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Poor had the chance and they blew it? - Saul Landau

16 Sep 1999

Latin America Committee spokesperson, Paul Bruce, said that they were well pleased with the support given to the tour of internationally-known film maker, playwright and American author Saul Landau, and his unique collection of films. Audiences of 100 to 150 attended functions in Dunedin, Christchurch, Blenheim, Nelson, Wellington and Auckland. Saul Landau was well covered by local media, featured on the Kim Hill show, and breakfast TV (7 to 9).

Speaking at the APEC Monitoring Group Conference in Auckland, Saul Landau claimed that Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were the most effective teachers of the millennium (Clinton has been better at sex education).. Almost single handedly, they taught the world that Government was evil (apart from military and police forces), and "level playing fields" would bring prosperity to all. The Poor had "had their chance, and they blew it"- now was the time to eliminate social welfare and aid. This, he said, had lead to a lack of democracy and an unwillingness to confront the power of the multinational.

Chapter 11 of the NAFTA free trade agreement between Canada, USA and Mexico, gave the right to corporations to sue Governments. In a recent decision, the Canadian Government paid compensation to an American company for banning a documented carcinogen. These type of actions led to a "Chill Effect" where respective governments soften their legislation rather than risk further litigation. NAFTA led to an overall loss of jobs and general lowering of wages. 10,000 Mexican women working in El Paso in needle work jobs for Levi earning $8 per hour, lost their jobs to other Mexican women across the border who were then paid 85c an hour. The unemployed women in the States then sought work as child care workers. General Motors is now the largest employer in Mexico with 300,000 workers, and has saved $30,000 per worker in the shift across the border. Other corporations have shifted in from European and Asia countries, one of the worst being Hunydai from South Korea, who employs black belt karate experts to maintain order in the factories.

$US20 billion was set aside in the NAFTA agreement for the cleanup of the border region, but less than $1 million has been spent and the area remains a foul mess. Managers are worried about the bottom line and throwing the PCBs to the river is necessary to ensure continued high profits and large bonuses. Saul's film "Laboring on Border's Edge" describes the disastrous social and environmental effects of industries set up on the borders of Mexico as part of the North American free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Property rights have become more important than human rights. East Timor is a good example, where the US is reluctant to move against the carnage because of its property interests in Indonesia. However, US law has already been successfully applied against one Indonesian General for the massacre of Kamahl Bamadaj and others in Dili earlier this decade. Saul believes that is possible to freeze accounts and indict General Wiranto and other Indonesian Generals for crimes against humanity. The legal framework has already been done with respect to Pinochet, former President of Chile, who is now awaiting extradition to Spain for crimes against humanity.

In the case of environmental and labour law, Saul says that international environmental standards need to be set, and then enforced by an international body which is able to fine the Corporates - not individual countries - for infractions. This should also apply to wages, which need to be indexed to productivity.

Workers in Mexico's maquiladora sector have seen their wages fall 23% in the five years since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect in 1994. Despite generating 40% of Mexico's hard currency, maquiladoras fail to develop the country's internal market. This export-oriented economic model--which is being applied in agreement with NAFTA's regulations--makes developing nations more susceptible to international breakdowns, as happened during the recent crisis in the Asian countries, which also had based their economic growth on an exportation policy. Low wages in the sector are because of "labor flexibility... [and because] defense by unions is almost non-existent. More democracy is needed with solidarity for independent unions.

The Salant Corporation, a New York-based garment manufacturer, agreed last month to pay $30 million to settle a lawsuit by the families of 14 Mexican employees killed in an accident on a company bus in 1997; the bus was taking the employees to work in a maquiladora in northern Mexico near the US border. Labor rights advocates said the settlement would help step up pressure on US companies to improve safety standards in US-owned maquiladoras. The suit was brought in a Texas state court rather than in Mexico, where injury awards tend to be much lower.

In Mexico, article 27 of the Mexico constitution, protected the "ejido" lands of the indigenous peoples and gave them the right to acquire additional lands from unproductive holdings of the rich. This protection was overturned by President Salinas in 1994 as part of the NAFTA agreement and has allowed the rapid alienation of indigenous lands by unscrupulous developers. Free trade has lead to the dumping of low priced grains such as corn on the Mexican market, with the result that small farmers are forced to sellup, unable to compete.

(Trade Aid has a partnership with Mayan Farmers in Chiapas who grow organic coffee for sale under Trade Aid's ORECO brand name in New Zealand. This "fair trade" relationship helps free the Mayan farmers from the poverty trap and allows for some profits to go toward community initiatives such as health and education)

The Province of Chiapas contains large oil resources and the Lacondon rainforest. The indigenous Mayans also live there and are at present occupied by an army of 60,000 Mexican soldiers. The Zapatistas, who led a brief insurrection in 1994 led by Commandante Marcos are the subject of Saul Landau's film, "The Sixth Sun". In August, an attempt to push a new road into the rainforest (in the region around the Montes Azules biosphere preserve) set off a two-week confrontation between Mexican security forces and hundreds of civilian supporters of the rebel Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN). Some 6,000 people demonstrated in San Cristobal de las Casas in the Chiapas Highlands. About 2,000 indigenous campesinos marched in the Chiapas town of Altamirano and another 4,000 protested in Ocosingo. Protests also took place at Mexican consulates in the US.

"Fidel" and "The Uncompromising Revolution", only shown in some centres, gave an entirely different perspective of the Cuban revolution and Castro, to that normally found in western media.

Further showings of all films are planned. Saul Landau, has also made available copies of other films, such as Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang (1980), The CIA Case Officer (1978) and Conversation with Allende (1971), which can be borrowed from the organisers.

The Saul Landau tour was part of the Alternative APEC programme.

For further information contact: Paul Bruce, Latin America Committee Tel (04) 3898 699

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