The Numbers Are In: NAFTA Has Stolen More Resources from Mexico than 300 Years of Colonialism

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Mexico is now covered with projects engaging in the exploitation of the country’s natural resources. These projects occupy at least 18% of Mexico’s territory, yet 75% of the companies involved in these extractions are from Canada. 

In the period between 2001 and 2017 alone, transnational corporations in Mexico exploited a volume of gold that is twice as large as the Spaniards took from Mexico over 300 years of colonization, and half of the silver explored by colonists, according to a new book by journalist Jesús Lemus, México a cielo abierto (“Mexico under the Open Sky”), published earlier this year.

The growth and nature of these operations has to do with the fact that on January 1, 1994, the three North American countries of Mexico, USA and Canada, signed the free trade agreement, NAFTA.

“Along with NAFTA, a law came into effect that gave mining companies full freedom and preferences over any other production,” Mexican activist Ivette Lacaba explained.

From that moment on, 22,000 concessions were granted to 1,400 mining projects.

Lacaba explained that in this respect a change took place in the form of mining exploration. Now they are not tunnels, but open pit mines. The open form of exploration means that the earth is dynamited and a crater opens, from where the ore is extracted in low concentrations.

“A lot of gold and silver are mined, but the mines were exhausted even in times of colonialism…A tunnel mine is not the same as the open pit: the latter has a much greater impact on the environment, since it uses a lot of water and cyanide or mercury for the leaching of gold and silver,” he explained.

Leaching is a highly toxic chemical process that helps metal to separate itself from the rock.

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“There are data that more ore was extracted over the past years than in the colonial period, which may be correct because of the way of exploiting the deposits. However, this cannot be proven in practice, because today who extracted what and how much is not controlled,” the activist said.

The mechanism installed in Mexico for the purpose of controlling mining companies consists of the following: their own statement on the volume of the ore extracted calculates how much money they must pay. But in fact nobody controls the veracity of these statements.

Since 2014, this production has been taxed with 7.5% tax on the extracted material. In addition, companies can deduct their operating expenses from it, so the final value is not very high.

We say that this is an open robbery, because it is so cheap that it is advantageous to get 0.4 or 0.3 grams of precious metal per one ton of broken rock,” summarizes Lacaba.

When López Obrador became Mexico’s new president, there was hope that the problem could be addressed. However,  Alfonso Romo, the coordinator of the future Mexican cabinet, has said that Mexico remains set on becoming a  “haven for private investment,” a line which has once again lowered the heads of activists and suggests that Mexico’s natural resources will continue to be exploited by uncontrolled, monopolistic foreign companies at an intensity greater than that of earlier historical colonialism. 

In the near future, however, it is nevertheless possible that Mexico will gravitate towards seeking alternatives, especially as one of US President Trump’s policy points has been renegotiating NAFTA, a transformation which might open up a window of opportunity or, in the very least, breathing space.

China has sought to develop its trade ties with Mexico, and in 2015 the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union and Mexico launched a memorandum initiative devoted to deepening economic cooperation. Overall, the decline of US hegemony and the rise of the Eurasian powers championing multipolarity presents a number of opportunities for countries such as Mexico to expand their sovereignty in international relations.

If increased Mexican ties with the rising Eurasian powers of multipolarity and related, popular multipolar initiatives in Latin America are not in the cards, then FRN’s own Joaquin Flores has analyzed an intriguing scenario in which US imperial reform might be channeled into further integration with North and South America, a strategic switch from the “Pax Americana” of Atlanticist globalism to a “Pan Americana” of the Western hemisphere.

While Obrador’s election as president  has been interpreted as a sign of changing winds in Mexican politics, as things stand, Mexico’s natural resources continue to remain in the clutches of the NAFTA scheme, the sustainability of which, judging by these newly available statistics, is highly doubtful. 

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