MEXICO (and South Central LA)
I found the mainstream media coverage of Mexico during the
NAFTA debate somewhat uneven. The New York Times has allowed in
a number of articles that official corruption was-and is-widespread
in Mexico. In fact, in one editorial, they virtually conceded
that Salinas stole the 1988 presidential election. Why did that
information come out?
I think it's impossible to repress. Furthermore, there were scattered
reports in the Times of popular protest against NAFTA. Tim Golden,
their reporter in Mexico, had a story a couple of weeks before
the vote, probably in early November [l993], in which he said
that lots of Mexican workers were concerned that their wages would
decline after NAFTA. Then came the punch line.
He said that that undercuts the position of people like Ross Perot
and others who think that NAFTA is going to harm American workers
for the benefit of Mexican workers. In other words, the fact that
they're all going to get screwed was presented as a critique of
the people who were opposing NAFTA here!
There was very little discussion here of the large-scale popular
protest in Mexico, which included, for example, the largest non-governmental
trade union. (The main trade union is about as independent as
the Soviet trade unions were, but there are some independent ones,
and they were opposed to the agreement.)
The environmental movements and most of the other popular movements
were opposed. The Mexican Bishops' Conference strongly endorsed
the position the Latin American bishops took when they met at
Santa Domingo [in the Dominican Republic] in December 1992.
That meeting in Santa Domingo was the first major conference of
Latin American bishops since the ones at Puebla [Mexico] and Medellin
[Colombia] back in the 1960s and 1970s. The Vatican tried to control
it this time to make sure that they wouldn't come out with these
perverse ideas about liberation theology and the preferential
option for the poor. But despite a very firm Vatican hand, the
bishops came out quite strongly against neoliberalism and structural
adjustment and these free-market-for-the-poor policies. That wasn't
reported here, to my knowledge.
There's been significant union-busting in Mexico.
Ford and VW are two big examples. A few years ago, Ford simply
fired its entire Mexican work force and would only rehire, at
much lower wages, those who agreed not to join a union. Ford was
backed in this by the always ruling PRI [the Institutional Revolutionary
Party, which has controlled Mexico since the 1920s].
VW's case was pretty much the same. They fired workers who supported
an independent union and only rehired, at lower wages, those who
agreed not to support it.
A few weeks after the NAFTA vote in the US, workers at a GE and
Honeywell plant in Mexico were fired for union activities. I don't
know what the final outcome will be, but that's exactly the purpose
of things like NAFTA.
In early January , you were asked by an editor at the
Washington Post to submit an article on the New Year's Day uprising
in Chiapas [a state at the southern tip of Mexico, next to Guatemala].
Was this the first time the Post had asked you to write something?
It was the first time ever. I was kind of surprised, since I'm
never asked to write for a national newspaper. So I wrote the
article-it was for the Sunday Outlook section-but it didn't appear.
Was there an explanation?
No. It went to press, as far as I know. The editor who commissioned
it called me, apparently after the deadline, to say that it looked
OK to him but that it had simply been canceled at some higher
level. I don't know any more about it than that.
But I can guess. The article was about Chiapas, but it was also
about NAFTA, and I think the Washington Post has been even more
extreme than the Times in refusing to allow any discussion of
What happened in Chiapas doesn't come as very much of a surprise.
At first, the government thought they'd just destroy the rebellion
with tremendous violence, but then they backed off and decided
to do it by more subtle violence, when nobody was looking. Part
of the reason they backed off is surely their fear that there
was just too much sympathy all over Mexico; if they were too up
front about suppression, they'd cause themselves a lot of problems,
all the way up to the US border.
The Mayan Indians in Chiapas are in many ways the most oppressed
people in Mexico. Nevertheless, their problems are shared by a
large majority of the Mexican population. This decade of neoliberal
reforms has led to very little economic progress in Mexico but
has sharply polarized the society. Labor's share in income has
declined radically. The number of billionaires has shot up.
In that unpublished Post article, you wrote that the protest
of the Indian peasants in Chiapas gives "only a bare glimpse
of time bombs waiting to explode, not only in Mexico." What
did you have in mind?
Take South Central Los Angeles, for example. In many respects,
they are different societies, of course, but there are points
of similarity to the Chiapas rebellion. South Central LA is a
place where people once had jobs and lives, and those have been
destroyed-in large part by the socio-economic processes we've
been talking about.
For example, furniture factories went to Mexico, where they can
pollute more cheaply. Military industry has somewhat declined.
People used to have jobs in the steel industry, and they don't
any more. So they rebelled.
The Chiapas rebellion was quite different. It was much more organized,
and much more constructive. That's the difference between an utterly
demoralized society like South Central Los Angeles and one that
still retains some sort of integrity and community life.
When you look at consumption levels, doubtless the peasants in
Chiapas are poorer than people in South Central LA. There are
fewer television sets per capita. But by other, more significant
criteria-like social cohesion-Chiapas is considerably more advanced.
In the US, we've succeeded not only in polarizing communities
but also in destroying their structures. That's why you have such
an interview of Noam Chomsky by David Barsamian
from the book Secrets, Lies and Democracy, published in 1994
Tucson, AZ 85751
tel 602-296-4056 or 800-REALSTORY
other Noam Chomsky books published by Odonian Press
What Uncle Sam Really Wants
The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many
Lies, and Democracy