Monday, April 11, 2016

Of Occupation and Trade Agreements

Oaxaca March 15, 2016

Our tour of Monte Alban was led by a wonderful guide who was not only committed to the history of the site but also to the history of the people and the heritage.
The brown sauce contains ants. 

The gauje tree in foreground/Oaxaca in background
He shared with us the uses of the plants we saw along the pathways and reminded us again of the tree from which Oaxaca gets its name, the Aztec word Hauxyacac, which means "on the top of the guaje tree." The guaje tree is common throughout the state. We even got to eat some of its beans. I’m not sure the people of Oaxaca just eat them right off the tree. The recipes I see are for adding them into salsa. But we were willing to eat anything that was put before us and deemed edible. Remember the ants I was talking about. That is what we had for breakfast before we left for Monte Alban. Maybe that is what made us feel connected to the people who built such an amazing place.

I will never go to an ancient site such as this without marveling at the ingenuity, craft and tenacity of the people who designed and built it.

The delegation at Monte Alban
Like all human endeavors, Monte Alban was built on the backs of the lower class. In this case the people directing the build were the priests and priestesses who used cosmic predictions and warnings to motive the people to build such an impressive monument on top of an artificially leveled small mountain. As one of the earliest Mesoamerican builds, it gives us insight into the polity and social structure of the Zapotecs and Mixtecs before Spanish occupation. While building on the backs of the poor and manipulating the populace by superstition and dire predictions is not sustainable; one would hope that a society that showed such ingenuity would evolve into a society that would figure out a way to live within ecological balance. Walking around the ancient site after experiencing the effects of colonization and free trade reminded me how fragile human systems are. Even a culture of such strong interdependency, customs, believes, and cunning can be undone by tipping the balance a mere fraction. Especially by those who think they are doing the culture a favor or bringing them into the new era.

As a person of a privileged class, who has never experienced an occupation and stripping of my culture by another culture it is hard for me to imagine what it must be like. However, I could see with my own eyes the devastation that happened when the Spanish occupied Mexico and I can see with my own eyes, the devastating effects of NAFTA on the fabric of society in Oaxaca.

Instead of the promised economic prosperity and modernity, NAFTA, like the Spanish occupation, has set Oaxaca back generations. There are the losses: of interdependency, of cultural pride and identity, of land, of income, of status. There are the lacks: of income generating industry, of nutritious and appropriate food, of land health, of people health, of regulation of foreign interests, of local infrastructure and of long term investments. There are the glaring offenses: disregard for the sacredness of land, people, culture and a future of hope.

As I saw the cheap plastic items for sale in the once beautiful, quiet, picturesque, zocalo right at the base of the steps of the cathedral, it was like confronting the essence of the ruin of NAFTA on the fabric of Oaxaca. Yes, colorful, insubstantial, plastic, made in China, junk can be purchased cheaply enough that a family can sell these on the public square and make enough money to feed something to their families. But what they are able to afford is made from the cheap corn that is dumped on the market and made into cheap non-nutritious food and beverages.

One of the delegates spoke his frustration in clear terms: “what has it come to that a beautiful woman of Oaxaca has to sell crappy candy in order to feed her family crappy food?”

It struck me as criminal that when speaking of the GDP of Oaxaca wind energy, oil production or mining are not even on balance sheet even though foreign companies have these industries in Oaxaca. There seems to be no incentive on the part of the Mexican Government to invest resources or encourage investments of resources in Oaxaca that would benefit the people of Oaxaca. While foreign interests benefit from NAFTA, Oaxaca itself continues to be a country with the lowest GDP of the countries in Mexico.
So it would seem to me that “A Free Trade” agreement is not free. Like any occupation, it enslaves people, destroys culture and social pride, sickens the populace and ruins the land. Someone always pays the price of cheap food, cheap commodities, and industrial deregulation. And that someone is NEVER the person with the most wealth, power and influence in the global market. No matter what the century or motivation.

As the Trans Pacific Partnership is ready to be ratified by our current USA administration; we must realize that, like NAFTA, the ones who will prosper are those who can invest their resources cheaply and divert their profits off shore, legally or otherwise. Until a trade agreement can be crafted that assures the GNP of every country signing on the dotted line will increase by proper regulation of investments and profit sharing, there is nothing free or in partnership about trade agreements. As citizens of the world we must say, “NO” we will not condone a policy that will send our neighbors into deeper poverty.

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