Tuesday, one of Mexico’s most honored authors painted a vivid picture of the history behind the United States and Latin America’s relations and said the North American Free Trade Agreement has had a negative effect south of the border.
On Tuesday night, Fuentes, a Brown University professor in Latin American Studies, paid a visit to USF’s Special Event s Center to offer his expertise on the political and socioeconomic issues affecting the United States and Mexico in a presentation titled “Bordering on NAFTA: Mexico and the United States in the 21st Century.”
Addressing a crowd of about 600 people, Fuentes first explained the U.S. and Mexico relationship as “inevitable neighbors” that must try to co-exist for the benefit of both nations.
“(The U.S. and Mexico) are destined to live together for as long as (they) can,” Fuentes said. “We do not choose our neighbors anymore (than) we choose our parents.”
The relationship, however, does have economic benefits for both countries, Fuentes said. Mexico is the third largest marketplace for American goods, while the United States is Mexico’s largest foreign market.?
“The veracity of the border goes well beyond providence,” Fuentes said. “Three hundred million people crossing in both directions every year. And with them, ideas, habits, information and cultural trends come and go.”
Fuentes added the U.S./Mexican border is not an easy border because its significance is unique. This border is the only visible boundary between the most industrial state and an emerging developing nation, he said.
“All the frictions, all the lessons, all of the opportunities of the North-South relationship in the 21st Century are bound to manifest themselves in that long line from the Pacific to the Gulf,” Fuentes said.
Fuentes explained the necessity of people being aware of the effects of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, on family enrichment and cultural diversity in Mexico and in the rest of Latin America. NAFTA is an agreement signed between Canada, the United States and Mexico in 1994.
“The U.S. presence in Latin America is a paramount fact of our social lives,” he said. “(Its presence) has become a two-way street.”
But to understand the relationship between the two, the author said, you must first understand Latin America’s political history with the United States.
“The relationship between the United States and America is based on an imagery of power,” Fuentes said. “(The U.S.) is strong, (Latin America) is weak. If you abuse (American) power, trouble follows and relations are bad. In general (relations) have been bad.”
Fuentes cited two declarations from former U.S. presidents as examples of the damaged relations among the two neighboring nations throughout history. He said John Quincy Adams proclamation: “It is unavoidable that the remainder of the continent should be ours,” and Theodore Roosevelt’s declaration: “These (Latin) wretched republics have caused me a great deal of trouble,”exemplified the strife that has characterized U.S. – Mexican relations.
Fuentes said Franklin D. Roosevelt’s relationship with Nicaragua signified the break of the negative relations between the U.S. and Latin America.
The world is now united through global economic integration, Fuentes said. For example, Fuentes described the American/Mexican border as the most active frontier in the world.
“That border is a political and cultural frontier,” he said. “Mexico contributes to the U.S. economy with one third of Texas’ total exports.”
Many of those facts facilitated the creation of NAFTA, Fuentes added.
“The downside of NAFTA,” Fuentes said “is that trade agreements do not only affect numbers or merchandise. They also affect people’s lives.”
Although a half million jobs were created in Mexico as a result of NAFTA, 1.3 million jobs were lost in Mexico’s agricultural sector since the agreement was signed a decade ago, he added.
Deforestation has proved to be another downside of the agreement, he said, since neither working wages nor environmental rules were discussed in the arrangement.
“There has not been an increase in wages,” Fuentes said. “China put Mexico into second place, as China’s wages are lower than Mexico’s (salaries.)”
Fuentes said that NAFTA has actually increased the poverty levels within Mexico. In addition, Mexican migrants contribute $28 billion to the U.S. economy, Fuentes said. Mexican migrants pay more taxes than they receive in wages, he added.
Fuentes commented on President George W. Bush’s new migrant workers plan as discriminatory tool used by his administration.
“The plan basically says ‘We want your work, but we don’t want you,”’Fuentes said.