09 May 2010


"As a result of NAFTA -- The North American Free Trade Agreement -- corporations from all over the world have built factories in Mexico along the U.S. border. Taking advantage of cheap labor and no tariffs, these companies manufacture goods at low cost to be sold in the United States. In Juarez, where there are about 1000 of these factories called maquitadoras, every three seconds a television is produced, every seven seconds, a computer.

"The maquitadoras hire mainly young women because they work for lower wages and complain less about the long hours and harsh working conditions. Most maquitadoras operate 24 hours a day. Many women are attacked while traveling to and from work in the late night and early morning. The companies provide no security for the workers."

~~ prologue from the film "Bordertown"

In point of fact, the situation for maquitadoras workers is one of desperation -- violence, rape, and murder. Femicide, the killing of women, is an epidemic. At least 400 women have been confirmed abducted and killed, with another 5000 missing and presumed dead. I first learned of this horror when I read Diane Washington Valdez' expose "The Killing Fields: Harvest of Women." While her coverage (courageous since she put her own life at risk in gathering information) is set in Ciudad Juarez, this barbaric behavior repeats itself all along the border.
Official crossing points between Mexico and the U.S. generally feature pairs of cities across the border from each other -- e.g., (California) Tijuana and Tijuana, Mexicali and Calexico; (Arizona) Nogales and Nogales, Agua Prieta and Douglas; (Texas) Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, Nuevo Laredo and Laredo, Matamoros and Brownsville. It is at these sister ci
ties where most maquitadoras are clustered. And it is at these same cities on the Mexican side where violence against women workers is concentrated. (see map above, click to enlarge)

Most workers are recruited from central and southern Mexico. There is a pattern of collusiion between the factories and the governments of the U.S. and Mexico. The Mexican government has appropriated land belonging to many rural and small town families, forcing the residents to seek employment elsewhere to feed, clothe and educate their children. They emigrate north, to the border maquitadoras as well as across the border into the U.S. in search of simple survival. Thus the Mexican government establishes a de facto perpetual supply of young women workers to border factories, and the U.S. government clamps a lid on journalists who would publicize the situation and jeopardize relations between the two countries. Local Mexican police making little or no effort to intervene. It has taken brave journalists and human rights organizations like Amnesty International to shine the light of day on this brutal aspect of capitalism. Yet the rapes and murders continue, the bodies left in shallow graves in the desert.

I believe that if more flag-waving xenophobic conservatives who rail against illegal immigrants knew the fuller human story, their opinions might soften. But perhaps not. Even though we are all immigrants, it is always the last ones in who want to close the door on those still outside. Free trade? No, slave trade. Hypocrisy, thy name is patriotism.

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