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When states regulate "free trade"

By Thomas M. Sipos
web posted March 31, 2008

Bordertown

BordertownHundreds (some say thousands) of women have been murdered in the Mexican town of Juarez over the years. Their raped and mutilated corpses scatter the desert. This is not fiction. The "women of Juarez" are real. Their murders continue to this day.

Who murdered them? NAFTA!

That's according to Bordertown, a Hollywood "message movie" (recently released on DVD) that tries to be entertaining as it preaches, and mostly succeeds. Its politics are so confused that libertarians, anarchists, feminists, Marxists, paleo-conservatives, anti-globalists, and Gibby the cat should all find something to cheer.

The film has a typical "message movie" structure. An Outsider investigates an Issue, educating us along the way. In this case, Jennifer Lopez is a Chicago reporter assigned to cover the Juarez murders. Her editor (Martin Sheen) rattles off statistics, sounding less like a jaded journalist than an activist/actor lecturing to us. Lopez dislikes the assignment because Mexico is a career dead-end. But after she relents, she reconnects with her Mexican roots, discarding her blond hair dye to accept her authentically black tresses.

Lopez learns that Juarez, just across the Texas border, is a creature of NAFTA. A town full of maquiladoras, factories that assemble TVs and computers for the U.S. market. Maquiladoras exist all along the Mexican side of the border.

How are maquiladoras to blame for the murders of women?

Bordertown informs us that maquiladoras "hire mainly young women because they work for lowers wages and complain less about the long hours and harsh working conditions. Most maquiladoras operate 24 hours a day. Many women are attacked while traveling to and from work in the late night and early morning. The companies provide no security for the workers."

You see, factories are responsible for workers' safety, not only on the job, but while they're commuting. (And perhaps at home, too?)

Yet there are libertarian nuggets in this film. By morally obligating businesses to protect their workers offsite, this film admits that the state has failed in its core duty. And Bordertown pulls no punches; its corrupt Mexican police not only fail to protect, they also cover up murders and frame innocent suspects.

So much for relying on state protection -- these women need guns! Yet when Lopez enters a dangerous situation undercover, she arms herself ... with rocks. Sic!

Bordertown offers other libertarian insights. One rape victim/factory worker (Mexican actress Maya Zapata) says she'd rather live on her farm, but the government keeps raising taxes to push people off their land, pressuring them to accept low-wage jobs out of desperation. "We cannot pay the taxes, so they tell us, go to the border and work in the maquiladora. Make money to keep your land. But there is no money here. The government and the factories take everything. All the money is for them. For us, nothing."

Well, she gets $5 a day, so when she says "nothing," she presumably means wages are so low, she can't pay the taxes. Taxes raised not for revenue (people can't pay them), but to create cheap labor. Thus does the government collude with business (perhaps for kickbacks?).

Marxists call this market exploitation, but libertarians will recognize it as market distortion.

The U.S. government is also condemned, for not mandating worker protections in NAFTA. "The screams of the women of Juarez are silent because no one will listen," Lopez writes in her news story. "Not the giant corporations who make their profits from the labor of these women. Not the governments of Mexico and the U.S. who benefit from the free trade agreement. All the evidence points to the fact that there are many killers. A whole culture of murder that gets worse the more it's denied and covered up. Covering it up is less expensive than protecting these women. Everything is about the bottom line. And so the death toll mounts."

Lopez is right about there being many killers. "You want to kill a woman for any reason, you come to Juarez," a local journalist tells her.

Juarez is a bad town. Most slums are. And police rarely expend resources on poor victims. But this is an old story. It has nothing to do with NAFTA.

A U.S. Senator and the newspaper's corporate owner pressure Sheen to kill the story. They want to expand NAFTA to Central America, and don't want bad press. Sheen tells Lopez that corporate America's news agenda is "free trade, globalization, and entertainment." Lopez snaps, "It isn't free trade. It's slave trade. It's a goddamn scam."

She means low wages and no protections, yet she inadvertently has a point. Libertarian Party presidential candidate Harry Browne too opposed NAFTA, as a form of managed trade (i.e., a scam), saying, "Free trade can not be achieved through committee negotiations and lengthy regulations."

A Mexican industrialist tells Lopez, "I buy politicians on both sides of the border." State and industry collaborate in Bordertown. Marxists see this as global capitalism, but libertarians recognize it as statist corporatism (i.e., economic fascism).

I recommend this DVD. It highlights important issues. The women of Juarez are real and deserve attention, irrespective of Bordertown's confused politics.

Special features include Jennifer Lopez accepting an Amnesty International award for Bordertown at the Berlin Film Festival; a documentary about a murder victim and the innocent suspect arrested and tortured by police. (Most of the maquiladoras shown here are Asian -- Sony, Sanyo, Hitachi -- so why doesn't Bordertown condemn the Japanese government?); and a documentary that follows a woman's attempt to illegally cross the border into the U.S. ESR

Thomas M. Sipos is editor of California Freedom, the newspaper of the Libertarian Party of California. His bio & contact info can be found at http://www.communistvampires.com.


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