Which Side Are You on?: History Absolves the Losers?

People keep asking me whether I feel bad about Eric Garcetti’s trip to Mexico City and his apparent support of CSUN President Dianne Harrison in signing the UNAM accord. I am disappointed with him, but I am more upset with some of our alumni who should know better. Without knowing the facts they have become uncritical cheerleaders. In the case of CSUN President Dianne Harrison I expected as much.

I have been around for a long time, and I have no illusions about winning. The capitalist system favors the wealthy. In order for Garcetti and other elected officials to stay in office they have to smile for the cameras.  They have bought into the neoliberal model, and rationalize that they are privatizing to shore up the public function.

We tried to stop Harrison, but failed partially because of her duplicity and partly because of the silence of the lambs. We lost the battle, but the truth is that this was neither the first time nor the last time we will lose.

It is similar to our efforts to stop NAFTA in the 1991 when  I wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times:

Congress has now put negotiations for free trade with Mexico on the “fast track,” giving the Bush Administration a tremendous edge that could result in a railroaded treaty. Now, anyone who raises objections will be accused of Mexico-bashing. There are, however, very real concerns that a treaty unchecked by vigorous debate could do serious damage to the interests of working-class Latinos on both sides of the border.

Latino organizations, such as the National Council of La Raza, were more interested in getting Latino businesses export privileges than learning about how Latino workers would be negatively affected.

At California State University Northridge, I have experienced similar attitudes from Latino and white faculty in response to the UNAM deal; they care more about their own privileges than the students or campus workers. As with NAFTA, they have become cheerleaders for neo-liberalism.

I also wrote,

President Carlos Salinas de Gotari is hyping free trade as the key to Mexico’s future. It solidifies his program of privatization, deregulation and attraction of foreign investment. Says Salinas, who has bought the rhetoric of globalization, “What we want is to find ourselves in rhythm with the world.”

The UNAM deal is similarly veiled with platitudes. But the bottom line is that as with NAFTA, the deal benefits PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) and its anointed leader Enrique Peña Nieto in furthering the privatization of Mexico.

The disagreements surrounding NAFTA were nasty. I had heated disagreements with my friends Raul Hinojosa and Southwest Voter Registration President Antonio González who had temporarily lost their senses. But the defense of the UNAM deal is much cruder and it makes no attempt to show how students will benefit, or if it will impact student tuition costs and labor relations. On the way it unnecessarily disrespected the Chicana/o studies department and the Mexican community.

After the fact we have received verbal assurances from the provost that in the future CSUN will act responsibly – I guess just like American corporations in Latin America.  I don’t want to sound cynical but I have heard that story before.

I am not an alarmist; however, in 1991, I wrote:

I am concerned about Mexican sovereignty. Take a confidential memo from U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte to Asst. Secretary of State Bernard Aronson, complaining that, although Mexico did 60% to 70% of its trade with the United States, its vote in international forums is often antagonistic to U.S. interests. The memo suggests that the free-trade agreement would bring Mexico around.

History has proven me correct, and Mexico has become extremely compliant to the United States and the International Monetary Fund. Yet the U.S. Latinos have learned nothing from the failed policies of Bush I and Bill Clinton – and they just don’t give a damn.

Meanwhile, the CSUN administration is more blatant than the Bush or Clinton administrations. To guarantee passage of NAFTA, Bush/Clinton strategist fast tracked the treaty. They cut debate and hearings, muting the voice of labor. As bad as this was, CSUN one upped Bush/Clinton and silenced all debate; there was no consultation until well after the accord was signed.

I went on to predict:  “Free trade will accelerate plant closures, increasing an already swollen secondary labor market at a time when spending on education and social services are being drastically cut.” 

It has come to pass. NAFTA killed the Mexican small farmer, and uprooted millions of Mexican workers and their families, while creating eleven billionaires and more corruption.

Economists estimate that NAFTA displaced 682,900 U.S. jobs. In pre-NAFTA, the U.S. had 16.8 million workers employed in manufacturing. By 2007, that number fell to just 13.9 million. Those good-paying manufacturing jobs were replaced by low-paying service sector jobs with little or no benefits. NAFTA accelerated undocumented migration that increased to 12 million from 3.9 million in 1993.

Mexico lost at least 1.3 million farm jobs. Mexican farmers are forced to use more American fertilizers and other chemicals at a cost of $36 billion per year in pollution. Rural farmers have been forced to encroach on marginal lands, resulting in deforestation of 630,000 hectares annually. The prize! Mexico is the leading importer of American corn; Mexican farmers cannot compete with subsidized U.S. farmers; and large corporations such as Monsanto have invaded Mexico.

Further, NAFTA accelerated the privatization of Mexican higher education. A consequence is that today students are protesting the lack of space in Mexican universities. This makes the UNAM deal even more insidious. UNAM and CSUN are entering into private deals to bring in more foreign students that will displace local applicants.  Why?

On January 1, 1994, the day that NAFTA went into effect the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, EZLN), revolted in Chiapas. The EZLN cited the neo-liberal policies of PRI that threatened their autonomy and way of life. The EZLN was right.  Today PRI is scrapping the 1917 Mexican Constitution.

Mexicans care about education; they won this human right in a bloody Revolution. Yet there are hundreds of thousands of high school graduates who are annually turned away from Mexican public universities. Twenty years after NAFTA, fewer Mexican students are attending college from working-class barrios and Mexican rural villages.

Mexico ranks first among the 34 OECD countries in high school dropouts and last in the percentage of students seeking bachelor’s degrees. Only 12 percent of Mexicans in their 20s are studying. This is despite the fact that access to a free higher education is constitutionally guaranteed.

The similarities between Mexico and the U.S. are striking. Today fewer U.S. Latino students are being admitted from hard core barrios; access is restricted to those who can afford it. The safety net is being shredded and Pell and other forms of aid are threatened species.

As with Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Peña Nieto’s accords with the U.S. and foreign corporations are giving away Mexico’s sovereignty, and the UNAM/CSUN accord is much different from the vantage point of history and Mexican students than it is from Harrison’s privileged perch.

Ironically, some of my former students and Latino elected officials refuse to see the links between NAFTA, the UNAM deal, and the privatization of American and Mexican universities. Sadly at one time some of them passionately supported the Zapatistas and wore Zapata tee shirts and more recently “Yo Soy 132”.

I admit that it appears as if we have lost this battle. But as with NAFTA, my belief is that history will absolve the losers and condemn the winners. Unfortunately, the real losers are the poor – they have been sold out. Meanwhile, Which Side Are You on?


— Rodolfo F. Acuña

This entry was posted in Aztlan, Chicana/o, Chicana/o Identity, Chicana/o Studies, Chicano Movement, Community, CSUN, Cultura, Decolonization, Education, History, Knowledge, Los Angeles, Mexico, Movimiento, Politics, Racism, Resistance. Bookmark the permalink.

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