Students Protest Mexican Trade Commissioner

On February 21st, 2008, students and community activists used a variety of tactics to protest misinformation about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) given by the Sergio Rios (the Mexican Trade Commissioner).

Over fifty students from Seattle University (SU), the University of Washington and community activists protested against the presence of Sergio Rios, the trade commissioner of Mexico, speaking at Seattle University about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Throughout the year Rios travels along the west coasts of Canada and the US to encourages trade with Mexico. This trade became increasingly profitable for corporations after the passage of NAFTA.

Earlier this year, SU students organized a panel discussion on free trade, indigenous rights and migration. Armed with this research, students and community activists employed a variety of tactics to ensure that the audience heard the truth about NAFTA -- not just the corporate spin. As Rios started his lecture, three SU students revealed a banner in front of the auditorium, reading “NAFTA= Poverty for the People, Profit$ for the Rich”.

After being escorted out by campus security, students joined a rally outside that continued throughout all of Mr. Rios speech (one and a half hours). As the banner inside the auditorium was revealed, another banner was dropped in the lobby from a stair case. It read “Human Needs NOT Corporate Greed”. Halfway through Rios’ presentation, two SU students (dressed as indigenous women and wearing bandanas in solidarity the Zapatistas) started to distribute cornhusks to the audience. Each husk revealed quotes from people impacted by NAFTA and provided figures showing how Mexican farmers continue to suffer due to the influx of US subsidized agricultural products, with corn holding the most cultural significance. Everyone in the audience received a cornhusk (including our friends from the Mexican Consulate, who were taking pictures of the women throughout the action).

The grand finale came at the end during the Q&A session, where more than 50 activists in the audience grilled Rios for roughly 30 minutes. Many of the questions and comments came from student activists as well as prominent immigrant and labor activists in the community. When asked about the poverty among Mexican farmers, Rios justified this by stating "It’s like when you go to a party. When you dance with an ugly girl, you have a bad time. When you dance with a beautiful girl, you have a good time! It depends on with who you dance or how you dance, and finding balance, its [equals the] best trade agreement." The most powerful testimonies came from several of the Mexican working class and indigenous immigrants, who further inspired the audience and discredited Rios’ rhetoric.

All tariffs on corn, beans, sugar and milk were lifted in Mexico on Jan. 1, 2008, which signifies the first day of NAFTA’s full implementation (this same day thousands of Mexican farmers, factory workers, students, teachers and families occupied the streets of Mexico City in protest). According to the US House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee from 1994 to 2005, 1.5 million Mexican farmers have lost their livelihoods due to NAFTA; this figure is increasing each day.

Actions, such as the one against Rios, are becoming increasingly effective at raising awareness on this issue and letting people in authority know we are not content with the current situation. However, awareness is not where the struggle ends and an escalation is necessary in order to take down this system of global tyranny (known as neoliberalism). Part of this struggle is recognizing the continuation of corporate imperialism, thus it is necessary to repeal NAFTA and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and fight against all rubber stamped expansions including the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and Plan Mexico.

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