By Alyshia Gálvez, author ofEating NAFTA:Trade, Food Policies, and the Destruction of Mexico
The theme of this year’s congress of the Latin American Studies Association is Nuestra América: Justice and Inclusion. Drawing on José Martí’s vision of a unified hemisphere, LASA calls for social justice and inclusion in today’s Americas at a time when we are, perhaps, more divided than ever. Amid calls for a border wall between the US and Mexico, policies to expel people of Haitian descent from Dominican Republic, and a humanitarian emergency driving out thousands of refugees from Central America, to name only a few current crises, now, more than ever we need a hemispheric vision of social justice and inclusion. Food and trade policy deserve greater attention in this pursuit.
In my book Eating NAFTA: Trade, Food Policy, and the Destruction of Mexico, I analyze the ways that the North American Free Trade Agreement initiated an era of displacement from the countryside. The steady march from the campo, was not only literal, but also driven by a shift in policy in which Mexico’s policymakers envisioned progress and modernity in cities and industrialization rather than small-scale agriculture. As a result, as many as 10% of Mexicans found themselves residing in the United States within a decade of NAFTA. In Mexico, in the last 25 years, we not only see an abandonment of the notion of food sovereignty, but also a rise in chronic noncommunicable diseases, especially diabetes. Many people—more than in the so-called Drug War, paid for the economic vision of their political leaders with their lives, cut short by chronic disease.
How is NAFTA a threat to Martí’s vision of “Nuestra América” if it promised to lower barriers to trade and link the signatories in a single economic market? Because while NAFTA reduced or eliminated barriers for the circulation of many goods and capital (without, notably, ending US subsidies of commodity crops), it failed to allow for the free circulation of people. Corporations and their interests enjoy an intercontinental landscape of free circulation, while people bump against man-made barriers at every turn. For a truly hemispheric vision of social justice and inclusion, we must revisit the ways that we envision progress, prosperity and collaboration by eliminating borders, supporting rural and Indigenous people and their rights to land and food sovereignty, and strive for a renewed and real hemispheric unification.