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Behind Boom in Baja Lies Exploitation of Indians Who Work in Produce Fields

June 19, 1988

I would like to thank The Times' Chris Kraul for helping provide greater public awareness of the increasing dependence the United States has on imported produce from Mexico ("Boom in Baja," May 16). But while focusing on economics, he failed to mention the important social issue of the exploitation of the field workers in Baja.

Kraul correctly stated that the decline in tomato production in San Diego County and the corresponding surge in production in Baja is due primarily to less expensive farming costs south of the border. Business is increasing. Imports are rising. Baja is booming. But at the expense of whom?

The base of the cheaper agricultural labor force in Baja California (concentrated in the San Quintin region) is being provided by Indians who are migrating from their native lands in the southern states of Mexico in search of seasonal employment. In San Quintin they are living and working in conditions far removed from the minds of the general public here who have come to depend on large, "vine-ripened" tomatoes throughout the year.

I have spent over a year working in the San Quintin area for a U.S.-based international relief and development organization and alongside the local office of the Mexican National Institute for Indigenous Peoples. While assisting in the establishment of a mobile health-care program in some of the 24 labor camps where the majority of the migrant laborers live, I became well aware of their depressed living conditions.

The situation in the San Quintin area, combined with the loss of production and subsequent employment in California, has created a phenomenon that has many direct and indirect consequences on agricultural policy on both sides of the border. As Kraul pointed out, big business and economics are the major issues. But they often obscure the more poignant social issues involved--in this case, the exploitation of the Indian workers by agribusiness interests. Let us hope that Rep. Leon E. Panetta's (D-Monterey) subcommittee on agriculture is able to uncover and expose the more detailed and harsh realities behind the "boom" in Baja. CHRISTOPHER BRADY

Santa Barbara

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