My name is Jesenia Chavez, and I am a concerned Chicana U.S. citizen. I am a UCSB student from southeast Los Angeles. Thanks to the wonderful North American Free Trade Agreement in 1998, both my parents lost their jobs at Westlock Corp. and Belwith International Inc. The factories where they worked laid them off after almost 20 years of service. Just before a lot of the workers could complete 10 years of service in order to receive their pensions, they were laid off. These companies, located in the City of Industry, had the ability to relocate along the border and pay four people with the wages paid to one well-paid worker in the United States. Something must be done about this unfair treatment.
In the seven years since the passage of the NAFTA, it has proven itself to be a complete failure. Evidence of NAFTA’s failure includes a decline in real wages, despite an increase in worker productivity, and crisis-level environmental and public health conditions in the border region. The transformation of the United States’ trade surplus with Mexico to a trade deficit for the first time ever has been staggering for Mexico. Our federal regulations are being dismantled at taxpayers’ expense thanks to “investor-to-state” provisions that allow corporations to sue our government directly. Yet I hear nothing from the media or in political debates about the ongoing negotiations for NAFTA’s expansion under Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). On the weekend of April 20-22, the commission will be meeting in Quebec, Canada. This “NAFTA for the Americas,” if allowed to go forward unchallenged, will only extend this disastrous legacy throughout the Western Hemisphere!
No one knows about the FTAA because the negotiations are being conducted in secret, and only people with security clearance (transnational corporation representatives) are allowed to see any specific information about the negotiations, or even the position that our own government is taking. Furthermore, only Congress has the right to set terms for treaty negotiations of this type. Yet these have been going on for nearly five years, and the presidential administration has done nothing to brief Congress on the FTAA, much less obtain authority to negotiate in the first place.
“NAFTA for the Americas” will be complete in the next three years. It is disturbing that these important negotiations have reached an advanced stage without the knowledge of citizens and elected officials. It’s high time that the American people demand that Congress get involved and put the negotiations on hold until we find out what’s going on behind those closed doors. I recently attended a RAZA women’s conference at UCLA. There I watched an excellent film, “Maquila: A Tale of Two Mexicos,” which clearly shows the environmental depletion caused by these factories and how the corporations take no accountability. These workers are making $40 a week and can barely scrape by. Just below the border people cannot even provide food, shelter and clothing for their families. Is this progress?
For all of those people who are tired of our nation entering secret trade agreements that contribute to vast environmental destruction, as well as the erosion of worker and human rights, join the struggle. Student Lobby, an Associated Students group at UCSB, is organizing a delegation of students and community members to travel to the San Ysidro/Tijuana border on April 20-22. We will be holding teach-ins to educate ourselves and the community about the effects of the disastrous policies of the FTAA. Let’s take back control of our borders and control of our country!
To contact Student Lobby email: or call 893-8849.
Jesenia Chavez is a junior sociology major.