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13 February 1997 Edition

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Mexico's war against its people

By Dara MacNeil

It is just over three years since Mexico's wealthy elite finally gained access to the Big Boy's Club. On New Year's Day, 1994, the country became a member of the exclusive North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), along with Canada and the US.

This was the reward for decades of slithering up to its rich neighbours to the north, a process characterised by an equally determined effort to detach itself economically and politically from the impoverished Americas to the south.

Opponents of NAFTA claimed the accord was little more than a charter for profiteers that would ultimately bleed the great mass of Mexico's population, while enriching the few. Already that prediction is coming to pass.

While Mexico prior to NAFTA's inauguration was no paradigm of social equity, it is clear the country's deep-rooted problems were exacerbated by the free trade accord which, ironically, was sold to the populace as a panacea for all its ills.

Today, Mexico is experiencing its worst economic depression this century. Of an employable population of 36 million, a mere 9.4 million hold full-time jobs, while the UN estimates that 37 percent of the country's 90 million people live in extreme poverty.

Social unrest has followed, most graphically with the arrival on the national scene of the insurgent Peoples' Revolutionary Army (EPR) in June 1996.

More insidious, however, has been the regime's response to any form of opposition to its rule. Increasingly civil authority - in the form of the courts and police - has been usurped by the country's army. Thus huge areas of Mexico have been effectively militarised, especially those states in the south and southwest of the country believed to harbour insurgent forces. (The EPR are believed to be based in states on the southwestern seaboard, while the Zapatista rebels are located in the southern state of Chiapas).

In addition, the police forces of some twenty five states are now - coincidentally of course - headed by `former' military officers: the epithet `former' providing a convenient camouflage for an obvious strategy.

Militarisation has also resulted in a huge new construction programme, involving the building of army bases and permanent military checkpoints, again predominantly in the south and southwest. Moreover, each Mexican state has now developed what amounts to a parallel military administration, commanded by an army general. And for the first time in decades, Mexico has been subjected to recurrent rumours of imminent military coups.

Many of these changes have taken place under the auspices of a war on drugs - the same pretence which allowed Colombia to eradicate a whole generation of radical opposition leaders.

Invariably, this phoney war has involved closer cooperation with the US military: both armies recently engaged in joint manoeuvres, while the Pentagon has requested some $10 billion in military assistance for its Mexican colleagues. This year, the US will also dispatch four C-26 planes and 50 helicopters south of the border: helicopters being particularly useful when combating rural-based insurgents. In addition, a Mexican newspaper now claims that, in 1994, the US promised military assistance - including troops - should the regime ever be seriously threatened by insurgency.

Nothing, it appears, will be allowed to jeopardise the opportunities for enrichment afforded by NAFTA. Not even the Mexican people.

An Phoblacht Magazine

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