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The destruction of rural Mexico

Mexico’s entry into the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1986, the country’s counter agrarian refonn of 1992 and the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994 produced profound changes in the accumulation regime and, consequently, the liberalization of the rural labor force in Central Mexico (Appendini, 2001; Fitting, 2011; Otero, 2011; Rubio, 2008). Embracing the neoliberal vision to reduce social spending, technocrats restructured the rural credit system to reduce government funding of agriculture. To accomplish this, farmers were classified with respect to their potential profitability and given differential access to credits according to these criteria. The government classified the 1.1 million subsistence producers as non-creditworthy, assigning them minuscule subsidies from the National Program of Solidarity (Pronasol) (Myhre, 1998). The restructuring of Bannirai went along with the disappearance of the Mexican Coffee Institute (INMECAFE), Mexican Tobacco (TABAMEX), Sugar Co. (Azúcar S.A.), and other parastatals formerly charged with channeling subsidies to peasants and the promotion and commercialization of their respective commercial crops (Calderón Aragón & Ramírez Velázquez, 2002).

This led to an unprecedented dependence on imports and the loss of food sovereignty. On the one hand, Mexico became dependent on the importation of basic subsistence grains which were previously produced by small-scale farmers. “The substitution of national production for imports is revealed in the fact that, while in 1990 only 19.8% of national basic grain consumption came from imports; in 2006, 31.5% was imported.” (Rubio, 2008, p. 38). The importation of maize, a key symbol of “Mexicanness” (Fitting, 2011, p. 3), doubled between 1993 and 1998 and increased by 50 percent in 1999 (Calderón Aragón & Ramírez Velázquez, 2002, p. 293). “National export and import businesses justified the numerous importations by claiming that national production was insufficient to satisfy the needs of the population.” (Calderón Aragón & Ramírez Velázquez, 2002, p. 297).

On the other hand, beginning in the late 1980s, the substantial increase of fruit and vegetable exports from Mexico to the United States and Canada did not

Surplus labor and restructured economies 27 generate the jobs necessary to absorb bankrupt peasants (Otero, 2011, p. 385). While the workforce employed in Mexico increased 9.8 percent between 1998 and 2007, in agriculture it decreased 23.97 percent, from 7.5 million to 5.7 million. Other sectors of the Mexican economy did not produce the expected number of jobs to absorb the surplus labor force (Otero, 2011, p. 391).

NAFTA represented the culminating point of the “transnationalization” of national agriculture (Binford, 2004), a process that had been germinating since the 1970s. The liberalization of the importation of machinery and consumer goods favored large agribusinesses dedicated to exporting profitable crops— fruit, flowers and vegetables—to the United States and Canada (Appendini & Torres-Mazuera, 2008). The commercial opening ruined small and medium rural firms producing for the internal market and deepened food dependency on the United States (Rubio, 2001). Fitting (2011, p. 4) warned that Mexico imported its most consumed and culturally valued food, maize, while it exported labor.

Peasant families responded to the destraction of the conditions of social reproduction by producing food for their household’s consumption, diversifying economic activities and sending some household members to work in agricultural enclaves in other areas of Mexico (Carton De Grammont, 1982; Lara Flores, 2010). Millions migrated to the United States and Canada (Binford, 2013; Otero, 2011, 2017; Preibisch, 2007). In those countries, workers were employed in low-wage work in construction, services, loading and unloading cargo, informal businesses, in agriculture and in domestic work. In sum, the loss of food sovereignty was accompanied by the loss of labor sovereignty (Otero, 2011, p. 385).

As a result of this process, as Fitting (2011) affirms, new rural subjects emerged. Some reoriented toward agribusiness. Those who could not remake themselves according to neoliberal logics abandoned subsistence agriculture to join migration flows to the United States. In addition to these two subjects, we add a third rural subject, one living in extreme poverty, dependent on subsidies and integrated into a heterogeneous mass of social groups administered by the state in terms of gender, age, ethnicity and disability. This subject is emblematic of the current phase of "selective hegemony,” whereby subjects are interpellated by the neoliberal state based on criteria of difference, rather than the welfare state’s “expansive hegemony” which created uniform subjects fit for mass production and citizenship (Smith, 2011).1

For the case that we analyze, we locate undocumented migrants in this transition. The restructuring of rural Mexico generated additional changes. One notable transformation was the conversion of agricultural land near urban centers or highways into industrial and tourist corridors, residential zones for high and low-income populations and commercial centers (Carton De Grammont, 2004; Velasco Santos, 2017). This process was accompanied by the rapid transition to a service economy, the privatization of water, the reactivation of mining in the hands of transnational companies and the proliferation of illegal businesses, such as prostitution, drag trafficking and gasoline theft. The latter brought with it the increase in organized crime and violence (Fuentes, 2012).

Map of Puebla

Figure 2.1 Map of Puebla.

Traditionally oriented to the production of raw materials and subsistence goods, after decades of deregulation, privatization and free trade agreements, hundreds of rural towns became producers of cheap, disorganized, and disciplined labor to somewhat mitigate the debacle of neoliberalized rural Mexico. In the increased exportation of labor, the effects of policies that generate an expanded swathe of dispossessed populations and violent regulatory devices combine to create

Surplus labor and restructured economies 29 scenes of death and cruelty that shape these “cheap” laborers (De León, 2015; Sider, 2006; Slack, Martinez, Lee, & Whiteford, 2016).

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