Who Stole Mexico’s Corn — and Jobs?

As the two presidential candidates square off over immigration reform and Romney touts measures like Arizona’s draconian “papers please” law as models, it might be a good time to examine one of the major reasons for illegal immigration: U.S. trade policy.

People of the Corn

Mexicans have long been the people of the corn. Festivals revolve around maize. A meal without corn is like an Asian meal without rice – incomplete.

With 10,000 years of experience breeding different maize varieties, Mexican farmers know corn. They have developed varieties that are nutritious, flavorful and suited for the country’s many different environments.

Some varieties of maize make better meal for tortillas and tamales. The kernels of others add flavor to salsas and soups. Some are bright yellow, while others are red, blue, orange or multi-colored. Some are short and stubby. Others are long and tapered.

Corn and cultural identity are inseparable for Mexico. A fascinating study published in 2004 even links ethnolinguistic diversity with crop diversity.

Along Came Free Trade

Free trade has had a devastating impact on that culture. First came the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1987. In 1994, Mexico joined the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The same year it became an equal partner in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Before the trade agreements, Mexico satisfied its own corn market, as it had for centuries. Then highly subsidized U.S. corn began flooding into the country.

By the time Gisele Henriques and Raj Patel wrote their policy brief on the impact of trade liberalization in 2003, the big picture looked deceptively good. Between 1981 and 2001, Mexico’s exports had increased significantly.

The opposite was true for subsistence farmers, who had been growing 45 percent of the country’s corn. Even in their local markets they could not compete with cheap U.S. corn.

Between 1984 and 1993, corn imports from the U.S. quadrupled, capturing 15 percent of the market. By 2008 the U.S. was supplying 40 percent of the corn sold in Mexico, according to “Exporting Obesity,” a new report from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP).

Between 1997 and 2005, the U.S. sold corn into Mexico at a cost that was 19 percent lower than the cost of production. Timothy Wise, Research Director of the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University, told Real News that in that same period NAFTA was costing Mexican farmers an average $1.4 billion a year. While Mexican farmers were staggering under NAFTA, the big grain traders such as Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland were raking in profits.

Next: Free Trade, Immigration and the Presidential Election

Mexicans had had enough. In 2009 a campaign to protect the country’s food sovereignty wrote to President Obama asking that NAFTA be renegotiated. “Sin Maíz No Hay País…Y el frijol Tampoco,” or “Without Corn There is No Country… and Not without Beans Either,” detailed the negative impacts of free trade. Among them:

  • Massive rural unemployment caused by U.S. dumping
  • Tripling of emigration to the States
  • Loss of the country’s food self-sufficiency
  • Ten-fold increase in the price of a basket of food over the 15 years of NAFTA
  • Rising inequality
  • Contamination by Monsanto’s genetically modified corn
  • Environmental destruction

That brings us to the 2012 election. Migration has slowed because of a weak U.S. jobs market, heightened border enforcement, a rise in deportations, growing dangers of illegal border crossings, lower birth rates in Mexico and economic conditions in that country. However, the problems detailed in the letter to President Obama remain, as do millions of undocumented immigrants, and the U.S. needs to take responsibility for its part in creating them.

Mexicans love their country as much as North Americans love theirs. Millions have risked flight northward because of situations they did not create. Trade policies and major agricultural companies bear significant responsibility for forcing many of them off their land.

Republicans and Democrats are proposing very different immigration reforms. The GOP wants to deport all 11.5 undocumented immigrants, while the Democrats are suggesting a more practical and humanitarian approach.

Economic and humanitarian issues are critical and complex components that should underlie any immigration reform. There are also economic fallouts. Think Progress has created an infographic that shows the Republicans’ punitive plan will cost the country billions.

Neither path is perfect, but the Republicans’ plan is particularly mean spirited in light of the country’s role in contributing to the problem in the first place.

Where do you stand, Care2 readers?

Related Care2 Causes

U.S.-Mexico Border Tunnel “An Extraordinary Piece of Engineering”

Feds Stop Immigration Cooperation with Arizona

Lead from Old U.S. Batteries Causing Health Hazards in Mexico

Has Mexican Migration to U.S. Ended?

Did Border Vigilantes Kill Two More Immigrants?

Photo 1 from Shashi Bellamkonda; Photo 2: from Bob Jagendorf, both via Flickr Creative Commons

127 comments

Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra3 years ago

Thank you Cathryn, for Sharing this!

Stanley Rampersad
Stanley Balgobin3 years ago

Feed Monsanto corn to RobMe and Lyin/Ryan in Guantanamo

Lika S.
Lika S.3 years ago

I don't understand why people have to pick on others, and it makes less sense for a country to pick on people or other countries. If the USA is supposed to be the greatest country on the planet, then act like it!

I'm proud to be American, but not when we destroy needed food for poor countries. Anyway, I don't understand what this undocumented status is supposed to mean either. I tried to complain about something to a legislator, but, I was told they were supposed to have social security cards if they are working. So I asked, if they have those, how are they undocumented? SS cards are federal documents.

Jane Warren
Jane Warren4 years ago

thnx for this

Cheryl I.
Past Member 4 years ago

Thank you.

Ruby W.
Ruby W.4 years ago

interesting

Rafael Zambrana
Rafael Z.4 years ago

YOU GOT IT RUTH

The Europeans are doing the same with Africans. They have decimated their own fisheries in European waters and now they go and pay some millions to the dictators of African countries for the right to fish in their waters.
The money is sent back to Switzerland bank accounts and their people never sees none of it.
The stocks are being decimated there too, and the local small fishermen can't get any fish in their waters any more, so they are forced to emigrate to Europe to find jobs cleaning the streets and washing dishes.

The name of the problem is called CAPITALISM. As long as capital is more important than people, this will continue to happen.

This is how Somali pirates started sizing boats. Because many foreign fishing boats were decimating their fisheries, and one thing led to another and they realized they could make more money kidnapping all kinds of commercial boats, than fishing. But this is not the story you see in the Corporate Mainstream brainwashing media.

Ruth R.
Ruth R.4 years ago

So, the corporations from the USA -- go and destroy parts of Mexico. Dominate, and displace multitudes of people in Mexico (not to mention numerous other countries), and then tell/force displaced people who come across the border to go back to the lands that the USA corporations destroyed - all in the name of who?
THIS MAKES THINGS DIFFERENT -- IF YOUR LAND IS DESTOYED BY USA COPORATIONS -- THEN MAYBE YOU ARE ENTITLED TO A HAND-UP TO GET A HOMESTAED SOMEWHER ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH -- EXCEPT THE usa corporations are still destroying the USA land too.

KEEP DOING ALL THE GOOD YOU CAN DO -- UNTILL WE SHALL OVERCOME SOME DAY.

Ruth R.
Ruth R.4 years ago

"Republicans and Democrats are proposing very different immigration reforms. The GOP wants to deport all 11.5 undocumented immigrants, while the Democrats are suggesting a more practical and humanitarian approach...."
"Neither path is perfect, but the Republicans’ plan is particularly mean spirited in light of the country’s role in contributing to the problem in the first place."

Read more: http://www.care2.com/causes/who-stole-mexicos-corn-and-jobs.html#ixzz26gNm3AOn

WHERE AND WHAT IS THE DEMOCRATS PLANS?
THE NON-PROFITS PLANS? SOME COMPASSIONATE - UNDERSTANDING CHUCH GROUP PLANS?
Where are the petitions.

Read more: http://www.care2.com/causes/who-stole-mexicos-corn-and-jobs.html#ixzz26gNbhHii

Ruth R.
Ruth R.4 years ago

Between 1997 and 2005, the U.S. sold corn into Mexico at a cost that was 19 percent lower than the cost of production. Timothy Wise, Research Director of the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University, told Real News that in that same period NAFTA was costing Mexican farmers an average $1.4 billion a year. While Mexican farmers were staggering under NAFTA, the big grain traders such as Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland were raking in profits.

Read more: http://www.care2.com/causes/who-stole-mexicos-corn-and-jobs.html#ixzz26gN2Q0Hr

THANK YOU!