POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 12, 2007:
Mexican president feeling his NAFTA oats after a good night's sleep at Holiday Inn
"Mexico does not end at its borders," said Mexican President Felipe Calderon last week during his first state of the nation address.
The comment was part of his condemnation of U.S. immigration policies that include deportation of Mexican citizens who are in the United States illegally.
"We strongly protest the unilateral measures taken by the U.S. Congress and government that have only persecuted and exacerbated the mistreatment of Mexican undocumented workers," he said.
Calderon didn't mention this particular incident specifically, but he likely had the episode involving Elvira Arellano in mind.
A year she spent living in a church in Chicago recently ended with her deportation back to Mexico.
She fled into the church building for sanctuary to avoid being separated from her 8-year-old U.S.-born son, whom she didn't want to take with her back to Mexico because, she said, her native country lacks the medical care needed to treat his Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
After her deportation, Arellano insisted on her right to remain in the U.S. because, "The United States is the one who broke the law first . . . by letting people cross the border without documents . . . by letting people pay taxes," she said.
She also blamed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) "and other U.S. economic policies . . . for what they did to (her) country," which she said is why she was unable to "find work that paid a living wage."
Mexican Pres. Carlos Salinas de Gortari signed NAFTA in 1992, along with U.S. Pres. George H. W. Bush and Canadian Pres. Brian Mulroney.
In his State of the Nation address, Calderon continued, "The insensitivity toward those who support the U.S. economy and society has only served as an impetus to reinforce the battle for their rights."
He added, "Where there is a Mexican, there is Mexico."
While El Presidente was enjoying the standing ovation he elicited with his speech, farther north in Los Estados Unidos, what is apparently Mexico, the Teamsters union, the Sierra Club and Public Citizen were fighting in federal court a plan by the Bush administration for a pilot program allowing 100 Mexican trucking companies full access to U.S. highways for up to 1,000 vehicles for one year, after which time the borders are to be fully open to all Mexican trucks.
The Mexican-side of the program mirrors the U.S.'s by giving 100 U.S. companies the same deal.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said the pilot program was designed to "simplify" a process that currently requires Mexican truckers to stop and wait for U.S. trucks to arrive and transfer cargo--a process that "wastes money, drives up the cost of goods and leaves trucks loaded with cargo idling inside U.S. borders."
She added that, under pre-pilot program rules, U.S. trucks weren't allowed into Mexico because the U.S. "refused to implement provisions of NAFTA that would have permitted safe cross-border trucking."
The Teamsters tell a different story, though.
Instead of the U.S. refusing to hold up its end of NAFTA, Teamsters General President James Hoffa points out that NAFTA requires Mexican trucks meet U.S. safety standards before crossing the border, which the president's (our U.S. president--not our new Mexican president) program doesn't, in his view.
"Before Thursday, the border had remained closed because the Mexican government has failed to meet safety and driver-training requirements required by Congress," he said in a statement following a federal court ruling that the program could move forward.
The ruling came within hours of the release of the congressionally mandated official report by the U.S. DOT Inspector General on the safety of the program.
"The report confirmed the FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) has taken the necessary steps to ensure the safe implementation of the demonstration project," said Melissa Mazzella DeLaney of the DOT Public Affairs Office.
"We know the fix is in," said the Teamsters Prez in response to the development.
"The Bush administration gave the go-ahead for this so-called 'pilot program' before receiving the IG's report, which is required by law," said Hoffa.
"How could they give the go-head unless the results of the report--which is supposed to be independent--were dictated by Transportation Secretary Mary Peters? I can only conclude the Bush administration is trying to sneak this reckless and unlawful program into existence," he added.
In a later statement, Hoffa pointed to an August IG report showing "several glaring safety issues concerning the state of trucking in Mexico."
One such issue, Hoffa said, is that drug testing is "questionable."
"In fact, there are no certified drug testing facilities in the entire county," he said.
Also, he said, due to "lax wage and hour laws," drivers can be forced to make lengthy deliveries.
Further, authorities in the U.S. have difficulty determining the validity of Mexican drivers' licenses.
"Records of Mexican truckers' traffic convictions are poor, so citations may or may not be available to U.S. police. Checks of the validity of Mexican commercial drivers' licenses against Mexico's database result in a failure rate of nearly 20 percent," Hoffa explained.
He said the "most disingenuous" aspect of the Bush pilot program plan is its "bait-and-switch" element that "ensures that only the best Mexican carriers enter our country."
He said, "You can't cherry-pick the safest trucks in Mexico and let them drive all over the U.S. for a year and then claim that all Mexican trucks are fit to drive."
"It is time for the Bush administration to come out from the shadows and explain to Congress and the American people why they are willing to blindly heed Mexico's demands. Why will they do Mexico's bidding despite Mexico's failure to hold up its end of the bargain and raise safety standards to our level?" Hoffa also said.
He said the Teamsters still plan to pursue their lawsuit "all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary."
These events unfolded about a week after President Bush met with Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper for the third summit of the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) of North America, which some commentators fear is a prelude to merging the three nations into a single entity, modeled after the European Union.
In a press conference following the closed-door meetings, all three leaders literally laughed-off questions from reporters related to those suspicions (for details, see UTW Aug. 30-Sept. 5, "One Continent?", at www.urbantulsa.com).
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