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The Real Cancun Part II: Voices of the Campesinos (english)
12 Nov 2003
The Real Cancun Part 2 -- RW ONLINE
The Real Cancun Part 2
Dos Rumbos/Two Roads -- Voices of the Campesinos
by Luciente Zamora
Revolutionary Worker #1219, November
16, 2003, posted at
RW correspondents Luciente Zamora and Nikolai Garcia
traveled to Cancún, Mexico to document a first-hand
account of the protests against the World Trade Organization,
September 12-14. The following is the second in a series of
articles from the frontlines in Cancún. "Part 1: The March of the
Campesinos" was in RW #1216 and can be found at
A campesino sits at the edge of a curb. His indigenous
features are young. His cheekbones are prominent. His dark eyes
are bright. His skin is the color of dark earthy clay. He has
traveled from Chiapas to protest the WTO. Not another day, he
says, can he live without doing something to stop the machine
that is grinding up his people. "The government wants to change
the direction of the country. Well, the people also want to
change that direction. There are two roads--either the
government will win or the people will."
Throughout the week of September 10-14, thousands of
campesinos gathered in Cancún, Mexico to protest the
World Trade Organization (WTO). Busloads and caravans arrived
from Veracruz, Morelos, Chiapas, Puebla, and Oaxaca and many
hundreds more came from other areas all over Mexico. Peasant
and farmer contingents from other countries arrived from the
airport in spirited groupings. Most had traveled thousands of
miles and made tremendous sacrifices to raise money to make the
The presence of the campesinos was decisive in delivering a
sharp indictment. By protesting the WTO they wanted to expose
to the world the human cost of "global free trade"--and find
ways to "globalize" their struggle.
They talked about how much their lives have been changed by
the "rules and guidelines" for "free trade" the WTO uses to
intensify the exploitation of people and resources in Third
World countries around the globe.
The campesinos spoke about the maquiladoras--sweatshops that
assemble goods for export to the U.S.--that are spreading like
a plague; roads that are paving over green forests and jungles;
government policies that make it difficult or impossible for
them to continue to cultivate their land; and the increasing
numbers of people forced to make the difficult journey from the
countryside to urban slums.
The lives of the campesinos in Mexico and peasants around
the world continue to be deeply affected- -and in many cases
have been ruined--by the way their countries have been opened
up to "new markets" and "investment." Many are coming to
realize that the life-and-death problems they face in their
countries are not theirs alone. They are increasingly becoming
aware and suspicious of everything the governments say will
bring them "modernization," "progress," and "free trade."
"Progress" and "Free trade"-- For whom? For
On September 10 at the Marcha Campesina , a group of
campesinos and youth marched behind a bright red banner that
said: "Revolución es la solución." They chanted,
"Repudio total a la cumbre imperial." ("To Hell with the
Campesinos and youth from the Movimiento Popular
Revolucionario approached the guarded fence wearing red
T-shirts with Marx, Lenin, and Mao on the front and "Without
State Power All Is Illusion" on the back. As they stood
face-to-face up against the fortress where the WTO was being
held, one campesino shouted: "The ones to blame for our lives
of poverty are right here. The WTO is an instrument of
imperialist domination. This handful of imperialists and their
puppets have no right to hold their meeting to decide the
future of the world in their exploiting interests!"
Many campesinos have never had a formal education. They
don't have international business degrees. Most have never set
foot in a political economy class. But they are becoming deeply
familiar with the tremendous shifts in the world economy and
the price campesinos have to pay.
In 1994 the Mexican and U.S. governments announced that
Mexico was officially entering a new era of "world trade" and
"progress" when it signed the North American Free Trade
Agreement (NAFTA), making the U.S., Mexico and Canada a unified
The NAFTA rules on imports have allowed highly subsidized
U.S. corn, wheat, rice and beans to flood the market in Mexico.
Meanwhile Mexican authorities have cut off credit and support
for Mexican farmers. Tens of thousands of peasants have been
driven off the land because they can't compete with the prices
of cheap U.S. imports. Their land has been snatched up by
agribusiness and other types of big business.
Almost a decade later, Mexico's economy is even more tightly
controlled by the United States. Agricultural products from the
U.S. have ruined the livelihood of the campesinos. Only big
landowners with connections to U.S. transnational corporations
can export their products. And the free trade rules of the U.S.
basically treat the campesinos who produce food to feed their
families as "an obstacle to progress."
Valentin is a campesino from southern Mexico who was picked
to represent his village at the demonstrations in
Cancún. He said that people worked tirelessly to raise
money for bus fare for two people. Groups of students and
campesinos stood at bus stations with donation cans telling
people what the WTO represents and the importance of opposing
it. Others took their fundraising cans to marketplaces and
As soon as Valentin arrived in Cancún he began
leafleting the neighborhoods, talking about why people are
against the WTO, encouraging residents to participate in the
protests, and raising money to produce more informational
Valentin's eyes were intense and thoughtful as he set down a
metal can full of donations. He said, "A [Mexican] government
representative said, `If there are 25 million peasants, we must
reduce it to five million.' I think that's exactly what they're
doing with all these treaties. On the one hand they want to
create a large number of people in the cities that they can use
as workers. When there are a lot of peasants who don't have
land, they become workers and there's a surplus of cheap labor
available. The super-rich take advantage of this, put them to
work in maquiladoras and other industries at very low
"The super-rich tell us that NAFTA will bring everyone
progress and well-being. The truth is that NAFTA has only
brought us more misery.
"About five or 10 years ago the price of coffee plummeted.
The coffee market was in crisis and that crisis has worsened.
Many people are leaving the countryside because of it. There
are many who have gone to the cities, and they're forming belts
of poverty in the colonias. From there, some go to el Norte
[the U.S.] and they come back dead. If they don't die, we lose
contact with them for many years or they just never come
"We don't know anything about the ones who don't come back.
Many of them die trying to cross the border. Many die in the
U.S. There the Migra chases them or the police kill them,
accusing them of crimes they didn't even commit."
Campesinos from different regions thoughout Mexico and of
different economic backgrounds participated in the protests.
There were poor peasants who have little or no land and cannot
survive unless they work in the cities or cross into el Norte.
There were indigenous peasants from southern states like
Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Guerrero. There were also rich peasants
who have tried to export their products but are losing
everything and middle peasants who are being forced off their
Even peasants who were formerly able to sell their products
at local markets, survive off their land, and sometimes employ
other workers are being financially ruined by a flood of cheap
U.S. products into Mexico. The U.S. is able to produce massive
quantities of agricultural products at a cheap price, largely
because it has the technology and machinery to facilitate
this--making it impossible for Mexican peasants to compete and
sell their products at prices lower than the U.S. In increasing
numbers these peasants are being ruined by "world trade."
Some of these Mexican campesinos admitted that when the
NAFTA was first signed they believed it would bring "progress"
and "prosperity" to Mexico. They believed NAFTA would open the
doors of free trade and that U.S. investment in Mexico would
improve Mexico's standard of living. They believed that
maquiladoras would provide good jobs and help modernize Mexico.
Some campesinos invested all their money and bought tractors
and fertilizers they believed would increase their productivity
to enable them to trade freely and sell their products to
Like many other countries worldwide, Mexico is in a
situation where U.S. agricultural corporations are drowning the
peasants with cheap U.S. grain and other agricultural products
subsidized by the U.S. government. These products are then sold
at a price below what the peasants can compete with. As a
result peasants are losing their land and the country no longer
produces as much of its own food and must buy it from the
Sara is from Morelos. She has spent her lifetime growing
organic rice. She takes pride that her crop is free of
genetically modified seed and free of chemicals or pesticides.
She says, "In Morelos we mainly grow rice, sugar cane, and
tomatoes. Our rice is top quality. But with the cheaper rice
imported from the U.S., the price of our rice devalues. Our
rice costs 7 pesos, U.S. rice costs 3 pesos or 2.50. Of course,
as poor people we buy what's cheapest."
Now with NAFTA it's impossible for Sara to sell her crop at
a price that will allow her to continue to cultivate and live
off her land. She says that NAFTA is not only devastating the
peasants and the environment in the countryside by cutting down
the forests and polluting the water, but it's also destroying
their way of life. "Imagine what would happen if the
countryside is destroyed. We would eat pro- cessed junk. The
countryside is the source of life of all humanity."
Felipa, a woman from Chiapas, said, "A lot of canned,
processed, and junk food has been coming into our region--even
chickens that are cheaper than the ones we grow. Of course
they've been frozen for a very long time. As people from the
countryside, we offer fresh products. We even take the animals
alive to the marketplace. But they don't want to take it. They
offer us 10 pesos for each animal, or 20 or 30 pesos. We don't
breed an animal per week. An animal is bred in months,
sometimes six or seven months."
On September 10, at the Marcha Campesina , Lee Kyung
Hae died after he stabbed himself in the chest with a
pocketknife. He wanted his death to symbolize the death and
destruction the WTO has brought to people in South Korea and
all around the world.
Lee, who had once been the president of the Korean Advanced
Farmers Federation, had at one time been a prosperous cattle
and rice farmer after he spent five years developing farming
methods that allowed cows to graze on very steep terrain.
Lee's small herd of cattle grew to over 300. He prospered.
Then, shifts in international trade opened the South Korean
market to imports of Australian cows. This dramatically brought
down the price of beef. Lee took out loan after loan in an
attempt to compete with the Australian beef, but it was
impossible to keep up. Lee's farm became worthless. He sold his
cows to repay the loans, but soon he ran out of cattle to sell
and the bank repossessed his land. Lee was ruined. From then on
he dedicated himself to political activism. He became a
frontline fighter in protests and participated in bloody street
battles and went on hunger strikes against the policies of the
Francisco rested his feet for a few minutes in the shade of
a tree. He patted his face with the bandana tied around his
neck. The shade from his straw hat covered his face. As he took
off his hat to say hello, I felt a sense of confianza ,
familiarity, with him. When he smiled, the deep lines at the
corner of his eyes resembled the way the earth crackles after a
summer storm. I sat down and shared his patch of grass under
Francisco grew up as a campesino in Quintana Roo and worked
cultivating beans, squash, and corn, until Cancún (a
city in Quintana Roo) was developed as a tourist resort. When
Francisco spoke he constantly flashed from past to present. The
tension in his voice was bitter. "Doesn't Mexico belong to the
Mexican people? The foreign [investors] want Mexico to belong
to them. The government is selling us to those foreign
[investors]. If we let them destroy everything, what will we
leave our children?"
He fears that his grandchildren will inherit a world that is
barren, polluted, and decaying. He smiles as he tells stories
of a time when the land was green; when the white sand beaches
were open for everyone to enjoy and not just for people with
tourist permits; when organic corn stalks free of pesticides
grew as tall as a person; when forests and jungles--the lungs
of the planet--weren't being cut down by lumber industries;
when entire villages didn't leave their birthplace to go to the
cities or across a militarized metal wall to sell their
Francisco flashed back to the present. He no longer works
the land. It's impossible to survive off it. Now he hides his
white hair under his campesino hat and tries to sell his
brazos fuertes --strong arms--at construction sites
The day-to-day survival of the campesinos is difficult. Most
campesinos grow crops for very limited subsistence a few months
out of the year. The rest of the year they roam from city to
city-- including in the U.S.--looking for work. The peasants
make up the growing cinturones de miseria, belts of
misery, that stretch throughout the countryside, into the
cities, and across the U.S./Mexico border.
Life for people in the countryside is so desperate that
there are entire villages in Oaxaca, Guerrero, Zacatecas, and
other southern states which are composed primarily of old
people because the younger people have left to work in big
cities throughout Mexico and in el Norte. There are villages of
primarily women and children. Some villages are disappearing
altogether because there are no means for people to
Rodolfo, a campesino from Chiapas, told us, "The WTO means
death for the people in Chiapas. It's death for the indigenous
people. For us the WTO is one more thing to make us poorer.
They get richer. They are planning another world."
He says he can already see the future the WTO is planning.
People who have been living in misery for generations are
experiencing new levels of destitution and hunger. Subsistence
farmers are no longer able to live off the fruit of their land
and are increasingly consuming comida chatarra (canned
food and other forms of processed food).
The peasants feel they have no future as peasants in
Mexico's current situation. "Free trade" has pushed millions of
campesinos to leave their land and "development plans" like
Plan Puebla Panama only have more misery in store for the
Plan Puebla Panama promises to "bring progress to forgotten
peoples" by building roads, dams, power grids and developing
the infrastructure of nine southeastern states of Mexico
(Puebla, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Veracruz, Chiapas, Tabasco,
Campeche, Quintana Roo and Yucatán) and the seven
countries in Central America (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras,
Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Belize, Panama).
PPP plans to "de-ruralize" the south of Mexico and parts of
Central America by uprooting indigenous peoples from their
land, further militarizing the countryside, and herding the
displaced peasants into "population nodes" near "maquiladora
corridors" close to "transportation corridors."
This plan is a strategy to completely restructure the region
in line with U.S. imperialist needs over a 25-year period. It
calls for a huge influx of imperialist investment in three main
areas: production (principally in maquiladoras and
agrobusiness), gigantic infrastructure projects, and security
to protect investments and crush resistance. It is about
remolding the economies in this region in order to make it even
easier for U.S. domination and exploitation.
Rodolfo traveled with a group of campesinos from Chiapas.
His eyes were determined when he said he'll do whatever it
takes to stop Plan Puebla Panama because it will further
exploit the people and it threatens to destroy the jungles that
are home to great biodiversity and tremendous beauty. He will
not allow the archeological sites, culture, and language of his
Mayan people to be killed off.
"Many governments, like the U.S., are looking at Chiapas
because they say there's oil, uranium, and rivers for the dams
that they want to build. But what good will Plan Puebla Panama
do us? It will bring maquiladoras and they are going to have us
working like slaves."
Dos Rumbos/Two Roads
The future the imperialists are bringing into being means
unprecedented levels of exploitation of the people and the
Earth's resources. But this future is being met with fierce
resistance throughout Mexico.
With fire in his eyes and a deep sense of urgency Valentin
said, "We're not here to tell the WTO to be more humane, we're
here to say that we don't want it.We don't want the Free Trade
Area of the Americas or Plan Puebla Panama. We don't need
In 2002, campesinos in Atenco stood up to President Vicente
Fox's plans to make way for a $2 billion dollar airport. They
rejected his offer to buy their land at 7 pesos (about 65
cents) per square meter. The campesinos fought courageously and
made the government back down.
They braved tear gas, rubber bullets, the federal police,
and threats from the government. They demonstrated through the
streets of Mexico City, riding horses and holding their
machetes high in the air. They took over their town and drove
all government officials out. When the government tried to
occupy their town, the people blocked roads and mobilized
thousands of people from all over Mexico to defend the land and
the people from an unjust expropriation. New terms were set for
the struggle. In the heat of battle a woman shouted, "Blood
will flow, but we will not give up our land!"
A campesino from Chiapas said, "We belong to the land, not
to the foreigners that want to fuck us over. Although they wage
low intensity war against us--we are not going to let them
continue. We will resist."
Peasants faced with losing their land and nowhere to turn
are raising many questions. They are faced with tremendous
obstacles, but they are also opening their eyes to new
possibilities and challenges.
A campesino from southern Mexico said, "The people need to
understand that Mexico needs a very profound change." He asked,
"But who will lead? Where will the [struggle] end up? The
campesinos persist and keep going. Their anger against the
[government's] reaction is brewing. When this is the situation,
the implications are huge."
A banner with a vibrant painting of the planet breaking free
from chains--a symbol associated with the Revolutionary
Internationalist Movement--moved freely with the breeze as the
youth and campesinos at the Anti-Imperialist Camp prepared for
another day of protest. Young men gathered food together to
prepare lunch for the entire camp. Young women piled rocks,
sticks, and bottles into shopping carts. Peasants from southern
Mexico, high school students, university students, women, men,
youth who grew up in the ghetto and others who are from middle
class backgrounds grouped together into teams that would go to
neighborhoods in Cancún and introduce themselves and
their struggle to win support.
Valentin stopped and smiled in this whirlwind of activity
and said, "Otro mundo sí es posible." Another world is
A collage of clouds gathers together in a concentration
of strength. They are on the verge of bursting into a
To be continued
Part III--No Somos Globalifobicos! Somos
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