Tag Archives: politics

The Coral Reefs of Huatulco: Unnatural Changes

By Julie Etra

I have been scuba diving and snorkeling here since our first trip in 2007, but I am no expert and certainly don’t have the decades of history and knowledge possessed by the locals regarding pre-Huatulco-resort (1985) conditions. What I can contribute are my observations from repeated trips to several reefs over the years, as well as some review of reef studies and possible preservative actions.

Huatulco’s nine bays and 35 beaches host18 coral reefs. For snorkeling I typically go to Entrega, San Augustín, and more recently, Riscalillo. Tejoncito is a sweet little cove within Bahia Conejos, but it is pretty rocky, with some coral but typically not great visibility. Arrocito is another popular spot for some of our good friends, but it does not have the fabulous reefs that support aquatic diversity. Maguey has a great reef for scuba diving, accessible by boat. All lie within the Parque Nacional de Huatulco, and all are managed under its jurisdiction. (The Park was established in 1998 through a presidential decree.)

Entrega. Huatulco’s reefs and beaches are gems, and like so many beautiful natural resources everywhere, they are being loved to death. Entrega is a bay within the larger bay of Santa Cruz, both protected and at the same time somewhat contained due to its configuration; it is the most popular and accessible reef of the nine major bays of Huatulco. Entrega has its own sewage treatment plant behind the restaurants.

We always make it a point to go early to Entrega as even during the week this beach is frequently packed. There are just too many people, too many boats, and, despite the treatment plant, perhaps inadequate sanitation.

Entrega, which means ‘delivery’ or ‘surrender’ in Spanish, is named for the unfortunate fate of Vincente Guerrero, the Mexican Republic’s second President. The liberal Guerrero was deposed by his conservative vice president, Anastasio Bustamante; in the ensuing conflict, Guerrero was lured onto a French ship in Acapulco, carried to Huatulco, and surrendered on the beach at Entrega. Thence he was transported to Oaxaca City, tried and convicted, and executed by firing squad.

San Augustín has a large accessible reef, both by car and boat, and no engineered waste treatment systems. There are baños/sanitarios but their design and effectiveness appears questionable. Sweet Riscalillo, recently accessible by car, has a gorgeous reef but absolutely no sanitation facilities. I have only been there a few times so can’t comment on its change, if any, but it is on my radar.

Studying the Reefs – about a Decade Ago

From 1998-2012 the Federal Government of Mexico monitored the health of various reef ecosystems in the Mexican Pacific, including reefs in Bahías de Huatulco. It used the Coral Health Index (CHI) to look at fish populations and the bottom layers of the ocean (an “ichthyic” and “benthic” survey). According to a 2013 master’s thesis on the survey, prepared by Montserrat Molina Luna, the CHI values for Huatulco were at an “optimal health state” after the initiation of protection measures through the creation of the Parque Nacional in 1998. The fish populations of all the evaluated reef ecosystems were herbivorous, which promotes a balanced ecosystem by controlling the proliferation of algae.

So as of 2012, the reefs of Huatulco, according to this report, were in good shape. But were they? In 2011, the independent news and analysis agency Quadratin published an article on studies conducted by the Parque Nacional, which found that the reefs of Entrega had diminished by 80%, due to such factors as climate change, pollution and poor tourism practices. Natalia Parra del Ángel, at the time coordinator of CostaSalvaje, an international eco-organization focused on preserving coastal and marine ecosystems, warned that these factors could lead to the extinction of Huatulco’s coral reefs.

At that time, the Parque Nacional suggested to the local CostaSalvaje team some actions that swimmers, boaters, and tourist guides could take to help preserve Huatulco’s 12 types of coral reefs. Boats should not drive over the reefs, much less anchor on them or drop oil or gasoline. The most important was that divers and snorkelers should make sure they did not damage the coral – preferably, they should be accompanied by certified, trained guides. Swimmers should not wear sunscreen, because it creates a floating grease stain that prevents light from reaching the live microalgae inside the coral. Divers, snorkelers, and swimmers should not stand on the reefs.

Protective Practices a Decade Later

And did these practices take hold? Not really – and this is far from a comprehensive list of examples.

2013: Scientists like Carlos Candelaria Silva, a research professor at UNAM, began pointing out that the deterioration of the coral reefs at Entrega and San Augustín was very “worrying.” Sediments carried down in the rainy season, rubbish left behind by beach-goers and swimmers, added to boat traffic and large numbers of snorkelers, were damaging the reefs. By 2015, Candelaria was saying that measures to “protect and heal” the coral were urgent.

2016: Fisherman and oyster and octopus divers complained that the construction of Barlovento, a 15-condo development above a little beach next to Entrega, was dumping tons of construction debris – dirt, stone, and mud – right onto the coral reef. If the coral reef were to die, the divers and fishermen would lose their livelihood. While the divers and fishermen were not opposed to development per se, the fact that the Barlovento was taking no measures to protect the reef was unacceptable. Meanwhile, the presale materials for the Barlovento touted how ideal “the quiet bays of Huatulco” were for a “wide range of water sports. If you practice diving or snorkeling, you will be amazed at the purity of the waters. The rugged coast of Huatulco and its unrivaled coral reefs will surprise you with their extensive underwater biodiversity, waiting to be exploited.” While they might have meant “explored,” yes, they said “exploited.”

2018: This was a mostly bad news/some good news year. The Chiapas-based news service Noticias: Voz y Imagen reported that snorkelers and divers who rented equipment and set off to view the living coral reef were being allowed to snap off chunks of live coral as souvenirs. No one, “not the restaurant owner, not the waiter, much less the maritime business that rented the equipment and sent them off into the sea,” told them breaking off the coral would “significantly alter one of the most valuable ecosystems” for thousands of marine organisms and hundreds of species.

The problem was most out of control at San Agustín; the coordinator of Nature Tourism for the Municipio of Santa María Huatulco, Pedro Gasca, said that with 44 restaurants and 20 places that rented snorkel gear in the low-season, many more in the high season, it was difficult to counteract the business practice of “the customer can do whatever the customer wants.” He suggested that education was the key, and prepared a workshop for the snorkel outfits; the content focused on educating the customers how to view the reef without destroying it.

At this point, the three major threats to coral reefs were identified as climate change, ocean acidification, and the usual biggie, mismanaged tourism practices. Climate change and ocean acidification combine to make it very difficult for coral to create and deposit the calcium carbonate that extends the “skeleton” of the reef. This is most obvious as bleaching; when corals are stressed by changes in temperature, light, or nutrients, the symbiotic algae living in their tissues die, causing them to turn completely white.

Between 1998 and 2018, Pacific corals thinned out, i.e., they were 20% less dense and grew more slowly (they were only making a centimeter – just over ⅜ of an inch – of skeleton a year as it was!). Some corals (the slowest-growing ones) adapt, others bleach out and die.

Given that mismanaged tourism is a more immediate problem to address, CONAMP started supporting CostaSalvaje in projects to protect the reefs. CostaSalvaje used CONAMP resources to string buoys to keep tourist boats from driving over and dropping anchor on the reefs. CONAMP developed educational programming for tourism providers and guidelines for tourists, although it appears the latter must be accessed on their website,

2020: In January of this year, CostaSalvaje and CONAMP were among multiple government, educational, and organizational sponsors of the first annual Festival Coralinos de Huatulco: Tesoro del Pacifico Mexicano (The Coral Reef Festival of Huatulco: Treasure of the Mexican Pacific). With scientific poster sessions, workshops, and meetings on the marine environment, the goal of the Festival Coralinos was to inform the public about the importance of the reefs to the region and to promote better tourism and environmental practices. Informational installations were set up in the central park in La Crucecita, in Rufino Tamayo Park, and in the Sports Plaza.

What It Really Looks Like Right Now

When I first arrived in November 2019, Entrega beckoned. I went out there with my good buddy PauI Biernacki and was appalled to observe what appeared to be an obvious decline in reef health since my last visit in April 2019. Huge algal blooms floated over and coated the reef, especially close to shore, where the sea seemed unusually murky and almost oily.

Algal blooms are described by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as “overgrowths of algae in the water, which can be caused when nutrient pollution (nitrogen and phosphorus) in the water fuels algal growth. Note the murkiness of the surface water due to overgrowth of algae.”

Local guides I have spoken with have also noted the decline in reef health at Entrega. Basically, the blooms suffocate the reefs. Guides continue to see other sources of reef damage that have been discussed over the last decade (bleaching, sedimentation, physical damage, and chemicals such as sunscreen). Although the sedimentation can be natural, it is undoubtedly exacerbated by the turbidity caused by boat propellers.

Where do the nitrogen and phosphorus that kick off the algae blooms come from? Obviously not agriculture. Sewage? Currents bringing in contaminants from other sources? During multiple trips to Entrega over the winter, I noticed the currents had pushed the algae and deposited it on the northern part of the reef. I am happy to report that on an early morning swim on March 16, most of the algae was gone and the huge schools of green jacks (jurel bonito) were back.

I have not noticed algal blooms at either Riscalillo or San Augustín, locations that don’t get the same constant traffic as Entrega; however, like Entrega, San Augustín appears to be suffering from bleaching. We have seen the algal bloom called “red tide” from time to time in Huatulco, but red tide occurs naturally. And that sargassum we hear about over on the Mayan Riviera? It’s a type of kelp that isn’t often found in this area of the Pacific.

Of course, reef deterioration can be cyclical and caused by multiple factors, including seasonality and temperature associated with prevailing and changing currents. But human impact – those poor tourism practices – cannot be underestimated. Unfortunately, restricted use or quotas imposed by the government are unlikely to occur in a beach destination like Huatulco, whose economy depends on that tourism. It would be nice to at least see a monitoring program designed and implemented, and good science conducted with data made available to the public. Certainly, the universities on the coast, especially those that participated in the Festival Coralinos, can help.

What Change This Plague Might Bring . . .

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

On February 28, 2020, Mexico confirmed its first case of COVID-19, the infection caused by the latest coronavirus (there are many, and there will be more). On March 21, 2020, as this issue of The Eye closed, Mexico had confirmed 164 cases, and 2 deaths. The state of Oaxaca had 2 cases, both in the capital city Oaxaca de Juárez. Although it’s been suggested that the relatively low rate of confirmed cases is due to sluggish testing, and that in fact there may have been many more by mid-March, the government – including and especially President Lopez Obrador – has been reluctant to require, or even recommend, preventive measures as of March 21. No changes necessary.

From High to Low – Overnight

Not so here in Huatulco. The foreign tourists who populate Huatulco’s high season are taking the corona virus seriously as their governments started “calling them home,” Canada on Saturday, March 14, and the U.S. on Thursday, March 19.

Both countries issued a travel advisory, Canada putting out a “Level 3” and the United States a “Level 4,” the difference being that Canadians were told to “Avoid non-essential travel” and Americans were told “Do not travel.” In remarkably similar language, both countries urged their citizens to return home as soon as possible.

If you were already abroad “in countries where commercial departure options remain available,” you were to “arrange for immediate return.” If you did not do that, you had to be “prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period.” The advisories noted that countries with COVID-19 outbreaks were “closing borders,” mandating quarantines, and prohibiting non-citizens from entry “with little advance notice.” Moreover, it warned that airlines had canceled many international flights: “Your travel plans may be severely disrupted, and you may be forced to remain outside [the country] for an indefinite timeframe.”

Notice that the presumption of the travel advisories is that people had traveled by air. Neither government said a word about driving across the border. Neither government explicitly defined “essential.” Neither government explained that “closing borders” did NOT mean the border was actually closed – it was closed to everything but that undefined “essential” travel.

The online universe of English-language travel advice for Huatulco – and Mexico as a whole – went wild. Snowbirds, expats, and tourists, anxiously working on exit plans, tried to remedy the information deficits in the travel advisories. (Postings are from “On the Road in Mexico” and “Huatulco – What’s Up … Happening,” and have been edited for clarity.)

Asking for suggestions for friends en route to British Columbia but still in Mexico: “The room they booked in Tucson for tomorrow night has just closed. Now they are worried the rest of their trip [will be] CLOSED CLOSED CLOSED. Anything they should know that I can pass on to them?”
Reply: They are screwed.

Report from someone who crossed at Nogales: I heard the Mx. Border is closed today … Does this mean that Canadian gringos will have to ship their vehicles around the USA?
Query: Does anyone know if a Canadian would be allowed to travel through to reach Canada? Tried to call every number I can find and can’t get through.

Report: Tomorrow night. Land border shutdown begins. US/CDN.
Reply: Stop repeating this sh*t, you idiot.
Administrator (“On the Road in Mexico”): Name calling will not be tolerated … PLEASE and THANK YOU.

Report: Bill Gates told us about the Coronavirus in 2015.

Comment on a report of border crossing: Thanks so much for posting. The huge mass of mis-information has been frustrating and of no possible help.
Reply to comment: I don’t think any country will close a border to its own citizens! You are essential.
Another reply: Did you have to show your passports?

Query: Am I officially screwed if my return flight to states is on Wednesday (3/24)? I’ve been trying to contact my airline, but they’re busy and never answer.
Report: Sounds like people trying to get home from Mexico with West Jet are getting screwed. Westjet is trying to charge them anywhere from $500 to $1000 per person to change their flights … sad really.

As for Westjet, on Monday, March 16, the airline announced that, based on the Canadian government’s call to Canadians to return and its recommendations to control the coronavirus, it was suspending all flights as of 11:59 PM, Sunday, March 22.  On March 18, Westjet posted a list of 21 flights between February 12 and March 12 that had carried “guests who have tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19).”  On Saturday, March 21, Westjet posted that, “During this continued time of uncertainty, we’re continuing to bring Canadians home from around the world. Between March 23 and March 25, 2020 we will operate 34 repatriation flights from international destinations to ensure the safe return of WestJet guests and Canadians who remain abroad.”

On March 15, the administrator of “On the Road in Mexico” posted “New Rules, please limit posts on Corona virus, to verified information, no conspiracy theories, guesses, or race blaming, people are worried enough without adding to it with rumors and opinions laying blame.”

On March 20, a member of Huatulco – What’s Up … Happening, created a new Facebook site, “Repatriating Canadians and Americans in Huatulco,” intended to provide updated information.  “As we receive many comments and not always correct information, this site might help alleviate your concerns. We urge you to start referring to the information being posted here.”

With so few cases in Mexico, and none in Huatulco, people also contemplated staying in Mexico; on March 18, according to a post citing “the Mexican news,” Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced that “Any foreigners stranded in Mexico needn’t worry about coronavirus treatment should they contract it. President López Obrador said today Mexico will treat and care for any foreign patients with Covid-19 because medical attention is ‘a basic right.’ ”  Foreigners would receive “full protection and attention. If they are infected, we will take care of them here regardless of their country of origin because that’s universal brotherhood.”

Recall that just the day before (March 17), NBC News had reported that AMLO had been “ripped” and “slammed” for “disregarding his own government’s social distancing guidelines,” trusting to “luck” and his “moral strength” to combat the virus.  The post about healthcare for foreigners elicited strongly divided comments.

Comment:  Universal brotherhood and universal medicare.  Now that’s a powerful combination!  Way to go Mexico.
Comment:  Geez, guys, careful, saying it and doing it are two different things.

Comment:  Wonderful news!  What a Great Leader!!
Comment:  Wow!  That is impressive!  This is how it should be done right now everywhere.  People need to unite.
Comment:  They SAY what you want to hear. However, they are not staffed or stocked to help the masses of poor.
Comment:  Fantastic … GOD bless President Lopez Obrador!

Repost (March 20): “Mexico City Nurses hold a demonstration outside a Major Hospital to protest lack of supplies, training and support to battle Coronavirus.”

Query: How many ventilators in Huatulco?
Reply: I’m sure you’re going to get a ventilator inMexico.
Reply: I heard only 2 in the area from a friend whose husband has COPD. They have checked it out already and are on their way home.
Reply: Some say Mexico could become the next Italy, for lack of awareness. So be prepared!

And on March 20, right in the middle of it all:

Question: I was at Secrets in February and they had the best frozen margaritas! I think the bar tender was only using ice, tequila and Gran Marnier but was wondering if maybe he used bar lime or something else, because I can’t replicate it. It was the same recipe when we went into town and stopped for a drink. Anyone know the recipe?
Replies: So far, there have been 21.

And How Is Huatulco Responding?

Quick to appear was an online campaign on the theme, “Don’t cancel, change the date – Save Mexican Tourism.” In Huatulco, online advice from two residents was more on the theme of “Just go home.”

My heart is sad, better return everyone to Canada. I know what will happen, we will be too difficult. Huatulco lives on tourism; unfortunately, Huatulco does not have a hospital. This disease will come here … restaurants, hotels are thinking of closing. I think it [leaving] will be the best.

Please go home with your fear, do what is good for you, stop spreading fear … we live in paradise, find a physician to cure your mental illness, we don’t believe in fake news. Thank you, but no thank you.

And gone they are, the snowbirds and short-term tourists.

Several restaurants have closed, others have limited hours, and many are now offering takeout and delivery. Amigos de la Música canceled its March concert. The Mercado Organica de Huatulco has been suspended. The municipio of San Miguel del Puerto has closed access to all three major waterfalls, the zipline, and the cooperative eco-adventure business El Remolino. Service providers were requesting cancellation of events for the Fourth Friday of Lent (Samaritan Day, March 20); some events were held, including the traditional dances in Santa María Huatulco, but the municipio president, Giovanne Gonzales Garcia, reported that activities were curtailed, and no foreigners attended. There were fireworks, including the traditional “Burning the Castle.” That day, Huatulco hotels reported a 35-40% occupancy rate.

Schools were closed two weeks early, from March 20 – April 20, for the Santa Semana break. Santa Semana, the period between Palm Sunday (April 5) and Easter (April 12), is a major tourism event in all of Mexico. Apparently Cancun has upped its advertising and hotel discounts to try to entice national visitors to fill the emptied rooms, but Huatulqueño hoteliers predict a complete collapse of Santa Semana tourism. In Oaxaca, they have begun to worry about whether the 2020 Guelaguetza (July 20 – July 27) will take place.

And the Future?

One of the big changes in Huatulco lately – construction. Hotels, retail, and condos are popping up here, there, and everywhere. As can be seen in the number of abandoned, half-finished structures, though, construction depends in large measure on cash flow.

More serious is the possibility the pandemic will cause widespread health impacts; without sufficient preventive measures, which seem slow in coming in March, will Mexico’s generally solid health system be overwhelmed? While the health system for foreigners is woefully lacking, for Mexicans there’s a basic public healthcare system for low-income residents, a plethora of pharmacies, and a good number of hospitals and clinics.

Mexico’s health system does have some infrastructure issues, and the AMLO government has changed some fundamental processes. The hospital coverage is concentrated in urban/urbanized areas, so the size and quality of facilities in remote places isn’t great – these are precisely the places that will be wiped out if a single case appears. Since more than half of Mexican workers are self-employed in informal activities, they can’t readily stay home and self-isolate – basically another cash flow issue.

Implementation of AMLO’s changes to the public health system has been rocky, and whether the new insurance coverage for IMSS-Bienestar, called Instituto de Salud de Bienestar (INSABI), will work is debatable. Worst of all, analysts say INSABI will need a major cash infusion if COVID-19 services are to be covered. AMLO’s approach to spending money is not to spend it, in the name of “republican austerity.” The international Organization for Economic and Community Development (OECD) recommends that a country spend 9% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on health care. Mexico is one of only five countries that spends less – in 2018, Mexico spent only 5% of GDP on health care.

What will Huatulco be like when we come back? Will we all come back? ¿Quien sabe?

Editorial March 2020

By Jane Bauer

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
Audre Lorde

I was just finishing up this issue of the magazine, the editorial hanging over me as I pondered what I would write about. My mind drifted over the injustices I have faced or my friends have faced; sexual harassment and assaults, underestimation in the workplace, a culture that uses our form to sell everything from soda to cars, a culture that sexualizes us in almost every context.

I got home, poured myself a well-earned glass of wine and was feeling a little self-pity over my femininity when there was a knock on my front door. With a heavy sigh of annoyance I opened up to find a girl I know from the village where I live. M. is my daughter’s age and when they were little she would often come knocking to see if she could come in to play. My daughter was not very interested in this friendship, but I would make her acquiesce and they would visit for awhile, the other girl seeming to marvel at my daughter’s toys, dresses and pretty room. Eventually, to my daughter’s relief, I would send the girl away saying that it was time for homework.

The girls grew up and my daughter is just finishing up her second year at university in CDMX. She lives with four other girls in a modern highrise. Her social media is a frenzy of art galleries and trendy restaurants.

In contrast, M. has two young children and a young baby clutches to her chest as I open the door. Despite the hardships life has dealt her she always wears a pearly white smile and bright eyes. She asks me if I have any work. I don’t have any work at the moment and even if I did, she is the primary care giver for her kids and does not have a strong support network that would permit her to take on a job. Her mother is gone, her father was sexually abusive, her two younger sisters also now have children and there is no beacon of light or event that is looming in the future to change or improve her circumstances.

The world is full of young women like M. The numbers of women on this planet who do not have access to education is astounding. The numbers of women who live in situations in which they do not decide their fate is intolerable. The numbers of women who live in fear of sexual abuse is shameful. Gender inequality is a cancer on our humanity.

March 8th is International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. But it is not enough to celebrate the achievements of women who have exceeded what was expected of them. We must acknowledge all the women whose potential is suffocated by economic disparity, lack of access to healthcare and education and by abuse. Those of us who are drowning in privilege must find the way to help all women rise.

See you next month,

Jane

Badass Women of Mexico

By Renee Biernacki

The status of women in Mexico has changed dramatically over time. As long as Mexico was an overwhelmingly rural country, economic and social opportunities were not possible for women. Today, there are many awe-inspiring Mexican women who have made daily sacrifices for human rights, meaningful art, and charitable contributions. Here are four of the badass women you should know.

Hermilda Galinda, a journalist and Mexican feminist who advocated for women’s rights, is considered the Mother of the Mexican feminist movement. In the early 20th century, she used her writing as a weapon against patriarchy and to initiate a movement to transform Mexico’s sexist (“macho”) way of thinking. She created La Mujer Moderna (Modern Woman), a magazine that discussed the Catholic church and its views and methods of control. She challenged social norms that expected women to remain in the home. Her radical views were especially dangerous, but did not stop her from spreading her message. In 1917, she spoke at Mexico’s very first Feminist Congress. Hermilda was greatly criticized and condemned for her beliefs on education for women, sex education in schools, divorce, and birth control. Today this revolutionary feminist is celebrated for making her mark towards a modern and more equal Mexico. Total badass.

Matilde Montoya played an important role in the history of medicine as the first female physician in Mexico. She was ridiculed and described as a reckless and dangerous woman for trying to become a doctor. She began her career as the first official female midwife at the age of 16. In 1882, at the age of 24, she entered the National Medical School in Mexico City, graduating in 1887 at the age of 29 – Mexico’s first female doctor. Later, she got her doctorate in medicine in 1887. Later, she became a surgeon and obstetrician.

Matilde made history that forever changed the course of medicine for women. This was a significant opening of the door for all women interested in studying medicine. By overcoming opposition, Montoya also aided in the social establishment of women’s rights and the movement toward unbiased opportunities in education and employment. Super badass.

Elvia Carrillo Puerto was a Mexican socialist politician and feminist activist. She is credited with starting many feminist leagues focused on numerous tasks promoting women’s rights. Starting in Merida in 1912, her organization led a campaign against prostitution, alcoholism, superstition, fanaticism, and the use of drugs. Elvia aided in the founding of the American Birth Control League now known as Planned Parenthood. After women were permitted the right to vote and hold office, she was elected in 1923 as a member of the state legislature in the Yucatan, the first woman to hold a position of this nature in Mexico. Her tireless dedication to the women’s movement earned her the nickname La Monja Roja (The Red Nun). To honor her contributions to Mexican government, she was officially decorated as a Veteran of the Revolution. Extreme badass.

Norma Romero Vasquez is a founding member of a women’s group in Veracruz called Las Patronas (Patron Saints). Norma, her sisters, and other local women have been helping feed migrants since 1995. The train known as La Bestia (The Beast) passes through a small community in Veracruz at a very high speeds. While passing through, the migrants would yell “Madre, we’re hungry!” Norma decided to devise a plan. As an instinctive act of kindess and charity, she suggested making 30 simple ration packs consisting of rice, beans, and corn tortillas. Daily they would toss the donations to the migrants escaping from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua while heading to the U.S. border atop the train. Now, twice daily, 365 days a year, Las Patronas hands out hundreds of packets of food and water on this very dangerous beast of a train. In 2013, these women were awarded the National Human Rights Prize for their humanity through an act of grace and generosity. Mega badass.

These remarkable women have positively influenced and enriched society. Through their hard work, undeniable courage, dedication, and passion they have led many Mexican women to move forward into a better Mexico.

 

 

What Happened with NAFTA?

By Jan Chaiken and Marcia Chaiken

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect in 1994 and effectively made the US, Mexico, and Canada into a single trading zone without tariffs for many products, or lower tariffs than applied to other trading partners. While the treaty was originally envisioned as a mechanism for creating new employment opportunities and enhancing working conditions and standards, its main impacts were an enormous increase in the amount of goods traded among the three nations and a sudden spurt of Mexican nationals moving to the US for employment (a migration that ended after a few years but left a large residue of Mexican citizens living and working in the US). NAFTA also stimulated the creation of entirely new methods of production between the US and Mexico. US companies export intermediate components to manufacturing companies in Mexico, which assemble the finished product and export it back to the US. As a result, now over 40% of the content of goods imported into the US from Mexico is of US origin. This form of cooperation has helped make US businesses more globally competitive,

Even before he was elected president, Donald Trump declared NAFTA to be the worst trade deal ever made, and after he took office, he initiated renegotiation of the treaty. A revised treaty was signed by the presidents of the US and Mexico and the prime minister of Canada on November 30, 2018, a date chosen specifically because the next president of Mexico, an outspoken opponent of NAFTA, took office the following day. In addition, the Democratic party had already been elected to a majority in the US House of Representatives, but the new members had not yet assumed power to assert their objections to the treaty. This effort by the signers to nail down a new treaty in the face of obvious forthcoming impediments did not succeed, and eventually the trade negotiators returned to the bargaining table. The revised version of the new treaty was ratified by the Senate of Mexico in December 2019 and by the US Congress and President by the end of January 2020. Canada waited for the other parties to act on revisions, and now the ratification process has begun in Canada but may take several months more. The new treaty will take effect 90 days after all three countries have ratified it.
The renegotiated treaty is called USMCA in the United States and T-MEC in Mexico. (The government of Mexico always invents more pronounceable acronyms!.) All told, what are the changes? Despite the bombast and rhetoric that arose from interested parties, the new treaty is remarkably similar to NAFTA. The main effect of enacting a new treaty is to end uncertainty as to whether there will be any treaty at all going into the future – if NAFTA had been simply terminated, the normal operations of many companies would have been thrown into substantial chaos.

Among its changes are a requirement that more components for vehicles be produced in the three countries in order to avoid tariffs, and a provision that 40% of each vehicle must eventually be produced by workers who earn at least $16 US per hour (about 3 times as much as is currently paid to the average Mexican factory worker). Trump has touted this provision as necessarily returning more automobile production to the United States and a subsequent increase in jobs for Americans. But if average wages for Mexican auto workers go up by increasing the salaries of industry administrators, low paid jobs will remain in Mexico and prices for U.S. cars and trucks will noticeably rise.

The treaty also gives US dairy farmers access to a larger proportion of the Canadian dairy market than in the past. In particular, more American cheese, milk and butter can be sold in Canada. Correspondingly US consumers will have access to more Canadian dairy products. Canadian sugar can also be marketed in the U.S.

Perhaps ironically, the most sweeping changes in the new NAFTA were proposed, not by the Trump administration but by Democrats in the US Congress. These included provisions related to new labor laws in Mexico that will allow Mexican workers to form independent unions, prevent forced labor, and have increased control of their contracts. The final USMCA treaty includes benchmarks and inspection protocols that will allow enforcement of the labor provisions. Other late changes to the treaty protect the environment by preventing outsourcing of pollution and related jobs to Mexico, but no specific benchmarks for controlling climate change were included in the renegotiated treaty. The Democrats also won a concession from Trump with a provision change that prevents large drug companies from retaining the rights to a class of extremely expensive pharmaceuticals for ten years and from obstructing the sale of equally effective generic forms of the drugs.

One of Mexico’s main original goals in negotiating a new trade agreement was to update and modernize the list of products so as to include ones that didn’t exist when NAFTA went into effect or that had changed substantially in their nomenclature or mode of manufacture or distribution since 1994. The text of the new treaty covers a variety of digital products and intellectual property rights that were not previously included.

Although the ratification of the new NAFTA provides more certainty in the Mexican, American, and Canadian markets, true to his style of governing by chaos, Trump inserted a sunset provision in the treaty. Any one of the three partner countries can pull out of the treaty six years after all have signed and, after a substantial delay, leave the trading partnership. But, by then, the Trump administration will be over, gone; it is hoped that North America and the rest of the world will be back on track to improving global prosperity rather than serving strictly corporate interests.

The Zapatista Women

By Jan Chaiken and Marcia Chaiken

The Zapatistas are an organized activist group in the Mexican state of Chiapas, east of the state of Oaxaca and bordering on Guatemala. They perhaps are best remembered for their military occupation of numerous towns in Chiapas and hostile takeover of city squares in 1994 during their march to demand changes from the federal government in Mexico City. Currently, however, they are a peaceable, grassroots leftist movement that works in cooperation with the federal government of Mexico and the state of Chiapas.

The Zapatistas are recognized for developing successful local structures for political, economic, and cultural autonomy. Their adherents are mostly indigenous people (primarily Mayan), although the leader of the movement from the beginning (then known as Subcomandante Marcos) is not indigenous Maya. The Zapatistas went public and began taking control of territory in Chiapas on the day that NAFTA went into effect in 1994, as a symbolic way of emphasizing their opposition to globalization and their anticipation that NAFTA would have deleterious effects on rural and indigenous communities – an assessment which turned out to be basically correct.

From their founding in 1983 until they went public in 1994, the Zapatistas gradually built their membership, organizational structure, and laws that would govern their operations. In December 1993 they enacted their “Revolutionary Law of Women,” which was the foundation for the role of women in their movement. This 1993 law provided that women, without regard to their race, creed, or political affiliation, could hold positions in battle or leadership according to their desire and ability. The law stated that women would have equal pay, access to employment and land; could decide how many children to have; had first preference (along with their children) for medical attention; could select their partners; were not obligated to marry; and were protected by legal provisions against assault and maltreatment.

Although these idealistic assertions seem forward-looking even today, they were in marked contrast with the actual status of indigenous women elsewhere and represent continuing aspirations for activist Zapatista women in their own communities. Elsewhere in Chiapas and many other Mexican states, indigenous women are normally prevented from owning or inheriting land. They are typically forced into arranged marriages at young ages and often have 10 or more children.

Still, at the turn of the millennium, over half of indigenous women had no knowledge of contraception and a larger proportion had no access to contraceptives. Obtaining an abortion was very difficult and, if done, often fatal. As among many other indigenous groups in North America, domestic violence was widespread and the disappearance of many women without explanation was relatively commonplace.

According to historians, the participation of women as Zapatista guerrillas far exceeded their role in any other revolutionary or political movement in Latin America. Two women, Comandanta Ramona and Comandanta Susana, were top-ranking and well-known figures in communicating between the armed forces and the pueblos being run by the Zapatistas. By 2004, women constituted a third of the armed forces of the Zapatistas, and half of the support personnel. The influence of a handful of women in key leadership roles transformed the lives of women in the movement. Working within the Zapatista structure enabled the women to free themselves from the misery of their previous ways of living, to take on a wide range of responsible occupations, to select when and whom they marry, to have 2 to 4 children, and to fight for better conditions of health, literacy, education and justice for their communities, particularly women.

Initially the focus of women’s participation was to support the revolution, but gradually the Zapatistas took on a statewide and national mission of ending economic gender inequality, dismantling patriarchy, fighting violence against women, and investigating the disappearance of women. At the national level in Mexico, the Zapatistas have taken an unwavering anti-capitalist stance and are committed to local solutions to problems. For example, alcohol is prohibited in Zapatista-controlled villages — a measure that has reportedly substantially reduced domestic violence.

Beginning in 2018, the women Zapatistas have expanded their horizons by sponsoring international “gatherings of women who struggle.” Their invitation to participate in the 2019 gathering stated, “We fight against discrimination at home, in the street, at school, at work, on public transportation, against both those people we know and those who are strangers. . . . [Some] want to tell us we’re asking for it, that we are at fault for dying. No, we aren’t simply dying, we are being raped, murdered, cut up and disappeared. Anybody who faults us is sexist, and even women can demonstrate sexist thinking.” They are highlighting and addressing a problem that persists not only in Chiapas, not only in Mexico, but among indigenous women in numerous countries. Activists have established the social media hashtag #MMIW (missing and murdered indigenous women) to bring attention to this violence.

In the run up to the 2019 international gathering in Chiapas, the US president issued an executive order to establish a task force on missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives. It stated that there is an ongoing and serious problem of missing and murdered indigenous people in the US, especially women and girls. Federal studies in the US have shown that native women are killed at a rate 10 times the national average. Other studies have made clear that men who rape, assault and murder indigenous women in the US are more likely to be white than Indian. Simply convening a task force to talk about these statistics is unlikely to bring about any change.

Twenty years ago pioneering collaborations between US city police, county sheriffs, tribal police, tribal councils and victim service organizations were making progress toward establishing networks that endangered women could access and escape violence. The amount of federal funds needed to foster these local collaborations was minimal and served primarily to validate and bolster these services. When the US federal administration changed, the funds and focus were withdrawn. It is about time that, heeding the cry of the Zapatista and other indigenous women, federal, state and local governments collaborate to provide access to services so desperately needed to save lives.