Notes to accompany the PowerPoint presentation:
"Looking Upstream: The Wal-Marting of Mexico"
prepared by the Illinois Maya Ministry of the Illinois Conference, United Church of Christ
Before Slide 1:
Everyone agrees that the current federal immigration policy is a failed policy. But we rarely ask “Why?” we have the current crisis. This presentation recognizes that the way Wal-Mart works in many of our small communities is very similar to the way our foreign policy operates in Mexico and Central America.
Let me share a story about the way globalization affects us as faith communities. We recognize that there are problems.
The story is told of a faith community that lived along a river. One of the primary missions and ministries of that faith community was to go along the banks of the fast-moving river and save a number of people who had been caught in the current. Some were saved, but the numbers of people were so large and the current so fast, that many more drowned or were forever harmed as they smashed into the large rocks found near the river bank.
Those saved were incredibly grateful, but the community thought it curious that some people saved ended back in the river at a later date. Nevertheless, the faith community took great pride in saving the persons they could.
The congregation even extended its ministry by building a soup kitchen, a transitional apartment, and used clothing was collected. Bread was broken, shelter was given, and clothing was shared.
There came a day when a new member to the congregation joined this ministry and began saving people out of the river. One day, however, after saving three people from the river, this new member could not extend her arms far enough out to save a small child who was knocked unconscious by a large rock and drowned in the river. She was grief-stricken. Others, who had experienced this same grief, consoled her in her grief.
She would not be consoled. Though she had joined this church out of the wonder she saw in this mission and ministry, her grief raised new questions and she now spoke those out loud. “Why are these people in the river? Why? Why would we allow children to be in this river in the first place? Why?”
She was shocked when, through her tears, the rest of the people working with her looked at her in incredulity. “Why?” had never occurred to them. Her heart warmed as she looked through her tears at her sisters and brothers in faith. She knew they had never asked, “Why?” She knew the question had never been asked.
She stood, wiping the tears from her eyes, and said to all of them, “Maybe it is time we leave our small community for a few days and move upstream to see why. Maybe, my new sisters and brothers, we need to move upstream to see why more and more people end up in the river.”
And that day they all left to move upstream.(1)
In a world of globalization and complexity, it is hard to provide accountability for toys for our children, food for our table, and televisions for our entertainment. One of the questions we often fail to ask is why people would leave their homes and their families to try and cross the border at one of the worst parts of the Arizona desert. We are going to try and move upstream.
Show Slide 1
Show Slide 2: Operations
Militarizing and closing the United States/Mexico border through policies such as Operations Triple Strike, Hold the Line, Safeguard, Gatekeeper, Blockade and Rio Grande have forced migrants into a narrower and narrower funnel which treks through the worst part of the Arizona (Sonoran) desert in what has now become a gauntlet of death. Since 1998, over 3,000 people have died trying to cross the border from Mexico into the United States. Some estimates have placed the number of undocumented people crossing the border at 2,000 a day.
Show Slide 3: Water jugs into the desert
We have basically said, “If you can make it through this gauntlet of death, you are welcome here. Welcome. However, you have no labor or international rights and the rights you do have and the rights of those who might care for you are becoming smaller and smaller.
Show Slide 4: On their way
Show Slide 5: The Wal-Marting of Mexico (Read each bulleted point)
Show Slide 6: The Wal-Marting of Mexico
Bullet One: How Wal-Mart Has Used Public Money in Your State. A secret behind Wal-Mart’s rapid expansion in the United States has been its extensive use of public money. This includes more than $1.2 billion in tax breaks, free land, infrastructure assistance, low-cost financing and outright grants from state and local governments around the country.
Illinois: Bloomington Supercenter 2002 $1.5 million
Illinois: Lincoln Supercenter 2007 up to $585,000
Illinois: Mattoon discount store 1988 $1.98 million
Illinois: Taylorville discount store 1981 $2.37 million
Illinois: Vandalia (Supercenter) Supercenter 2004 $1 million
Illinois: Vandalia (former discount store) discount store 1982 $1.65 million
In addition, taxpayers indirectly subsidize the company by paying the healthcare costs of Wal-Mart employees who don’t receive coverage on the job and instead turn to public programs such as Medicaid.
Total number of Wal-Mart Employees in State: 46,467
Estimated number of Wal-Mart Workers on Medicaid: 6,137
Estimated number of Wal-Mart Dependents enrolled in State Health Programs: 3,746
Estimated Total Cost; Federal & State: $52,954,278
Another way Wal-Mart drains funds from local government: the frequent use of property tax assessment challenges.(2)
Bullet Two: Privatize so you can own all public space. In our country, the thought is that we need Wal-Mart for its cheap prices and its jobs. And then when Wal-Mart comes, we lose money that would go back into the local economy and small business owners who have investment in their own community.
Bullet Three: 2004 Answer Book: Announcement of new Wal-Mart SuperCenter was met with the closing of Jerry’s IGA in Urbana.
Bullet Four: Wal-Mart now sells gas and is the largest distributor of organic food.
Show Slide 7: NAFTA, Free Trade, and Globalization as Wal-Marting
Free Trade values embedded in Neo-Liberal Economics and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which went into effect on January 1, 1994. We operate under a neo-liberal economic model defined as “free trade.”
1. Strip an area of its local protection by asking for incentives for you while seeking the end to taxes and tariffs which benefit the local populace’s economic base
a. Cuts corporate tariffs and taxes (leaves nothing for government)
b. Cuts agricultural subsidies (low-interest loans)
i. These subsidies always provided for the poor in Mexico.
ii. The U.S. gives billion of dollars directly to industrial agriculture. Canada does more. Mexico had no chance with their external debt.
c. Cut social spending in Mexico (makes it tougher for individuals to pay off debt to bank)
i. Health care and education now gone.
ii. Food stamps and welfare reform now over
2. Making everything up for sale—privatize, privatize, privatize.
a. Liberalizes land ownership.
b. Deregulates environmental and labor laws
i. Makes investment easier (don’t have to abide by those inconvenient environmental or labor laws.)
ii. No money left to enforce environmental or labor laws.
3. Use your superior economic power to lower prices to the point where competition is driven out of the area.
a. In the United States we lose small business owners, in Mexico this is primarily agricultural jobs in the form of subsistence farmers.
b. Quote from Mexican farmer, Erasto Diaz, Migrant from Ayoquezo: “They have really locked us up with NAFTA. NAFTA was the final straw that left all our people without work and all the land idle. We have been invaded by agricultural products from elsewhere—rice from China, corn from the U.S. These products are all much cheaper than we can produce and of far worse quality. We have completely lost our yellow corn—hardly anyone cultivates yellow corn now. But the most powerful effect is that our land is idle and many plots have been completely abandoned in Ayoquezco and much of Oaxaca. The prices have fallen so much that no one can afford to live off the land. You cannot even recover what you have invested—to say nothing of our labor. The drought has also affected us greatly. The net affect is that the campesino cannot sew a crop and trust that from that crop his family will be able to eat.” (3)
c. Before NAFTA Mexico was self-sufficient (4) but since the beginning of NAFTA corn imports have increased by 6,000 percent.(5)
d. “With NAFTA there are losers and winners; those who benefit are the large agribusinesses like Cargill and Maseca, while the losers are the 2.5 million farmers that plant corn and beans,” laments Miguel Colunga from the Frente Democrático Campesino (6)
i. 1.3 million small farmers in Mexico were immediately driven off the land by the passage of NAFTA.(7)
ii. During the 14 years of NAFTA, 2 million agricultural jobs were lost and each year 300,000 Mexican agricultural workers migrate to the U.S.(8)
iii. Before NAFTA an 80 lb. bag of coffee cost 1400 pesos. After NAFTA, it cost 300-400 pesos. Mexico went from 60% rural to 20%.(9)
iv. Due to the influx of imported corn from the U.S., between 1991 and 2006 corn prices Mexico dropped by 59%.(10)
4. Once the competition is gone, raise prices and expand product base.
a. Tortilla prices spiked by 60% in 2006 and the outcry in Mexico led to price controls.
i. Tom Philpott recounted the story of how corrupt 1980s-era privatization schemes dealt a serious blow to the nutritional value of tortillas. (See the ancient process which actually releases the nutritional value of corn in Philpott)(11)
ii. U.S. ethanol makers use yellow corn, and their heightened demand for it indeed caused its global price to double. But Mexican tortilla makers use white corn, the price of which has not risen nearly as steeply.
b. And tortillas aren't ADM's only source of lucre from our neighbor to the south. After years of pressure from the U.S. Trade Representative's Office, Mexico recently revoked its tariff against high-fructose corn syrup, setting the stage for a gusher of ADM's vile sweetener into Mexico's soft-drink industry.
c. Indeed, the same company responsible for rigging up the U.S. corn-based ethanol market is also profiting handsomely from soaring tortilla prices. Archer Daniels Midland, the leading U.S. ethanol maker and the world's biggest grain buyer, owns a 27 percent stake in Gruma, Mexico's dominant tortilla maker. ADM also owns a 40 percent share in a joint venture with Gruma to mill and refine wheat -- meaning that when Mexican consumers are forced by high tortilla prices to switch to white bread, Gruma and ADM still win. (12)
Show Slide 8: Path to Poverty Diagram
(Slides 8 and 9 can be copied and distributed as a handout that simply describes the root causes of immigration.)
Source of this slide: The Women's Edge Coalition
Show Slide 9: Roots of Migration. (Source of this slide: Witness for Peace)
As a result, people migrate.
a. A report released by a migration working group from the Mexican House of Representatives shows a potential rise of as much as 10% in undocumented immigration to the U.S. and Canada during 2008. The report points out that with the full implementation of NAFTA and the almost 50% decrease in farm subsidies over the past decade, the remaining Mexican corn and bean farmers will be at such an obvious disadvantage that over 600,000 will cross the border in 2008 (as compared with a previous average of 550,000) (13)
b. A recent World Bank study ranked Mexico as the number one exporter of migrants in the world. (14)
Show Slide 10: Mexico
Migration is a safety valve over and against all out revolution. Point out Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Guerrero as the poorest states in Mexico.
Show Slide 11: Zapatistas in Chiapas
On January 1, 1994, (the day NAFTA went into effect) the Zapatista Liberation Army (EZLN) declared war on the Mexican government and occupied four county seats in the state of Chiapas: San Cristobal de las Casas, las Margaritas, Altamirano, and Ocosingo. Its principal demands were "work, land, housing, food, health, education, independence, liberty, democracy, justice, and peace" (First Declaration of the Lancandon Jungle) These demands were already guaranteed to the Mexican people by the Mexican constitution. The Zapatistas stressed that they opted for armed struggle due to the lack of results achieved through peaceful protests (such as sit-ins and marches). International Service for Peace (SIPAZ) provides more information.
Show Slide 12: Protest Marches in Oaxaca and the city barricaded in 2006
Popular Assemblies of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) are open, inclusive, non-hierarchical, use the process of consensus based on the equality of all participants, have representation from various sectors of society and from various barricades, people serve for two year terms, and promote the development of the community.
Show Slide 13: Democracy and Alternative Development
For example, APPO (described in the previous slide) and the Zapatistas (slide 11)
We citizens of the North think of global capital as the only jobs generator. But more people in the world (around 800 million) are members of cooperatives than own shares in publicly-traded companies. Many of these coops are helping to build locally controlled economies.
Over the last three decades, women in India, for example, built a network of cooperative dairies raising the incomes of more than 11 million households. Compare that to the 1- to 2-million jobs created by the high-tech corporate sector in India.
Worldwide, co-op membership doubled in the last 30 years, according to the Geneva-based International Co-operative Alliance. In Colombia, Saludcoop, a health care cooperative, is the nation’s second largest employer providing services to a quarter of the population.
And to those who still see global capital as the poor’s savior, I am tempted to say, “Let’s get real!” Even if it were a path to real advancement, U.S. direct investment in the poorest continent, Africa, is close to zero, representing about 1 percent of all U.S. direct investments abroad.(15)
Show Slide 14: Today
Plan Puebla Panama and the Security and Prosperity Partnership threaten to take neoliberal economic policies to an even higher level. For current information about the extension and broadening of NAFTA through the Security and Prosperity Partnership, see Global Exchange and CIEPAC , on the Merida Initiataive see Witness for Peace , and on Plan Puebla Panama see LA Solidarity.
Show Slide 15: A More Humane Immigration Policy
We must recognize that the current Militarized Border Enforcement Strategy is a failed policy. Since 1998 close to 3,000 migrants - men, women, and children – have lost their lives in the deserts of the US-Mexico borderlands trying to make their way into the United States. This is a sin by anyone’s definition. The tragic and unnecessary deaths must stop. The current U.S. border blockade strategy has militarized the US-Mexico border, and driven migrants into remote desert regions. Yet it has failed to stem the flow of immigrants into the United States. A militarized border has never stemmed the flow of migrants with such choices. Estimates range from two to three thousand migrants a day crossing the border. The Mexican border patrol estimates two to three deaths a day.
Further, the fragile desert environment has sustained severe damage as a result of migrants moving through remote desert regions and responding enforcement patrols. Indeed, a militarized border control strategy has never in United States history successfully stemmed the flow of immigrants. We recognize the right of a nation to control its borders, but enforcement measures must be applied proportionately, humanely, and with a conscious effort to protect the people and the land.
A new, humane border policy must:
• Address the status of undocumented persons currently living in the US.
Workers and their families currently living in the US must have access to a program of legalization that offers equity-building paths to permanent residency and eventual citizenship for workers and their families. Legalizing the undocumented workforce helps stabilize that workforce as well as their families. A stable workforce strengthens the country.
• Make family unity and reunification the cornerstone of the US immigration system.
Migrants enter the United States either to find work or to reunite with family members, yet the arduous and lengthy process forces families to make potentially deadly choices. Families must be allowed to legally and timely re-unify as well as to immigrate together as a unit.
People do want to go home. Immigrants often remark that the U.S. is too cold and the food is not good. Experts believe that immigrants provide no net cost to society. People may receive services in our country but they also pay sales taxes and Social Security and Medicare taxes (but will never benefit from those programs).
Second largest source of income in Mexico is the remittance of money from people working in U.S. and sending it back to Mexico.
• Allow workers and their families to enter the US to live and work in a safe, legal, orderly, and humane manner in ways that protect all workers, both foreign- and native-born. Workers' rights must be recognized and honored in ways that protect: the basic right to organize and collectively bargain, individual worker’s religious freedoms, job portability, easy and safe travel between the US and homelands, achievable and verifiable paths to residency, and a basic human right of mobility.
• Recognize that root causes of migration lie in economic, environmental, and trade inequities.
(1) Rebecca Todd Peters, Eden Theological Seminary Convocation, “Globalization and Its Challenge to the Church,” April 2, 2008.
(2) Wal-Mart Watch
(3) Women’s Edge Coalition, “NAFTA and the FTAA: Impact on Mexico’s Agricultural Sector,”
(4) Witness for Peace Mexico Team, “Mexico Imports Corn and Exports Corn Farmers: 15 Years of NAFTA,” Witness for Peace Newsletter, Vol., 25, No. 1, Spring 2008 quoting Spieldock, Alexandria and Ben Lilliston, in “A Fair Farm Bill and Immigration,” The Institute for Agricultural and Trade Policy, July 2007.
(5) Ibid, quoting Posadas, Miriam and Matilde Pérez U. “El agro mexicano llega polarizado y mermado al ultimo tramo del TLCAN,” La Jornada, 29 Dec 2007.
(6) Ibid, quoting Poy, Laura, et al, “Alistan protestas en todo el país contra el TLCAN agropecuario,” in La Jornada, 29 Dec 2007.
(7) Conversation with Rev. John Fife, pastor of South Side Presbyterian Church in Tucson Arizona.
(8) Witness for Peace, “Mexico Imports,” quoting “Convocatoria: Sin Maíz No Hay Paíz,” June 2007, Accessed at .
(9) Conversation with Tommy Bassett, advocate for more humane immigration policies in Tucson, Arizona.
(10) Witness for Peace, “Mexico Imports,” quoting de Ita, Ana “Fourteen Years of NAFTA and the Tortilla Crisis,” Americas Program, Center for International Policy 10 Jan 2008.
(11) Philpott, Tom, "How Mexico's iconic flatbread went industrial and lost its flavor," Grist Magazine
(12) Philpott, Tom, op. cit.
(13) Witness for Peace, “Mexico Imports,” quoting Garduño, Roberto, “La aperture commercial de granos provocará mayor migración a EU,” La Jornada, 27 Dec 2007.
(14) Ibid, quoting Gonzaléz Arnador, Roberto in “La frontera México-EU, el mayor corridor migratorio en el mundo,” La Jornada, 24 January 2008.
(15) Lappe, France Moore, “Go Local,” Yes! Magazine, Winter 2007