On January 1, 1994 the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took affect. The agreement has been supported by every U.S. President since George H. W. Bush; this, even though the agreement was not implemented until near the end of the first term of the Clinton administration. During his campaign, President Obama spoke about making some changes to the agreement, but as president, has not made any such proposals.
Upon the implementation of NAFTA, many U.S.-based companies flocked to Mexico in order to flout U.S. environmental regulations, worker-safety rules and minimum-wage standards. As a result of these businesses going south, both American and Mexican workers were deeply hurt. In the United States, decent-paying jobs were lost and blue-collar workers found themselves being forced to compete in the so-called "race to the bottom." Mexicans saw the rise of the so-called maquiladoras - sweatshops that exploited the work force by paying slave wages, virtually eliminating worker-safety concerns, and exploited the land and its people through reckless anti-environmental practices. Many of the companies that created the maquiladoras set up shop along the border regions, but many moved much farther south as well. One such business was a Virginia-based company called Smithfield Farms; this, according to an April 29 article written by Julio Hernándes for La Jornado, one of Mexico's leading daily newspapers.
In his article Hernándes points out that in 1985, Smithfield Farms was found to be in violation of the Clean Water Act at its pig processing facilities in Smithfield, Virginia. The accusation was that they had been dumping vast amounts of hog waste into the Pagan River, which is a tributary that eventually finds its way into the Chesapeake Bay. At that time the company was fined $1,285,000.00. Then, in 1996 one of the company's CEO's was ordered by a Federal Judge to pay $12.6 million and to complete an eighteen month prison sentence. A second Smithfield employee was given a similar sentence for falsifying and destroying records, as well as the intentional discharge of toxins into the river.
According to Hernándes' report, the hog-processing company re-located to the Perote Valley of Vera Cruz under the name of Granjas Carroll (Carroll Ranches) near a town of approximately three thousand inhabitants known as La Gloria. Here he alleges, the company has been allowed to carry out gross environmental violations with total disregard toward the local population; this, with the full protection of the state and federal government since it first relocated there - including the full protection of the current Calderón Administration.
Other news reports seem to support these accusations of government complicity. An article dated April 6 , which also appeared in La Jornada summed up the situation this way:
"Clouds of flies emanate from the rusty lagoons where the Carroll Ranches business tosses the fecal wastes of its pig farms, and the open-air contamination is already generating an epidemic of respiratory infections in the town of La Gloria, in the Perote Valley, according to Town Administrator Bertha Crisóstomo López."
Further, the local newspaper Marcha on April 15 laid the entire blame for what it called an epidemic in La Gloria on Carroll Ranches. Interestingly enough, neither the Mexican nor the U.S. government acknowledged that a problem existed until April 24. It must be mentioned here that La Jornada is one of Mexico's largest newspapers - if not the largest!
Since the implementation of NAFTA, the filthy and unhealthy conditions - the utter disregard for the people of Mexico and the environment in which they live has been the dirty little secret of politicians and their corporate masters alike. Now, it would appear, the genie has been let out of the bottle; and, that genie's name is H1N1 - swine flu - a virus that has put the entire world on alert due to its potential for the creation of a world-wide pandemic. An occurrence such as this flu outbreak was just about inevitable - just a matter of time considering the horrific conditions with which so many have had to contend since the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement; Then there are those who continue to propagate the philosophy of Laissez-faire economics - a philosophy by which government completely abides by a hands-off policy toward business; this, in spite of the overwhelming evidence that such hands-off policies practically invite environmental abuse, worker exploitation and sometimes, even human-rights violations.
Somewhere in America - all across this country actually, there are those who call themselves true patriots. In their private e-mails and conversations, as well as publicly on their countless radio-talk shows, they denounce environmentalists for "hating America." These so-called conservatives constantly attempt to demonize persons that believe in environmental preservation and regulation by calling them communists, socialists, Nazis - any derogatory term they can come up with. Still, the swine flu is now out there - rapidly spreading from state to state and from country to country, threatening who knows how many people - and to think that it all could have been avoided with some sensible environmental regulation!
For more on this subject in English you can go to the Narco News Bulletin.