If any country in Latin America stood to gain from a trade agreement with the US it was Mexico, with its common border offering ease of transport and attractive opportunities for US investors. NAFTA has indeed benefited some groups within Mexico - especially the big export companies - but it has hurt many more. Despite respectable growth figures and an export boom, real industrial wages have fallen. The percentage of the population below the poverty line remains stubbornly high, especially in the countryside.
Mexican social movements such as the influential Mexican Network on Free Trade1 are now fanning out across the continent, telling their story and campaigning hard to prevent the next phase of the expansion of the free-trade juggernaut.
In 1990 Bush senior announced a grand plan for a free-trade zone ‘stretching from the port of Anchorage to Tierra del Fuego’ - while, naturally, excluding Cuba. Thirteen years later Bush the younger is hoping to finish the job. In theory, agreement should be reached by January 2005.
Washington believes it can get a better deal from the FTAA - without the opposition it faces at the World Trade Organization. In 1994 the First Summit of the Americas in Miami launched the talks undisturbed by protesters. By 1997 opposition was starting to build, with FTAA events increasingly shadowed by civil-society parallel meetings and marches, peaking in Quebec City in April 2001.
Protest continues to build. Much of it is led by the Hemispheric Social Alliance2, a continent-wide network of NGOs and trades unions. Its well-drafted Alternatives for the Americas sets out proposals across the whole spectrum of economic, political and social issues.
Two key themes run through the document: the need to subordinate economic policies to broader social and environmental goals, and to defend national sovereignty against encroachment by unaccountable bodies.
The hopes of opponents rest with Brazil. A plebiscite there in 2002 recorded an extraordinary 10 million votes against the FTAA, with only 113,000 in favour. During his election campaign Lula described it as an ‘annexation project’.
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