Thousands of campesinos and rural workers marched in Mexico City demanding that officials exclude the country's agricultural sector from looming talks on the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.
Farmers and fisherfolk from the National Commission of Rural and Fishery Organizations marched in numbers with the expectation that their representatives receive a hearing by officials at the Ministry of the Interior.
Under pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump — who used Mexico and the Mexican people as a punching-bag during his election campaign — the U.S., Mexico and Canada will renegotiate the terms of the free trade agreement.
While Trump has attempted to strike a "populist" tone in his denunciations of NAFTA, the White House has made clear that it plans to ram through an amped-up version of the neoliberal treaty that would retain concessions made by Mexico in talks around the junked Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement— such as labor reforms that would undercut Mexican workers' rights to collective bargaining.
Agrarian organizations and popular movements have long criticized NAFTA for devastating the country's small producers and hurting Mexico's overall food sovereignty, turning the country into an exporter of raw materials and an importer of processed products.
Mexico experienced a massive surge of U.S. investment following NAFTA's 1994 implementation that produced half a million manufacturing jobs through 2002.
In the same period, however, 1.3 million workers within the agricultural sector — where a fifth of all Mexicans were employed at the time — were displaced.
Peasants' and Popular Organizations President Jose Jacob Fermat told Prensa Latina that small-holding farmers lack representation in the agricultural ministry after Secretary Jose Calzada fled a meeting with peasant leaders. Calzada exited through a side door after Fermat demanded that the agricultural sector of Mexico be excluded from the treaty's renegotiation.
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Social movements in the country have accused the Mexican government of failing the workers, farmers and poor in the country while representing and defending the interests of multinational corporations such as Monsanto, Cargill, Nestle, Coca-Cola FEMSA, and large breweries like Anheuser-Busch InBev.
Juan Carlos Hernandez, a leader of the National Peasant and Urban Coalition, said that if the government doesn't respond to the people's demands, they will start collecting 1.6 million signatures to establish an official referendum on NAFTA, as required by the Mexican Constitution.
He also noted that Canada refrained from negotiating its agricultural sector in the treaty, sparing itself the situation of misery that prevails in the Mexican countryside. He emphasized that Mexico hardly needs NAFTA and should instead defend local productive sectors and exports while improving living conditions for the millions of poverty-stricken people in the country's rural regions.
Real wages for Mexican workers have dropped since NAFTA took effect, in line with global trends resulting from the neoliberal offensive that took place through the 1980s and '90s. In the meantime, the costs of living in Mexico have increased drastically while much of the wealth created by NAFTA has flowed to the United States.
NAFTA has had disastrous implications for Mexico's working class and agrarian poor, millions of whom were forced to leave the country in search of jobs — often dying during the treacherous journey across the militarized U.S.-Mexico border frontier.