Stop CANAMEX, Stop the Intermountain West Corridor and I-11! Stop the Sun Corridor! Stop the 202!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

From Ayotzinapa to Arizona: NAFTA Persists

You might not think Arizona has anything to do with the 43 disappeared students from Ayotzinapa in Guerrero state in Mexico. But these disappearances had a lot to do with trade and NAFTA specifically. Arizona is spending billions of dollars on roads as trade corridors (I-11/CANAMEX, etc.) and ports of entry at the border, in addition to the accompanying border security. NAFTA requires not just the violence of border security, that of displacement and loss of jobs, but also state repression and the violence of the drug war, which are intimately connected.

The main Arizona-based proponent of NAFTA is former Congressman Jim Kolbe, who would seem in complete denial about the situation in Mexico. True, the shit hadn't quite hit the fan in Mexico when he was glorifying NAFTA at an event combined with a golf tournament in Tubac less than a month ago. At that point, news about the students' disappearance was spreading across the world as police were searching for the mayor of Iguala and his wife who were the likely masterminds of the attack. This story of the students does not have that much to do with Arizona specifically. However, students from their particular teachers college were known to protest the neoliberal reforms of President Nieto and others, and even though they may not have been doing the same on the day of their disappearance in Iguala, this is why they were targeted. Those neoliberal reforms, praised by Kolbe, continue in order to make Mexico a safer place for foreign investment, not for the people. Some Arizona elites want a cozy trade relationship with Mexico. Kolbe likely isn't ignorant of this situation even as he paints a pretty picture. He and colleagues of his who were also involved in the creation of NAFTA (one of whom was also involved in the Iran/Contra Affair, another in the military coup against Allende in Chile) are clearly seeking to continue the free trade agenda.

The attack on the students was not simple state repression, due to the relationship between the narcos and the state. In a recent interview, Laura Carlsen explains what is called "Arming NAFTA" (or "Armoring NAFTA"),
which means that there’s a series of mechanisms—the drug war being the most important—that are really aimed at militarizing the country in order to protect foreign investment. So, as that becomes even more intensified with the greater investment in oil and gas, including fracking, including things that are going to be devastating to Mexican communities and to the Mexican environment, there’s going to be more emphasis on the militarization, not to fight the drug cartels, because they haven’t even really been doing that, and certainly not been doing that effectively, but to fight the resistance of the people to the takeover of their lands and resources.
Kolbe claims that NAFTA contributed to political stability in Mexico and improved the lives of Mexican people, according to his article, "NAFTA is Working" printed around the 20th anniversary of the trade pact. Indeed, the false myths that fed the fear in Arizona leading to SB 1070, such as rumors of violence spreading from Mexico to Arizona in the form of beheadings, (and what happened to Phoenix being the number two kidnapping capitol of the world?) are barely a memory now that the illusion of calm in Mexico has won out. This facade of calm and safety requires violence or the threat of it, but it can get out of control as it perpetuates itself. Kolbe, having been involved in the creation of NAFTA, still has an interest in its functioning no matter the consequences. If Arizona is to spend billions of dollars reorganizing its infrastructure to support trade with Mexico, there's some work to be done.

There are two institutions that play a large part here with which Kolbe has connections. One is the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) and the other is the Merida Initiative also known as Plan Mexico. The SPP lasted from 2005-2009 as an extension of NAFTA functioning largely in secret. Harsha Walia and Cynthia Oka write,
The SPP calls for maximization of North American economic competitiveness in the face of growing exports from India and China; expedited means of resource (oil, natural gas, water, forest products) extraction; secure borders against “organized crime, international terrorism, and illegal migration”; standardized regulatory regimes for health, food safety, and the environment; integrated energy supply through a comprehensive resource security pact (primarily about ensuring that the US receives guaranteed flows of the oil in light of “Middle East insecurity and hostile Latin American regimes”); and coordination amongst defense forces.
The Merida Initiative, allegedly meant to combat the drug trade in Mexico, came out of the SPP. Its emphasis, like Plan Columbia, is on the supply-side rather than largely US demand for drugs. The Merida Initiative is a drug war aid package involving military hardware being provided to the Mexican military (over $2 billion since it began in 2008). So not only does it increase US political power and control in Mexico, it provides the US military industrial complex with further profits. Carlsen pointed out, "There’s a constant lobbying effort on the part of defense companies, intelligence companies and private security firms in the United States to perpetuate the Merida Initiative and to perpetuate the drug war in Mexico." Yes, as long as the drug war, and therefore the drug trade continues, the longer there is need for these aspects of the military industrial complex.

The drug war is used as a way to pull off political assassinations that can be swept under the rug by making it seem that those killed were involved in the drug trade or allowing for them to be overlooked in comparison to much more gruesome mass murders, as John Gibler discusses in a really interesting interview. Laura Carlsen also discusses the so-called collateral damage of the Merida Initiative, which are largely political attacks such as on Zapatista communities, and abuses towards women.

The Merida Initiative has contributed to the militarization of the border as well. "By including 'border security' and explicitly targeting 'flows of illicit goods and persons,' the initiative equates migrant workers with illegal contraband and terrorist threats. This ignores both the root causes of Mexican out-migration and the real demand for immigrant labor in the United States," wrote Carlsen. It is rarely mentioned that so many get involved in the drug trade because that's the only way to make money. NAFTA and other reforms prior and since has led to this situation.

In essence, the power of the state (US and Mexico) to protect foreign investment requires violence--but justified violence. This complicated relationship between the state's need for crime and crime-fighting at the same time is discussed by John Gibler.
...the idea of corruption seems to lose any analytical or descriptive power, right. It's not that there's an otherwise integral pristine state structure that is threatened by some external  contaminating or corrupting force. It's rather that simply for organized crime to function--for it to exist as we know of it today--it must constantly have in its direct employ members of the state. And for the state political programs of drug warring to exist and to be used and manipulated as they are, they need the constant presence of enemy drug warriors with whom to combat.
In this context, it may not be all that surprising that one panelist in favor of continuing the Merida Initiative was a colleague of Kolbe's. John Negroponte who, as America's Ambassador to Honduras, was complicit with human rights violations and was essentially the tactical director of the Contra war. Negroponte claimed ignorance about the Iran Contra Affair, yet there is evidence he was deeply complicit. It's important to note that aside from the international arms trade, money from cocaine trafficking made up part of the unofficial funding to the Contras provided by the US Government.

Kolbe works with Negroponte and others who were involved in NAFTA, as part of the Global Strategies team of McLarty and Associates formerly known as Kissinger McLarty Associates (Kolbe started before Kissinger split from McLarty). Henry Kissinger, known to many as a war criminal, was complicit in the CIA-backed military coup in Chile. Kissinger is famous for calling NAFTA "the single most important decision that Congress would make during Mr. Clinton’s first term…the most creative step toward a new world order taken by any group of countries since the end of the Cold War … not a conventional trade agreement but the architecture of a new international system." Thomas "Mack" McLarty, president of McLarty and Associates, is described as a key figure in the creation of NAFTA and the FTAA and was also involved in the SPP.

Jim Kolbe has played a central role in pushing for the CANAMEX Corridor, the NAFTA trade route connecting Canada, the US, and Mexico that also came out of SPP. Kolbe is the CANAMEX expert for the Arizona-Mexico Commission (AMC) which Kolbe calls the god-father of CANAMEX. Arizona Governor Brewer, who is a chair of the AMC, appointed Jim Kolbe as the chair of the Arizona Governor’s CANAMEX Task Force and is Arizona’s private sector designate to the multi-state CANAMEX coalition which might be defunct, or perhaps has taken new form. According to the AMC website, "the Arizona Governor’s Transportation and Trade Corridor Alliance (TTCA)... encompasses the former CANAMEX Task Force." Kolbe was also appointed by the Governor as co-chair of the TTCA (the other being ADOT Director John Halikowski). Rather than being an extension of the Arizona government, TTCA, with its many private sector members, is more of an extension of AMC. There is a lot of overlap between AMC, TTCA, and transportation committees, as elaborated on in Arizona's Roads Meant for Trade with Mexico Despite Corruption and Violence?
The Arizona Office of Tourism joined up with the TTCA on November 7th, the same day that officials announced that the students had most likely been murdered, incinerated, and dumped in Cocula. "Arizona Should Seize the Moment as Trade Partner with Mexico" was the title of an article by an official with the Arizona Office of Tourism printed last week after protesters torched several government buildings in Mexico in response to the government's indifference. Of course there was no mention of the violence in Mexico in the Arizona Office of Tourism articles. Perhaps Arizona is just slow to realize the implications of what happened in Mexico.

Laura Carlsen explained,
Mexico, with the reforms under Peña Nieto..., is now betting the entire country on foreign investment, especially in the newly opened oil and gas area. And President Obama and the Mexican government and the transnational corporations that are based in the U.S. have been pushing this, and it’s one of the reasons they created this very false image of everything’s great and modern, and Peña Nieto is the great reformer in Mexico, that has now been completely shattered by the revelations not just of the 43 students, but the mass graves and the disappearances and the corruption and collusion throughout the country.
The issue is not so much a moral question about Arizona's participation with this narcoestado whose corruption also involves the favors to a Chinese-led consortium for a $4 billion rail deal in exchange for a mansion. It is more about the ways in which state power is used to enforce these policies favorable to private interests such as multinational corporations, here in Arizona and elsewhere. Multiple Arizona agencies have trade with Mexico as a primary focus. If they don't, the TTCA will make sure they do. Arizona just opened a trade office in Mexico and announced various moves to improve trade and increase security. There are massive plans for shaping the so-called Sun Corridor as a trade hub along CANAMEX or the Intermountain West Corridor which means the I-11 and various other roads that may act as truck bypasses, such as the South Mountain Freeway. Billions of our tax dollars is being funneled in this direction of trade with Mexico, yet we will also not see the benefits of it.

Ayotzinapa's disappeared may be a turning point for Arizona.

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