How Will the Peasants Break Free?

Bush and Fox in Mexico: a meeting of vultures

Revolutionary Worker #1092, February 25, 2001, posted at

On February 16, George W. Bush traveled to Mexico--his first trip out of the U.S. as president--for talks with Mexican President Vicente Fox. Later in the month, on February 25, capitalists and government officials from around the world will arrive in Cancun for a World Economic Forum meeting with Fox and his cabinet. On the same day, a delegation of 24 members of the General Command of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) is scheduled to start on a march through 11 states, ending in Mexico City in March. EZLN supporters from Mexico and other countries are planning to join the march.

These events have put a spotlight on the relations between the U.S. and Mexico--and on the situation in this Third World country that shares a 2,000-mile border with the world's top imperialist superpower.

Bush and Fox have met before, but this was their first talk since they became presidents. Bush--the former Texas governor with a gruesome record of executions--was inaugurated in January. Fox--the former head of Coca-Cola in Mexico and the leader of the right-wing party PAN--took office in December.

Media reports described Bush and Fox as two "cowboy presidents" who displayed a "close relationship" during their meeting. The Grand Executioner from the north and Mexico's Coca-Cola president are a perfect match. Bush says, "I look south and see opportunities and potential"--meaning "opportunities and potential" for even greater exploitation of Mexico by the U.S. Fox, for his part, says he wants to integrate Mexico even more closely with the imperialist economies of the U.S. and Canada.

The Bush-Fox get-together was a meeting of vultures plotting how to prey more viciously on the oppressed people of Mexico.

In January 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect--further opening up Mexico to plunder by foreign capitalists and tightening Mexico's subjugation to the Yankee dominators. One effect of NAFTA has been to force Mexican farmers and peasants into direct competition against U.S. agribusiness, resulting in many more being forced off the land.

In July 2000, the PRI regime in Mexico, which signed NAFTA, finally lost its grip on the country's presidency after 71 years in power. For many people in Mexico, the blatantly corrupt PRI was synonymous with all that is wrong with Mexico. Fox ran his campaign on the central theme of "change", he promised that his presidency would be different from the rule of the PRI, especially in eliminating corruption.

Does the Fox presidency mean that millions of people will no longer have to make the dangerous crossing across the Mexico-U.S. border in order to survive, that peasants will no longer be forced off the land, that the people's just demands for free public education will be met? Will the defeat of PRI lead to the breaking of the chains that bind women and an end to the injustices and oppression suffered by the indigenous people? Will the PAN government liberate Mexico from the suffocating grip of U.S. domination?

No, none of these things will happen--because Fox and PAN have no basic policy differences from the previous PRI dynasty. PAN, like PRI, represents the ruling class in Mexico that is closely tied to U.S. imperialism. Bush said that his meeting with Fox signaled a "new day" in U.S.-Mexico relations. In fact, the emergence of the Bush-Fox "partnership" represents further moves along the direction of "free market capitalism" opened up by NAFTA.

Fox says he wants to attract more foreign capitalist investments to promote "development" in Mexico. The main "growth industry" in Mexico today are the maquiladoras--factories owned by foreign capital that are concentrated along the northern border with the U.S. Maquiladora workers are paid a fraction of wages of the average worker in the U.S., and they work and live in horrible conditions. Fox's idea of "development" is to promote the spread of the maquiladoras throughout Mexico.

One of the main topics of discussion between Fox and Bush was Mexican immigration to the U.S. For the rulers of both the U.S. and Mexico, Mexican immigrant workers in the U.S. are a crucial question. Money sent back home by Mexican immigrants in the U.S. is the third largest source of foreign exchange earnings for Mexico, after oil and tourism. And Mexican workers play a key role in agriculture, garment, and other sections of the U.S. economy. The U.S. and Mexican rulers want to stabilize and regulate the flow of immigrants--so that they can continue to exploit the labor of these workers while minimizing the resistance of the people and other destabilizing effects.

Bush and Fox announced that they are forming a high-level joint group to discuss immigration policies. On the U.S. side, the group will include Secretary of State Colin Powell and Attorney General John Ashcroft. One of the proposals under consideration is to institute a formal "guest worker" program--where Mexican workers would be given official permits to work in agricultural fields in the U.S. for several months each year. This brings to mind the notorious bracero program that the U.S. government carried out from the 1940s to the mid-1960s. Under this program, peasants were brought from the Mexican countryside to the fields in the U.S., where they worked for shamefully low pay and under back-breaking conditions--until their contracts (written in English) ran out and they were forced back across the border.

Bush also reportedly talked to Fox about "help" from Mexico in dealing with U.S. energy problems. U.S. capitalists have long complained about Mexico's state-owned oil industry. Fox has been known as an advocate of selling off PEMEX, the national oil corporation, to private capitalist investors.

The "new day" for those like Bush and Fox only means more NAFTA misery and oppression for the masses of people in Mexico.

On January 1, 1994--the same day that NAFTA went into effect--hundreds of armed peasants rose up in rebellion in the state of Chiapas. The bold and daring action--led by the EZLN--won active backing from thousands of other peasants in the area, rocked the whole country, and was greeted with enthusiasm by revolutionary and progressive people around the world.

The armed uprising focused attention on the oppression of the Indian peasants in Chiapas and peasants throughout Mexico. The just rebellion was an expression of the deep revolutionary sentiments of the Mexican people, and it pointed to their needs: agrarian revolution to wipe out semi-feudal oppression in the countryside; overthrow of the bureaucrat-capitalist class that rules Mexico in league with the big landowners and in service of U.S. imperialism; and liberation from Yankee domination.

The Mexican rulers, backed by the U.S. imperialists, responded with counter-revolutionary dual tactics. They carried out vicious repression against the people, while at the same time talking of reforms and negotiations. Since the January 1994 uprising, huge areas of southern states with large indigenous populations have come under virtual military occupation--70,000 government troops are in Chiapas alone. Mexico now has twice as many military and police personnel overall compared to 1994. And the U.S. has supported this military buildup with aid and arms shipments.

The EZLN made clear from the start that they did not aim to wage revolutionary war to overthrow the ruling system in Mexico. They said their goal was to win guarantees of rights for the indigenous people and other reforms from the government. While the EZLN have held on to their weapons and defended territory in the Lacandon area of Chiapas, they have not waged armed struggle against government forces since 1994.

On taking office, Fox declared that he would bring "peace" to Chiapas through negotiations with the EZLN. The EZLN have raised three conditions for resuming their negotiations which were broken off during the PRI regime: the closing of seven army positions (out of over 250) in Chiapas; the release of imprisoned EZLN members; and a constitutional recognition of indigenous rights and culture.

In a recent interview with the New York Times, EZLN's Subcommander Marcos said, "We want to stop being what we are.... We would like to show our faces. We would like to put down our weapons, but to keep fighting for our beliefs like people in every other part of the world.... I'm optimistic. I think we will have a successful dialogue with the government, that the war will be ended and that we will be able to move on to new work."

The EZLN's 11-state march seems to be a part of this perspective of moving from an armed movement to an unarmed political movement. The EZLN delegates will wear their symbolic ski masks on the march but will be without weapons. Once in Mexico City, the delegates plan to address the Congress to promote a bill protecting the rights of indigenous people.

The developments in Mexico raise important questions. What are the most pressing and basic problems confronting the people of Mexico? What is the way forward to liberation for the oppressed people of Mexico? Can Mexico really break free without revolutionary war?

The excerpts on the following pages--from the Revolutionary Worker and from the internationalist magazine A World to Win--examine these questions. In particular, they focus on the importance of the agrarian question in Mexico: the struggle of the peasants for the land and against semi-feudal oppression.

 The Truth of U.S. Domination Over Mexico

Waiting for the Land

Maoism and the Land Question

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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