Sunday, June 24, 2007


Fortress America

A border fence with a hole big enough for
Mexican trucks


If we define one slice of "globalization" as the effort of
multinational corporations to cut costs by exploiting cheaper labor
overseas, then the Mexican trucker fight offers as good a
demonstration as one could hope to find on how fraught with
contradictions the whole project is. Globalization requires more
permeable borders while security concerns demand bigger walls. But
bigger walls -- the creation of an impregnable Fortress America in
which no al-Qaida sleeper cell, illegal immigrant, or pollution-
belching Mexican trucks can get through -- could just as easily fuel
the kind of anti-American resentment that makes achieving true
security impossible. And attempting to protect the standard-of-
living differential that exists between the U.S. and Mexico (by, for
example, keeping cheaper Mexican truckers out) only serves to
maintain the very imbalance that spurs people to cross the border,
legally or illegally, in the first place.

[The rest of the article follows below and is well worth the read. The issue over the Mexican trucks shows just one of the many ways America uses the NAFTA agreement for its own advantage and the oppression of others.]

A border fence with a hole big enough for Mexican trucks
On Tuesday, a House Subcommittee on Transportation Security and
Infrastructure Protection held a hearing on "Cross-Border Trucking
Threats." At one point, Stephen Russell, the founder, chairman and
CEO of Celadon Group Inc., one of the dozen largest trucking
companies in the United States, compared the situation in North
America to that of Europe.

If you put yourself in Europe and were a pasta maker in Venice and
had an order to ship pasta in a truckload to Amsterdam, it wouldn't
go in an Italian truck to the French border, a French truck to the
Belgian border, Belgian truck to the Dutch border, Dutch truck to
Amsterdam. It would be taken by an Italian truck or a Dutch truck
going through.

And that's how it works for Canadian truckers in North America --
they drive from Canada across the border into the U.S. and then back
again. But not Mexican truckers. They must unhook their trailers
just south of the border, where their cargo is transferred by local
trucking companies across the customs line and then shifted to
American trucks. For years, the Bush administration has been
attempting to fulfill a requirement of NAFTA that would permit
Mexican truckers the same freedom to operate as Canadian truckers. A
pilot program is supposed to allow 100 Mexican trucking companies to
start hauling goods across the border this summer, but has been
delayed by congressional opposition.

Resistance to letting Mexican truckers roam the U.S. interstate
highway system has been orchestrated by an odd-bedfellows alliance
of environmental organizations, independent truckers and the
Teamsters Union. But at the subcommittee hearing there were only
glancing references to the concerns often expressed by such groups
as to the safety or environmental cleanliness of Mexican trucks.
This was an opportunity for politicians to bolster their homeland
security profiles. So there was much grandstanding by both Democrats
and Republicans, who asked what they hoped would seem like tough
questions about how security would be enforced at the border. How
accurate are the databases of truck drivers? How would we know where
the truckers go after they cross the border? How do we determine
which trucks would be designated high-risk and require closer
attention? There were imposing references to all kinds of
technological fix-it solutions: "large-scale X-ray and gamma imaging
systems and a variety of radiation portal detection devices."

It was all a waste of hot air. The real issue underlying the Mexican
trucker controversy is not terrorism or the environment. It's
economic. Mexican truckers cost less per mile than either American
truckers or Canadian truckers. The American Trucking Association and
big trucking companies like Celadon support opening up cross-border
trucking, because the big trucking companies are multinational
operations that own fleets of Mexican trucks in addition to their
American and Canadian trucks. They'd love to be able to use their
cheaper Mexican fleets to transport goods all the way to the
ultimate point of destination. Independent truckers would face
tougher competition, so they are naturally opposed.

If we define one slice of "globalization" as the effort of
multinational corporations to cut costs by exploiting cheaper labor
overseas, then the Mexican trucker fight offers as good a
demonstration as one could hope to find on how fraught with
contradictions the whole project is. Globalization requires more
permeable borders while security concerns demand bigger walls. But
bigger walls -- the creation of an impregnable Fortress America in
which no al-Qaida sleeper cell, illegal immigrant, or pollution-
belching Mexican trucks can get through -- could just as easily fuel
the kind of anti-American resentment that makes achieving true
security impossible. And attempting to protect the standard-of-
living differential that exists between the U.S. and Mexico (by, for
example, keeping cheaper Mexican truckers out) only serves to
maintain the very imbalance that spurs people to cross the border,
legally or illegally, in the first place.

Raul Salinas, the mayor of Laredo, Texas, a city in which 13,000
trucks go back and forth across the border every single day, made an
interesting point in his testimony to the subcommittee. If the U.S.
wants assurances as to the safety and security of the Mexican
drivers coming across the border, then it needs good relationships
with Mexican authorities.

You know, one of the problems that we have today is that, if we
don't establish databases, if we don't have the informants, the
confidential informants, if we don't have dialogue with our
neighbors, here we are thinking about -- well, I think it goes
beyond thinking about building a wall, you know. We ought to be
building bridges of friendship.

And really, that's where we have a little bit of a problem. How do I
expect to work with our counterparts, with our business people on
the other side, when we're going to build a fence?

Raul Salinas is the mayor of a city that is an integral part of a
metropolitan area that spans the border, so his discomfort with
anything that makes cross-border interaction harder is easy to
understand. He'd much rather the border between the U.S. and Mexico
was like the border between, say, France and Spain.

How the World Works has previously explored how, during the process
of European Union integration, fears were often expressed that
opening the borders of the European community to poorer countries
like Spain and Portugal would result in a flood of cheaper labor and
consequent economic misfortune for the working classes of the richer
countries. It didn't work out that way at all, but the exact same
fears are now playing out with respect to the integration of the
latest new EU members from Eastern Europe.

Integrating Mexico into a North American equivalent of the EU poses
much greater challenges than EU integration. The economic
disparities are greater, the border is bigger, the cultural
animosities more intense. And it doesn't help at all that the chief
advocates of making it easier to cross the border are those who want
to exploit the cost savings possible by shipping goods in Mexican
trucks. True security will only come when Mexican truckers are paid
as well as American or Canadian truckers. Want cross-border
trucking? How about a cross-border trucker's union?

-- Andrew Leonard


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