Tuesday, June 23, 2009

An historic victory it surely was

Indigenous groups of Peru stood their ground earlier this month, ending in Peru's PM Yehude Simon backing down and revoking (h/t Green Left Infoasis) two land laws that threatened to further harm the Amazon's fragile ecosystem, and the indigenous peoples who depend upon that ecosystem. Of course there is the massacre of dozens of Indigenous protesters at the hands of Simon's regime to contend with, and the matter of the 60 who are still missing (h/t BoRev.net). BoRev goes on to note:
It's a jungle mystery. A full two and a half weeks after Peruvian cops killed dozens and dozens of "9" protesters in the Amazon, a full sixty of the lucky survivors have not managed to find their way home yet. Maybe they stopped for a beer or got lost??

On the up side, the whole tragic episode has destroyed Alan Garcia's political career forever, which is nice. Also it didn't cost Peru much in the way of money, because the murder tab was largely picked up by U.S. taxpayers. Oh and this charming photo? It's the police beating an "indigenous male nurse who had been in the ambulance," part of a cringe-y photo series the Independent ran over the weekend. Eesh.
About that "free trade" agreement, you should know:

The conflict began on April 9, when Amazon peoples mobilized to block the highways and gas and oil pipelines to protest the implementation of a series of decrees passed to implement the Free Trade Agreement with the United States. But the situation got worse on June 4, when the APRA stopped Congress from debating repeal of some laws questioned by the indigenous peoples that had already been declared unconstitutional by a Constitutions Commission.

The FTA with the United States was negotiated beginning in May of 2004 under the government of Alejandro Toledo (2000-2005). The treaty was slated to replace the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act signed in 2002 and in effect until December of 2006. The FTA eliminated obstacles to trade and facilitated access to goods and services and investment flows. Modeled on the North American free Trade Agreement, it also includes a broad range of issues linked to intellectual property, public contracting and services, and dispute resolution.5

The U.S-Peru FTA was signed on Dec. 8, 2005 in Washington by then-Presidents George W. Bush and Alan Garcia. In June of 2006 it was ratified by Peru and in December of 2007 by the U.S. Congress. On Feb 1, 2009, the agreement went into effect after Bush and Garcia signed it on January 16 of that year.

The signing of the FTA caused huge mobilizations in 2005, especially among peasant farmers who were the most harmed by the elimination of tariffs and trade protections. Although the government said it would provide compensation to producers, these never arrived. On February 18, 2008 they staged a National Agrarian Stoppage with road blocks throughout the country that led to four dead from police repression and the imposition of a state of emergency in eight provinces.

On October 28, 2007, Alan Garcia published a long article in the daily paper El Comercio of Lima under the title "The Syndrome of the Orchard Dog." Garcia described nature as a resource, and maintained that to refuse to exploit it was foolish, ignoring the debate over the conservation of the Amazon region. "The old anti-capitalist communist of the 19th century disguised himself as a protectionist in the 20th century, and donned the label of an environmentalist in the 21st century."

In his opinion, those who oppose the intensive exploitation of the Amazon region are like an orchard dog, that "doesn't eat or let anyone else eat."

"There are millions of hectares that the communities and associations have not cultivated or will cultivate, as well as hundreds of mineral deposits that cannot be worked and millions of hectares of sea that cannot be used for aquaculture and production. The rivers that run down both sides of the mountain range are a fortune that pours into the ocean without producing electric energy," Garcia states in the article.

"The first resource is the Amazon," he maintains. There are 63 million hectares that he proposes be parceled out into large properties of "5,000, 10,000, or 20,000 hectares, since in less land there is no formal investment long term and high technology."

On the land, he notes that one should not "deliver small lots of land to poor families that do not have a penny to invest," and that "this same land sold in large lots will attract technology." He cares little that these lands are the collective property of the communities, since in his opinion they are just "idle lands because the owner does not have the training or the resources economic, that's why their property is feigned."

It's worth looking back at some commentary from just before the US Congress ratified the "free trade" agreement, under the title, NAFTA causes mass human displacement, so why repeat it in Peru?:
Chalk it up to greed. Some executives will undoubtedly make out like bandits. As David Bacon notes, NAFTA boosted the profit margins of some corporations who could cut down labor costs, and yes, Mexico now has more billionaires than ever. Unfortunately, Mexico (and also the US) has merely become even more stratified since NAFTA went into effect. Funny how none of that wealth ever seems to "trickle down." Just a few clips from the article for your consideration:
By November 2002, the US Department of Labor had certified 507,000 workers for extended unemployment benefits because their employers had moved their jobs south of the border. The Department of Labor stopped counting NAFTA job losses, but the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, DC, estimated that NAFTA had eliminated 879,000 jobs. That was five years ago.

But US job loss didn't produce job increases in Mexico - it eliminated them there too. In NAFTA's first year, more than a million jobs disappeared in the economic crisis NAFTA caused.

To attract investment in Mexico, the treaty required privatization of factories, railroads and other large enterprises, leading to more layoffs of Mexican workers.

On the border, Ford, General Electric and other corporations built factories and moved production from the United States to take advantage of low wages. But more than 400,000 maquiladora workers lost their jobs in 2000-2001 when US consumers cut back spending in the last recession, and companies found even lower wages in other countries, such as El Salvador or China.

Before NAFTA, US auto plants in Mexico had to buy parts from Mexican factories, which employed thousands of local workers. But NAFTA let the auto giants bring in cheaper parts from their own subsidiaries, so Mexican auto parts workers lost their jobs, too.

The profits of US grain companies, already subsidized under the US farm bill, went higher when NAFTA allowed them to dump cheap corn on the Mexican market, while at the same time it forced Mexico to cut its agricultural subsidies. As a result, small farmers in Oaxaca and Chiapas couldn't sell corn anymore at a price that would pay the cost of growing it.

When corn farmers couldn't farm, or auto parts and maquiladora workers were laid off, where did they go? They became migrants.

The real, dirty secret of trade agreements is displacement. During the years NAFTA has been in effect, more than six million people from Mexico have come to live in the United States. They didn't abandon their homes, families, farms and jobs willingly. They had no other option for survival.
The same pattern is threatening to repeat in Peru. Apparently, one of the issues that quite a number of Democrats ran on in 2006 was to prevent further passage of these sorts of "free trade" agreements. Flush with success after attaining Congressional majorities, the Democrat party brass then changed their tune. Thus far, the House passed the "free trade" agreement with Peru. Given the leadership (or lack thereof) in the Senate, passage there should be a slam dunk. Miners, factory workers, and family farmers will lose out in Peru. I can imagine that the upcoming decade will be filled with the tragic stories of displaced workers and families making an increasingly treacherous journey northward hoping to simply subsist.
Neoliberalism may be in its twilight, but the poisonous assumptions on which it was founded are alive and well in the Americas as they have been for over five centuries. As journalist John Ross might say, la lucha sigue, y sigue, y sigue, etc.

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