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The Lost 'Spirit of Miami'
Published on Wednesday, April 18, 2001 in the Miami Herald
Evidence of NAFTA's Shortcomings is Hard to Overlook
The Lost 'Spirit of Miami'
by Sarah Anderson and John Cavanagh
 
In December 1994, Miami hosted what was widely perceived as a successful first Summit of the Americas, which embraced free trade in the Western Hemisphere. Free-trade opponents were virtually invisible, and supporters hoped then that the ``Spirit of Miami'' would carry the Free Trade Area of the Americas to a swift and happy conclusion.

President Bush will encounter little of that spirit at the third Summit of the Americas opening Friday in Quebec City. The Canadian government is preparing for tens of thousands of protesters, and Bush may well face hostility from his fellow leaders as well.

Why the change? One major factor is the record of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the model for the FTAA. Bush is sure to argue that NAFTA has been a success, but the evidence of the deal's shortcomings are hard to overlook, especially for Latin Americans.

Despite the dramatic increase in investment from and exports to the United States, average Mexicans have seen no improvement in living standards. Even by the government's conservative estimates, manufacturing wages dropped to $1.90 from $2.10 per hour between 1994 and 1999. According to the Colegio de México, poverty during this period has grown 10 percent, with 75 percent of Mexico's 100 million people now living below the poverty line.

Mexican employees of U.S. corporations who fight for a fair share of the benefits of globalization face brutal repression. The agency set up to handle complaints has documented the violations but done nothing to hold the government or the com- panies accountable.

In a recent example, a U.S. corporation colluded with Mexican officials in a vicious attack on a group of workers in Rio Bravo, Mexico, who attempted to form an independent union. Local police beat peaceful demonstrators, while arsonists torched their leader's house. The Fox administration reneged on promises to allow a secret ballot, forcing terrified workers to vote in front of management, with armed thugs hovering nearby.

Border residents also face rising environmental hazards resulting from an explosion of factories without sufficient investment in environmental safeguards. According to a Tufts University study, air pollution from Mexican manufacturing nearly doubled between 1994 and 1999. The researchers also found that while there was a dramatic increase in environmental inspections of factories before the NAFTA vote, these ``show'' inspections dropped off sharply after the U.S. Congress approved the deal.

Even when Mexican officials do attempt to reduce the environmental nightmare along the border, they are threatened with lawsuits, thanks to a NAFTA investor-protection measure that allows corporations to sue governments directly. The Mexican government is fighting to appeal a NAFTA ruling that granted nearly $17 million in damages to a California hazardous-waste treatment firm that sued after a Mexican municipality denied it a permit to operate a facility on public-health and environmental grounds. Other countries worry that enacting new protections would subject them to expensive corporate lawsuits.

NAFTA's supporters claimed it would create more and better jobs in the United States and improve trade balances. Instead, the U.S. trade deficit with its NAFTA partners hit a historic height of $75 billion in 2000. More than 300,000 U.S. workers have qualified for training programs set up for those who are laid off because of NAFTA. An even greater impact on workers is employers' new power to threaten to move to Mexico to hold down wages.

Instead of rushing into a NAFTA expansion, Bush should listen to workers, environmentalists, indig- enous peoples and farmers who overwhelmingly reject that path. These forces offer alternative vision of integration where the protection of worker and environmental rights and the promotion of healthy communities rank as higher priorities than building border factories that boost exports at the expense of human health and dignity.

Sarah Anderson is a fellow and John Cavanagh the director of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. They are co-authors of Field Guide to the Global Economy.

Copyright 2001 Miami Herald

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