By Daniel Gutiérrez
On Thursday, March 6th, the Sanford Consortium hosted an event in celebration of NAFTA’s 20th anniversary. The event, entitled, Mexico Moving Forward: 20 Years of NAFTA and Beyond, was put together by the Center for US-Mexico Studies, a policy research institute at UC San Diego’s School of International Relations and Pacific Studies.
However, outside of the Sanford Consortium, dozens of students and activists assembled to protest the event.
Protesters conducted a silent march from UCSD to the Sanford Consortium. All wore black and dawned masks or bandannas to reveal only the eyes. Anarchists flags were plenty. Banners read “EZLN” (Ejército Zapatista Liberación Nacional — Zapatista National Liberation Army) and “Ya basta! Para todos, todo” (Enough! Everything for everyone). Marching silently and two-by-two, the protesters lined up along North Torrey Pines Road and stood along the entrance. Protesters remained completely silent.
After an hour, the protesters crossed the street and disbanded at the university. There they handed out press releases and information.
In the press release, the protesters stated that they were “protesting the false illusion presented that Mexico has in fact moved forward and to shame the UC system for continuously perpetuating the normalcy of neo-liberal politics.”
Black clothes were worn “in commemoration of the dead that have been lost to the militarization of the border after NAFTA agreements passed”. Masks and the red bandannas were worn in solidarity with the Zapatistas, “their struggles and against capitalist exploitation of all people.”
Jael Vizcarra, a doctoral student of Ethnic Studies at UCSD who participated in the protest, said afterwards that “the links between the university as a site of knowledge production and liberal government is clearer than ever. Celebrating the impoverishment of the most vulnerable communities in México points to the ways the interests of the neoliberal university align closely with capital.”
“México moving forward? for whom?” she asked.
Andreas Araiza communicated similar concerns. “NAFTA remains relevant today as we continue to see economic depression and devastation in US urban industry and Mexican agrarian production,” he said. “The event is a culmination of the various problems concerning public education’s embrace of a military-academic-industrial complex.”
He continued, “The individuals involved range from the owner of one of Mexico’s largest factory farms, SuKarne, to UCSD’s own Chancellor Khosla, who was a key researcher and administrator in military drone research at DARPA prior to his involvement here. Some individuals from Forbes list of billionaires were also present, such as the CEO of Pepsi bottling company in Mexico. Events like these use public fund and facilities to further an inhumane agenda based on profit and control.”
This document was passed around by protestors at the university, highlighting the big players at the event.
“We want to make visible that which has been made invisible by NAFTA and by events like this one,” said Luis Barco, an undergraduate student of Spanish Literature. “This is about the people who have been dispossessed of the little they once had. Those people obviously can’t make it here today, but they exist.”
“It is our belief that the voices of those who have suffered the consequences of NAFTA are those that should be heard on campus,” said Kevan Aguilar, a doctoral student in History at UCSD. “We have heard the regurgitations of the values of NAFTA for far too long. So long as those voices of everyday people are silenced, we do not have the luxury to remain silently complicit to these economic and political policies.”
There is certainly truth to what the students are voicing. Though GDP per capita in Mexico has risen from $4,048 in 1993 to $10,501 in 2013, the poverty rate has only dropped 1.2% in Mexico. There should be no wonder then that the number of people fleeing this economic disaster in Mexico have decided to risk all to make it to the United States.
Meanwhile, in the US, the Economic Policy Institute estimates that 700,000 well-paying jobs have been lost due to the off-shoring NAFTA allowed. Given that manufacturing wages in Mexico are 18% of American wages, it seems unlikely that these jobs are ever coming back. That is, unless alternative economic paradigms are pointed to.
And this is why a struggle so far away in Southern Mexico is so important to these students and activists.
“We stand in solidarity with their struggle and thus want to commemorate their continuance and success in creating an alternative way of living in the communities of Chiapas,” Aguilar continued. “Alternatives to the crushing impact of capitalism, free trade, and neo-liberalism.”
The protest, more than an expression of solidarity, was an attempt to point out that aside from the many differences between La Jolla and Chiapas there are intertwined burdens that link the two places. And perhaps more importantly, there is a common struggle and an alternative.