While debates concerning U.S. immigration continue, a key facet of the issue has been ubiquitously absent in popular discussion: the fact that 25 years of U.S.-backed, neoliberal economic policies implemented in Mexico are not working.
Though Mexico has been traveling down the path that many economists predicted would result in an improved economy and, eventually, social justice, United Nations statistics show the quality of life in Mexico has actually decreased since these polices were implemented, and that 50 percent of the population is now living in poverty.
It is this poverty that Blake Gentry, education coordinator of the United Nations Association of Southern Arizona, is concerned with, and he considers it to be a major factor in the latest period of Mexican emigration.
Tasked with raising public awareness of U.N. issues, Gentry has organized a series of lectures focused on the U.N.'s millennium development goals--the first of which is the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger in the world.
According to the Millennium Declaration--a document signed by the heads of 189 countries in September 2000, affirming their agreement to uphold the principles of human dignity and equality at the global level--the goal is to reduce by half the number of people living in poverty worldwide by 2015.
To facilitate this goal, Gentry's next lecture will feature Erica Dahl-Bredine, the Mexico country manager for Catholic Relief Services, who has been working to alleviate economic injustice in Latin America for two decades.
The official relief and development agency for the Catholic Church, CRS works in 98 countries supporting development projects and relief efforts. Much of CRS's recent work in Mexico has focused on mitigating risk to migrants traveling to the United States. The work consists largely of giving financial support to shelters that exist along the migrant trail.
"A lot of people criticize us for doing such work, suggesting that we are encouraging illegal immigration into the U.S," Dahl-Bredine said. "But we fail to see how supplying water or a place to sleep will make or break someone's decision to come to the U.S."
Though large amounts of CRS resources are going to humanitarian efforts, Dahl-Bredine said, the ultimate goal is to create alternatives to migration, which she thinks can be done by creating just economic conditions in Mexico.
"A lot of people say that poverty in Mexico is their problem," Dahl-Bredine said. "While Mexico certainly has a responsibly in the matter, so, too, does the United States."
Beginning in the early '80s with the Mexico debt crises and continuing into the present, the United States has been heavily involved in creating Mexico's economic policies--both directly and through the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, Dahl-Bredine said.
"When you talk about the World Bank or IMF, you're talking about the United States, because of how much it influences these organizations," Dahl-Bredine said.
World Bank and IMF conditions for aid during the past 25 years--as well as Mexico's entrance into NAFTA--have resulted in liberalized trade barriers in Mexico, privatized national programs and reduced public spending, and have led to a focus on increasing foreign investment and Mexican exports, Dahl-Bredine said.
While lining the pockets of some, Dahl-Bredine said, these policies have had dramatic negative effects on the country. Mexico's agricultural sector has largely been destroyed due to Mexico's reduction of trade barriers, which pitted Mexico's small farmers against the large, subsidized U.S. agricultural industry. With Mexican farmers unable to compete, nearly 2 million jobs have been lost since the implementation of NAFTA.
Many neoliberal economists thought that maquiladoras (factories) would create enough jobs to replace those lost in agriculture, but that has not been the case, Dahl-Bredine said. It hasn't even come close--approximately 500,000 jobs have been created, far short of the 2 million lost. To add insult to injury, such jobs usually pay nonliving wages, and U.S. economic fluctuations can cause losses of jobs in the maquiladoras.
These and other conditions have resulted in the mass migration of people across Mexico and into the United States.
According to Dahl-Bredine, the development of local economies and sustainable relationships between producers and buyers in Mexico, coupled with more economic regulation, is needed.
Erica Dahl-Bredine will be speaking at 11:30 a.m., next Thursday, July 19, at El Parador, 2744 E. Broadway Blvd. The UNASA-sponsored event requires an RSVP and a $14 payment by Tuesday, July 17. Contact Blake Gentry at 881-7060 for more information.