Saturday, September 13, 2008

Not-so-Free Trade or the High Human and Environmental Costs of Free Trade

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has enabled corporations to do business internationally, bringing low-cost products to the American public, high corporate profits, and high dividends for corporate shareholders. This is seemingly a win-win situation. Until you begin to look below the surface. Corporations who do their manufacturing outside of the United States are not hindered by enforced strict environmental laws designed to protect workers, the environment and United States citizens because the Mexican government doesn't police these companies. Maquiladoras don't have to worry about paying high minimum wages, implementing expensive safety measures, or compliance with stringent OSHA laws. They may be required to transport hazardous wastes out of the country, but have repeatedly and illegally dumped their hazardous wastes into rivers that also serve as sources of drinking water.

One of our partners in trade, the Mexican government, raises property taxes forcing people from their land and into the bordertowns to increase the labor pool. The factories or maquiladoras pay their workers low wages, making it next to impossible for them to earn enough money to pay their taxes, so the government can confiscate their lands. The maquiladoras then have a permanent, low-cost pool of mostly female laborers, who work uncomplainingly and compliantly. The maquiladoras do not provide security for their shift workers, who work for a company that remains open 24 hours per day. The high cost of this employment comes in the kidnapping, torture, rape, dismemberment, and murder of these women since 1993.

Ciudad Juarez, Mexico is ground zero for these women. It is a wasteland for human rights, providing inadequate protection of their women and girls, and no justice for those who have paid the ultimate price of trying to survive on low wages. The government says less than 500 women have been murdered, human rights organizations say the number may be more like 5,000. This also happens in Guatemala, where over 2,500 women and girls have been murdered. I believe that even 1 is one too many. The US Government isn't pressuring these governments enough to protect their women and girls, and to hunt down, prosecute and imprison their kidnappers, rapists, torturers, and killers. This attitude of the disposability of these women and girl's lives by the Mexican and Guatemalan governments is unconscionable and essentially condones these crimes and this treatment of women and girls as less than human beings. All of this for higher corporate profits and gross national product. The bottom line is money, not human rights.

Corporate America also runs the news outlets that refuse to print and disseminate the truth because it will damage their bottom line, upset their advertisers, and bring to light the fact that the free trade agreements amount to nothing more than government-sponsored slave labor. The last thing they want the majority of the American public to know is that thousands of Mexican and Guatemalen women are being kidnapped, tortured, raped, dismembered, and murdered as part of the price of producing the low-cost products they buy as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which still contains no provisions protecting the workers.

People of the United States, especially women, please put pressure on all the governments and corporations involved, as well as the media. Write, tell others about this, and most of all make some noise so that this doesn't continue! Hit their pocketbooks by boycotting goods from the corporations who essentially profit from the rapes and murders of these women. If we come together as a community and work together, we can create the changes that will end this femicide.

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