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Mexico's new bumper crop: More illegal immigrants?

February 1, 2008 |  4:19 pm

While U.S. politicians talk about building walls along the border and telling undocumented immigrants to "go home,"  a mass protest Thursday in downtown Mexico City  pointed to one of the main causes of illegal immigration: the erosion of Mexico's rural farm economy in recent decades.

Thousands of Mexican small farmers swept into the capital this week, driving tractors and hauling cows (see video). They were protesting the lifting of trade restrictions on agricultural commodities like corn, rice and oats. The farmers say lifting these restrictions will put them out of work because they won't be able to compete with powerful U.S. agribusinesses, and they're pressuring Mexico's government to renegotiate portions of the North American Free Trade Agreement with the United States and Canada.

As this Times story reported, NAFTA has been at best a mixed blessing for Mexico's workers. "In the treaty's first decade, more than 1 million  [Mexicans] have gained jobs manufacturing goods for export to the United States and Canada ," the Times reported.

"But even more, 1.3 million, have been pushed off unprofitable farms by cheap American grain imports. And NAFTA has yet to improve overall wages, reduce the number of people living in poverty or close the gap between the rich and poor."

Since NAFTA went into effect in January 1994, the story continued, "millions of farmers stuck with corn and sank deeper into poverty." Ever since the government redistribution of land following the Mexican Revolution of 1910-20, small farming has had a large symbolic, as well as economic, significance in Mexico, as the protesters expressed Thursday with the chant,  "Sin maiz, no hay pais!" -- without corn, there is no country!

-- Reed Johnson in Mexico City

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