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Ten simple questions and ten more crappy ones about ASPAN

Ten simple questions and ten more crappy ones about ASPAN


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By Miguel Pickard

ASPAN weakens Mexico's sovereignty, since Calderón (and formerly Fox) is giving up, behind the people's backs, control of important aspects of our country to the US government and large companies. If you appreciate democracy, if you believe that as a Mexican or Mexican you have the right to have an opinion on the future of the country, then it is necessary that you inform yourself about ASPAN as a first step to stop this loss of sovereignty.

1. What does ASPAN mean?


The acronym stands for North American Security and Prosperity Alliance. It was launched on March 23, 2005 in a meeting between the leaders of Mexico, Canada and the United States.

2. Is the ASPAN similar to the Free Trade Agreement that the Carlos Salinas government signed with the US and Canada (NAFTA)?

To some extent yes and some people even say that it is a "NAFTA plus". But there are important differences. Showing their contempt for democracy, governments are reaching compromises of the highest importance without transparency and without consulting civil society.

First of all, ASPAN is not a treaty. If it were a treaty, it would be subject to review by the Congresses of Mexico and the United States and by the Parliament of Canada. But within the ASPAN framework, the leaders are signing what they call regulations. And there are many regulations. They are similar to presidential decrees and therefore there is no review of the legislative branch. So far civil society has been given very little information on all this. Next we will explain why we believe that this undemocratic ASPAN harms the interests of the people.

3. Why is it important that I know something about ASPAN?

ASPAN weakens Mexico's sovereignty, since Calderón (and formerly Fox) is giving up, behind the people's backs, control of important aspects of our country to the US government and large companies. If you appreciate democracy, if you believe that as a Mexican or Mexican you have the right to have an opinion on the future of the country, then it is necessary that you inform yourself about ASPAN as a first step to stop this loss of sovereignty.

It is a story we have heard before, but told in a new way. That great power that is the US and its large companies are working hard to force their neighbors Mexico and Canada to make changes in their laws, rules, regulations, practices, etc. in order to ensure the prosperity of their companies and the security of the US.

4. Doesn't ASPAN have to do with trade between our three countries?

Yes, but it is also more complex. The citizen organization Common Borders of Canada explains it as follows:

ASPAN "attempts to 'harmonize' or, rather, to subject many of the internal and external policies and regulations of Canada and Mexico to those of the United States. Under the pretext of protecting citizens from the terrorist threat and to facilitate trade, this initiative would imply drastic measures such as a deeper integration of the North American energy markets, the 'harmonized' treatment of immigrants, refugees or foreign tourists, and the creation of transnational security policies ... "(Press release, Common Borders, 27 / 06/03).

It should also be stressed that the security measures that the US is demanding mean the increasing militarization of life in Mexico and Canada.

5. Why all the fuss about safety?

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the pretext for many changes that are being implemented is "security" in the face of "global terrorism" attacks. In this logic, US strategists are forcing their neighbors Mexico and Canada to implement laws and measures to increase security. We will explain other things about security later.

We believe, however, that ASPAN is actually pushing itself forward in anticipation of various phenomena.

One of the phenomena is global warming and the growing scarcity of water that all the inhabitants of this planet are going to suffer, and that millions of people already suffer. Given the growing thirst of the planet, the US wants to control all the water reserves within its reach, which endangers the abundant water that exists in southeastern Mexico and Canada.

Another phenomenon is the enormous voracity of the United States for energy, which has been one of the most important pillars of its foreign policy for many decades. The 2004 invasion of Iraq by the US military is just the most recent example. Access to abundant energy reserves and their control, preferably by US oil companies, are reasons that explain their actions in the world, from wars of extermination to the signing of treaties and now the signing of regulations.

The third phenomenon has to do with the trade war that is already underway between the three blocks of economic power in the world. On the one hand there is the European Union, on the other hand there is the Asian Bloc -with Japan and China at the head- and the third bloc is led by the United States, which will use the American continent and the Caribbean in its trade wars against the other two forces. economic. The US wants to have this American continent under its control to supply itself mainly with energy (oil, natural gas, electricity), but also with other strategic resources such as the immense biodiversity, mineral wealth, the earth itself, etc.

American countries are also, or will be, a preferred market for American products. The 34 countries of the American continent have a population of 800 million inhabitants, of which 500 million live outside the United States.

In addition to these commercial issues and the expropriation of our countries' resources, since 2001 Washington has exercised greater control over security and militarization in our countries. When the military becomes increasingly important in the national life of any country, one of the results is the increased criminalization of social protest (which we have already experienced in Mexico).

6. Who is behind ASPAN?

Two main forces are driving it. On the one hand, there is the US government, which sees in ASPAN the ideal way to take the first steps in its strategy of integrating the entire American continent in different key aspects, under the pretext of "facilitating trade." It is true that there are aspects of the ASPAN that have to do with trade, but there are other issues such as those already mentioned - access to energy, security, militarization - that often do not receive any mention in the mass media. When the mass media talk about ASPAN, they usually mention only trade and hide other equally important topics.

The other force behind ASPAN is the private sector, particularly large companies that see many advantages in expanding "free trade" and access to natural resources that ASPAN promotes.

7. How do these forces seek to control natural resources?

One way is by pushing for them to privatize. When strategic resources are put up for sale, companies have the opportunity to buy and control them. Those who are in a position to get the most out of it are the Americans, but the Canadians and some Mexicans also win. That is why the US government, directly and through the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, has insisted for many years on the privatization of PEMEX, the Federal Electricity Commission and water resources, as well as insisted for years previous in the privatization of important state companies (Telmex, airlines, railways, media and others).

Another way is through treaties like NAFTA and alliances like ASPAN that prevent the government of a country from deciding that natural resources within its borders are exploited to benefit the inhabitants of that country. For example, after entering into a free trade agreement with the US, Canada lost the right to unilaterally reduce the supply of its oil to the US. Although Mexico did not formally agree to something similar, the governments of Salinas, Zedillo, Fox and Calderón have sent more oil to the US when it has requested it, for example, before the invasion of Iraq and is sold at prices lower than those that exist in the world market.

ASPAN will facilitate this expropriation by private interests of the nation's strategic resources.

8. What implications does ASPAN have for indigenous peoples?

ASPAN weakens the rights of the native peoples who inhabit these lands. The intention of the neoliberal governments in Mexico (since Miguel de la Madrid, 1982 - 1988) is to eliminate any "obstacle" to private investment. For example, the right of indigenous peoples to establish autonomous areas and to decide on the fate of the natural resources found in them, a right recognized at the international level, is an aspect that must disappear for companies.

They think the same about the laws and regulations that have been established to protect the environment. Therefore, they reach agreements with governments to first weaken and then eliminate these obstacles and thus make it easier for companies to exploit resources.

Given this, indigenous peoples will know how to organize themselves to defend and maintain their rights over their ancestral lands.

9. What is the most dire aspect of this new alliance?

Possibly it is the total contempt that the forces behind ASPAN have for the peoples and for the right of the peoples to decide on the course of their country. ASPAN is deeply undemocratic. Every day our country is less of us the majority and more of a few minorities, in particular of a few gentlemen who believe themselves to be "the owners of the universe" (that is how they call themselves), who are increasingly resorting to violence and repression to achieve and retain greater wealth.

Basic principles are at stake: the wealth that each nation produces should be used to address and solve the great lags in education, health, housing, etc. The current trend, expressed in the ASPAN, is the opposite, wealth is concentrated in a few hands and the people are getting poorer.

10. So the next meeting of the presidents of Mexico and the United States and the prime minister of Canada has to do with ASPAN?

Yes. Since ASPAN began in 2005, the three "friendly" leaders have met several times. The next summit meeting is approaching, as on August 20 and 21, 2007 the illegitimate President Calderón will meet with the illegitimate President Bush and Prime Minister Harper at Montebello Castle, a small town in the province of Québec. There it is expected that they will again sign various regulations within the ASPAN framework.

11. How are these regulations being approved?

In many cases, compliance with these regulations only requires the signature of the agents. The text of the regulations, especially those that have to do with trade, is drawn up by representatives of large companies, and then some officials of the three governments and some academics are consulted.

12. Do we have access to what was agreed by the leaders?

No, the documents that have been signed have not been released. Civil society is not consulted before the leaders put their signature on the documents and afterwards they are not informed in a complete and transparent manner.

We think that this modality of regulations was chosen instead of treaties because, since NAFTA was negotiated in the early 1990s, civil society in the three countries has been more organized, informed, linked and mobilized. In addition, we have already suffered from NAFTA for almost 14 years, we have verified that the declarations made in the 90s were lies, since no jobs have been created, nor has the standard of living of the peoples been raised, nor has it been closed the gap between Mexico and its two developed partners. Furthermore, Mexico is even further behind in this last aspect. Within Mexico, the differences between states, between the poorest in the south and the least poor in the north, have widened. The gap between wages in Mexico and wages in the US and Canada has also widened.

The peoples would not accept another treaty similar to NAFTA at all, they would mobilize to protest against it. Or its approval could meet resistance in congresses. The leaders know this and that is why they are signing decrees without civil society or the legislature intervening in their review.

The reason why governments do not want to disseminate the content of what has been signed is obvious. If we could study the texts, we would have knowledge of the facts to state in detail how the leaders and companies are harming the interests of the majority.

13. Does ASPAN have the word security in its name. Is there really a security problem for our countries?

No. The United States and other countries took advantage of the events of September 11, 2001 and created an atmosphere of fear and terror to be even more repressive and aggressive and incidentally increase the military budgets for their domination plans. For example, the US unilaterally decided to include Canada and Mexico in the so-called Northern Command, which has meant the greatest militarization of our countries and the resulting criminalization of social protest.


The security section that has been agreed between the three countries in the ASPAN includes greater control over the flow of people and merchandise, the fight against threats such as terrorism, organized crime, human trafficking and smuggling of goods. All of this implies coordination between the intelligence services and greater militarization to combat "external and internal threats."

Obviously any social protest, for example, what happened last year in Oaxaca or Atenco, can be classified at the government's discretion as an "internal threat." From there to being considered "terrorism" there is only one step. Let us remember that the Attorney General of the government of Ulises Ruiz in Oaxaca declared that the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) is a "violent group" that commits crimes that in the Federal Penal Code are "called terrorism" (see La Jornada , November 10, 2006, Politics section).

14. And what is the prosperity of this new alliance?

Any. The word was included for publicity purposes. The only ones who will prosper with ASPAN are the transnational companies, their owners or the politicians in power who are in collusion with them. But for the peoples there will be no prosperity but greater poverty.

Formally, there is a "prosperity agenda" in which many regulations on different aspects will enter, for example, business facilitation, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, financial services, electronic commerce, the complicated issue of rules of origin and many others. Large companies have detected that in the NAFTA currently in force there are not many measures that they would like to have to facilitate their cross-border business and thus increase their profits. These aspects are now being approved with ASPAN.

The ASPAN does not contemplate social measures that lead to greater prosperity for the population of the three countries.

15. Why is Mexico included in this type of alliance with two more economically powerful countries?

The reasons were never exclusively economic. Not even in NAFTA. And now the security of the United States comes to impose itself as one of the most important issues. For US military strategists it is important to protect its land borders by including the two contiguous countries as a "buffer zone" against possible "terrorist attacks." Mexico and Canada are going to have to take measures, dictated by the US, to make them as "safe" as the US itself. In Canada this has already been largely achieved. In Mexico it will take longer, but the objective has already been raised. In many ways, at ASPAN Mexico is a country of testing, of experimentation, for future plans in the US.

16. Is Mexico an experiment? For what?

It is obvious that the US does not want to integrate only Mexico and Canada in its area of ​​control. We believe that the US wants to control the entire American continent. Even the US wanted to go through the hoop of "free trade" to all the countries of the continent at once, through the FTAA (Free Trade Area of ​​the Americas). His calculation failed him when the peoples manifested their repudiation throughout the continent and when somewhat nationalist governments emerged in South America.

After the failure of the FTAA in 2005, the US tactic on trade issues has been to slow down. It is achieving its objective with the free trade agreements that it has signed with countries or with blocks of countries. Mexico is only the first step in a much larger project that the US will be promoting in the coming decades for the integration of the continent on many fronts. In this sense, Mexico is a test, an experiment in how to integrate an "underdeveloped" country into an alliance with "developed" countries such as the US and Canada.

The asymmetries that occur between our countries are many. Poverty and the small size of the Mexican economy compared to that of the United States are obvious asymmetries, but there are equally profound but less visible differences that may conflict and that will need to be addressed, such as differences between the systems of right. The US and Canada use a system of law that comes from the Anglo-Saxon tradition (common law) and in Mexico the tradition of Roman law inherited from Spain operates.

From the point of view of US strategists, it is easier to first deal with a single country, Mexico, separated from Latin America, and generate a series of experiences that serve as a reference for when the other countries of the continent and the Caribbean are incorporated. . In an analysis he made of the ASPAN, the UNAM professor John Saxe-Fernández wrote in 2005 that "The purpose is to use Mexico as a battering ram to promote the 'vertical integration' of Latin America into the metropolis in commercial, financial, monetary and geopolitical "(La Jornada, 03/28/05).

The richest countries in Europe had to make adjustments when they integrated poorer countries into the European Union. They had to standardize certain aspects. The economically stronger countries also spent a lot of money to ensure a certain leveling off in matters of education, health, etc., and to try to solve the inevitable problems, for example to retrain workers laid off from their jobs.

The United States, on the other hand, wants to carry out another type of integration, one that benefits it in terms of ensuring its control over important aspects on the continent, but without losing money. How? Well, with arrangements such as ASPAN and through measures that will first be tested in Mexico.

The task is long term. We can foresee that between now and, say, the year 2025, the US will try to integrate the continent according to its interests.

17. What does ASPAN say about the migration of Mexicans?

Except for references to "smart borders" that will expedite the passage of "low-risk people" through border checkpoints, the ASPAN appears to be silent on migration. Like the Free Trade Agreement, goods, services, big money, and top corporate executives can cross borders quickly. Ordinary people, on the other hand, those who need to migrate to survive because they cannot find work or a decent salary, are "high risk people" for the US government and will continue to pass those of Cain in an undocumented way, risking their lives when crossing deserts and mountains to secure sustenance.

As no dignified and legal treatment is contemplated for migrants that recognizes their contribution to the US and Canadian economies, a large workforce continues to be vulnerable and subject to deportation, which can be exploited with salaries below the minimum and without labor rights.

18. Is the greater militarization of the southern border of Mexico part of these agreements?

Certainly, but no region of Mexico is escaping from growing militarization. Currently the entire south-southeast of Mexico has become a stopper, especially for Central Americans and also for other foreigners and not a few Mexicans. All the security forces - the army, the National Migration Institute, the Federal Preventive Police, the Beta Group, the state police - are hunting Central Americans and treating them as spoils of war. With one hand they strip them of all their belongings and with the other they collect bites from the polleros (human traffickers) for letting them continue their journey.

At the same time, through ASPAN, the United States has granted itself the right to intervene unilaterally in Mexico and Canada by crossing borders with its armed forces at the time it so decides. The intervention may be given in cases of a "red alert" that could be triggered for reasons of "terrorism" or suspicions of terrorism in any of the three countries.

These plans and agreements are already well advanced between the US and Canada and we can suspect that advances in the same direction have been made between the US and Mexico, without anything being known here.

Between the US and Canada there is already a Binational Planning Group (GPB) that has established "military contingency plans" that would be activated on both sides of the Canada-United States border that would include "a coordinated response to national requests for military assistance ( of civil authorities is assumed) in the event of a threat, attack or civil emergency in the US or Canada. In the event of a Code Red alert these so-called 'requests' (for example, from a Canadian municipality) could result in the deployment of US or Special Forces troops in Canadian territory [information taken from http://globalresearch.ca].

19. Has there been opposition to ASPAN?

Of course. When people and organizations find out what ASPAN stands for, the first reaction is to ask how we organize ourselves, who we can work with to fight against it, and what we do. There are organizations and networks that carry out different activities of diffusion, mobilization and protest against ASPAN. In Mexico, one of these networks is the RMALC (Mexican Action Network against Free Trade, www.rmalc.org, to which CIEPAC belongs). Through popular workshops, the RMALC disseminates information about ASPAN in different localities of the country. In Canada and the US, different organizations do the same.

There are also allies in this fight against the plans of the US empire throughout the American continent who have joined their voices in a large regional network, the ASC or the Continental Social Alliance (http://asc-hsa.org).

Many organizations have mobilized on the occasion of the summit of the three leaders in Canada on 20 and 21 and August, such as the Anti-imperialist Coalition, Block the Empire and The Other Campaign of Canada that will carry out activities in the vicinity of the meeting place (Montebello) to express their repudiation of ASPAN.

20. What can we do to combat ASPAN?

As always, the first step is to inform us. In each social organization, in each union, in each peasant community, information days should be held about ASPAN, what it means, how it is going to affect us and how to combat it.

After informing us, we will have to fight, pressure and demonstrate so that our voice is taken into account. One option is through the consultation, the referendum, the plebiscite to demonstrate that the people know how to demand their right to information and demand an open and informed debate from the leaders before public opinion on the different agreements that have been made within the framework of the ASPAN. We do not trust traditional party politics, but if the legislative power of the three countries exercised its attributes, at least it would be possible to have access to more information and generate debate.

Why do things behind the backs of the three peoples? Why are a handful of rich people and big companies ashamed of what they are doing and trying to push their plans in the least democratic and secretive way? It depends on us that the destiny of the country includes all of us.

References for more information:

See Notebook 7 on ASPAN in the series "Let's Learn from NAFTA: No More Free Trade" published by the RMALC in Mexico City, http://www.rmalc.org.mx/index.shtml

To read a little history about ASPAN, go to:
www.ciepac.org/boletines/chiapasaldia.php?id=470

ANNEX: PRESENTATION OF THE PARTICIPANTS IN THE REGIONAL WORKSHOP ON ASPAN
www.ciepac.org/documento.php?id=92

17-Aug-2007 - num. 541 - Ciepac, San Cristóbal de las Casas - Mexico


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