests, there would be conservation programs for future generations.
If this seems too costly, it is well to remember that the net
contribution of the US government to the UN's global war on poverty
is tiny-the United States spends only 0.13 percent of its gross
national product on UN programs combating hunger, disease and
illiteracy, down 90 percent from the JFK era forty years ago.
Could the Democrats, heirs to Franklin
and Eleanor Roosevelt, overcome their current identity crisis
and commit to expanding the best of the Roosevelt heritage? Not
on their own. But as the crisis bred by globalization deepens
to our south, and millions more Marias are pulled by the same
globalization toward America's barrios, powerful new coalitions
for change are being birthed.
Tom Hayden, the Carey McWilliams Fellow
of the Nation Institute, is the editor of The Zapatista Reader