Mexico, Canada and the USA
The Atlantic Monthly's current issue has a fascinating article on the
economy and culture of northern Mexico and the US southwest by Robert
Kaplan. It is an extremely pessimistic view of where this general
geographical sector of the world is going. What's interesting in particular
is that Kaplan does not pay much attention to the borderlines, except as a
way of indicating its legal status. The socio-economic forces, which are
much more powerful and overlap the borders, are already beginning to impact
Kaplan makes the case that drugs constitute at least 10% of the GDP of
Mexico and that the prime market for this export commodity is the United
State. This is an issue that has captured the attention of both the US
government and the media. Today's NY Times lead article reports that the
jailed former head of the Mexican national police has been allowed to
travel to the US to testify about drug payoffs at the highest level of the
Mexican government. The problem for capitalism, however, is that if the
drug trade were eliminated, the Mexican economy would implode and the
resulting tidal wave would sweep across the United States. This is what
Marx called a contradiction.
Turning to the United States, Kaplan makes some very interesting
observations about Arizona, which is one of the fastest growing states in
the country. Cities like Tucson, planted in the middle of the desert, draw
people from all around the country and up from Mexico. It is a magnet for
high tech firms, who bring middle-class white people into the city's
suburbs. It also attracts Mexican illegal immigrants in vast numbers. There
is also a substantial black population that faces the same kinds of
economic and cultural problems of LA's embattled ghettoes. Gang violence is
rampant and Tucson has one of the 10 highest homicide rates in the US.
Kaplan also focuses on the conditions of life of an average white
working-class family, who it is no exaggeration to say are living just
above the poverty line. They have just moved from a mobile home in a park
whose social fabric was unraveling into a Habitats for Humanity house, the
only one they could afford. While they can pay for food and shelter--for
the time being--they hardly have any extra money for anything else. Their
evenings are spent in front of the television.
Kaplan then proceeds to discuss a very important issue for Tucson and
cities throughout the southwest. The traditional source of water for such
cities is the Colorado river. However, due to various environmental
problems, the water is hardly drinkable. A referendum just decided against
using this water and to replace it with water from underground sources in
Arizona. The water might be more drinkable but it is in very short supply.
Nobody seems to know what to do when it runs dry. There are discussions
afoot to turn Canada into a major water exporter as new dams and reservoirs
are constructed to supply America's southwest. Kaplan says that this simply
postpones the final day of reckoning as Canada's ecology is despoiled to
maintain these disembodied, crime-ridden cities in the desert where
alienation rules supreme.
The value of this article, besides the empirical information that it
provides, is that it takes its cue from David Harvey's geographical
insights into the spatial contradictions of capitalism. There is too much
of a tendency to regard Mexico, Canada and the US as completely different
and unrelated socio-economic entities when in fact the problems they face
In recent weeks Jim Craven of PEN-L has been serving as a judge on the
IHRAAM investigations of human rights abuses against Indians in Canada.
Church-run residential schools were used not only to brainwash Indian
children into rejecting their cultural identity, they were also places
where rape, murder and torture took place.
There is a strong possibility that IHRAAM will take a look next at the
Blackfoot nation, which comprises 3 tribes: the Piegan based in Montana,
the Bloods and the northern Blackfoot in Canada. This is one nation that
the US and Canada have arbitrarily decided to keep separate in violation of
their right to self-determination. Recently a Blackfoot farmer from Canada
was arrested as he attempted to bring wheat across the border to sell to
the Piegans. By the same token, there is strong evidence that from the
point of view of transporting Blackfeet children to and fro residential
schools, the powers that be did not consider them as separate peoples.
American Indian struggles in Mexico, the US and Canada constitute a very
important fault-line for the capitalist system. While an individual tribe,
such as the Piegan or the Cree or the Mohawk, might only consist of
thousands of members, the nation-in-formation of all these peoples is in
the millions between the US and Canada. Capitalism is hastening the process
of national formation and the consequences can be explosive as the American
Indian discovers not only his class and cultural ties to his brother and
sisters across the Canadian and Mexican borders, but to land-based peoples
across the world.