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NAFTA Creates Refugees From Farmlands

January 31, 2002

Your sad report on squatters ruining Mexico City's green areas ("Urban Spread Is Staining Greenery of Mexico City," Jan. 28) unfortunately misses the real problem. The article focuses on Mexican proposals to tighten law enforcement, subsidize farmers to avoid sales to developers and even, incredibly, to prevent squatters from voting. These measures will fail because they don't face the real problem, which is that the squatters are part of a wave of environmental and economic refugees from the rural areas forced off their land by government policy to get rid of peasant farming and turn it over to chemical-intensive, capital-intensive big agribusiness.

The roots of the policy go back decades, but it was officially enshrined in the North American Free Trade Agreement--in spite of studies predicting it would wreak ecological havoc on the countryside and would push 5 million to 15 million farmers into the cities and across borders. This is the specific reason that the Zapatista peasant rebels chose to rise up against the Mexican government on the day NAFTA went into effect--Jan. 1, 1994, and declared: NAFTA is our death sentence. We do not accept our death sentence.

Robert Benson

Professor of International

Environmental Law, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles

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