Bishop: Mexican Farmers Ill-Prepared for NAFTA

Calls for Campaign in Favor of Education to Combat Inequality

By Jaime Septién

IRAPUATO, Mexico, JAN. 31, 2008 ( Mexican farmers took to the streets in the nation’s capital today, protesting the implementation of the last step of the North American Free-Trade Agreement. A Mexican bishop said too little has been done to prepare farmers for the treaty.

Bishop José de Jesús Martínez Zepeda of Irapuato said some 400,000-500,000 people live and work in rural areas within his diocese. Many of them are worried about the elimination of import tariffs on maize, beans, sugar and milk, which was put into effect Jan. 1.

The bishop said there is a “risk of a greater impoverishment and the forcing of many peasants to abandon the countryside and to emigrate to cities, which are unprepared to receive them, to emigrate or yield to the temptation of cultivating illicit crops.”

Bishop Martínez Zepeda lamented that “very little was done in Mexico to prepare for this moment,” despite the gradual implementation of the agreement.

Now, the bishop said, “it is impossible to leave our brothers alone in the countryside. Because of this, we support the initiative calling for the study and negotiation of the exception clauses already foreseen in the treaty.”

“It is urgent and should not be postponed,” emphasized the bishop of Irapuato, “to apply more state resources to farming and ensure its proper application to assessment, training, new technologies.”

Costly and ineffective

Bishop Martínez Zepeda called for a nationwide crusade in favor of education and against far-reaching inequality among social classes, citing this as the reason that thousands of Mexicans emigrate to the United States and Canada each year in search of work.

“Education is behind and the inequality is grievous. The country has functioned by exploiting natural resources, in order to cover its operating expenses, without being able to sufficiently invest in the integral education of its population, resigned, conformist, with a scant 8 years of schooling,” Bishop Martínez Zepeda contended.

“The current educational system costs much and yields little,” he said. “The unions controlling education are satisfied with their profitable and easy jobs and do not appear to be seeking innovative educational reform efforts that proposes how to advance, that places first the interests of the many, that forms enterprising citizens.”

Finally, the bishop of Irapuato called for a renewed commitment to Mexico. He urged that “we renew our faith in the fact that we can participate and achieve its transformation. We need to be citizens ready to change and to share the responsibility of transforming the country. We are the country. May this attitude become a conviction for many in daily activities, without hoping for a leader who alone can provide a solution for everything.”

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