The weekly newsletter of the México Solidarity Project


August 18, 2021/ This week's issue/ Meizhu Lui, for the editorial team


‘You’re not a farmer. You’re a farmworker.’

Those words, says Rudy Arredondo in our interview this week, sum up the historic attitude of the US government toward Latino — mainly Mexicano — farmers and ranchers. Ever since the mid-19th century, the United States has done everything in its substantial power to turn Mexican farmers from landowners into farmworkers who have only their labor to sell.


In 1848, after nearly two years of war between the US and México, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildalgo promised the victorious US would recognize existing Mexican land ownership in the ceded territories. But legal trickery of various sorts would soon dispossess the Mexicans. That trickery was backed up by the courts, threats of lynching, and the Texas Rangers.


Before the war, under the Mexican government, farmers had paid taxes on their land’s total yield. That meant they paid less in tax in years of low harvest. After the war, under the new American rules, farmers on the conquered land that would become the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California had to pay a tax based only on land value. When crops failed, so did Mexican farmers.


In 1850, Mexicano-Tejanos made up a third of the workforce and owned a third of the land. Just 20 years later, they constituted 48 percent of the workforce and owned 11 percent of the land. In Nueces County, Mexicans owned 100 percent of the land in 1835. By 1883, Anglos owned 100 percent of the county’s land.


Mexicanos lost more than farms. They lost financial security, for themselves and for their children and grandchildren. Their work turned into Anglo wealth, passed on through the generations, perpetuating and growing the Mexicano/Anglo wealth gap up to the present.


Progressives should not, like the USDA, overlook the constant struggle of Mexicano farmers to stay afloat. Support for Mexicano farmers, not just Mexicano farmworkers, needs to be part of our ongoing fight for racial justice.


Rudy Arredondo has been the president of the National Latino Farmers & Ranchers Trade Association since he founded the organization in 1997. Arredondo served in the U.S. Department of Agriculture under both the Carter and Clinton Administrations and has long experience dealing with congressional leaders on farm issues. His organization is currently working to change US national agricultural policies to address the needs of farmers and ranchers of color.


What percent of Latino farmers and ranchers do Méxicanos make up?


According to agricultural census figures, of the 100,000 Latino farmers and ranchers, 90 percent are of Mexican descent. Their farms today can be as small as a quarter of an acre.


How did Mexicans lose their land after annexation?


Murder was one way. The Texas rangers shot Mexicano farmers for target practice. Language was weaponized too. Documents were in English only, so farmers lost land when they were fooled into signing. In México, women could own property, not so in the US. Mexican women who married Anglos lost all title.   


The US Department of Agriculture was set up to help farmers. Black farmers have won a landmark discrimination suit against the department. How have Latino farmers fared under the USDA?


The attitude of the USDA to Latinos has been, “You’re not a farmer, you’re a farmworker!” One example: Access to loans. This access means more to farmers than people in most any other business. You need timely credit with fair terms to purchase equipment, seeds, livestock, and feed. Under the USDA, we’ve seen outright discrimination in who gets loans. We’ve seen payments to farmers of color delayed until the planting season had already begun. The money arrived too late to be of use. A congressional report in 1990 called the USDA’s discriminatory practices a “catalyst in the decline in minority farming.”


Black farmers won a class action suit in Pigford in 1999. A billion dollars has been paid out. Latinos filed a similar case in Garcia. It was denied as a class action, but the USDA has promised that it would give Latinos some relief some way some day. We’ll see. Given their similar treatment, Black and Latino farmers often advocate together.


Do Latino farmers use the same farming techniques as those used by white-owned agribusinesses?


No. Farming is in our DNA, and we use methods tried and true for centuries. Our methods do not rely on chemicals and do not exhaust the soil through mono-cropping. In other words, we don’t gear up for short-term profit over the long-term health of the land.


Your advocacy has won some victories when the federal farm bill gets re-negotiated every five years.

Yes, we’ve made gains since 2008. If you’re from another country, you want certain foods —  like jicama and chayote —  to be able to prepare your native dishes. But you’ll often only find these foods available at local farmers’ markets. We won the right for low-income folks to use food stamps at those markets. To stop discrimination, we also succeeded in creating an assistant secretary for civil rights position in the USDA. And we’ve established a grant program for small producers who have historically faced discrimination.


In 2014, we got industrial hemp legalized. Chemical fertilizers and pest control products have contaminated a lot of soil with toxins. Hemp can cure the soil. Some of our farmers are now also working in the new CBD industry. Advocacy opened up these new opportunities.


What’s your view of the Biden administration and the proposed Farm Modernization Act? Do you have hope for real change?


Biden’s choice for head of the USDA, Tom Vilsack, was once named Monsanto’s “Man of the Year.” We call him “Mr. Monsanto.” It’s now well known that Roundup, Monsanto’s weed killer, causes cancer. Monsanto products have cost farmers and farmworkers their health and lives, their harvests, and their farms, and run-off has contaminated nearby water sources affecting whole communities.


The Farm Modernization Act allows immigrant farmworkers to come only as H2-A temporary workers. Small farmers can’t use the H2-A program even if they wanted to. Meeting its requirements simply cost too much.


We have faith in the of millions of small farmers, landless people, migrants, and agricultural workers worldwide who have now become an organized force through the Via Campesina movement. We defend peasant agriculture for food sovereignty and oppose corporate-driven agriculture.


Who produces our food? How do they do that producing — and for whom? The answers to these social questions will determine the future of our people and planet.


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A Blast Against US Interference in AMLO’s Herbicide Phaseout

This past New Year’s Eve, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador “quietly rocked the agribusiness world” with a decree banning the herbicide glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, and later announced a phase-out of the cultivation of genetically modified corn. This past spring, a broad coalition of US activist groups in everything from agriculture and public health to the environment and labor rights called on the Biden administration to “respect Mexico’s sovereignty and refrain from interfering with its right to enact health-protective policies.” In Common Dreams, Jessica Corbett has offered more background.

The groups’ letter on the Mexican policies and U.S. interference — published in English and Spanish — is addressed to recently confirmed U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai. Its lead author is Kristin Schafer, executive director of Pesticide Action Network North America.


“We call on Secretary Vilsack and Trade Representative Tai, as key leaders in the new administration, to respect Mexico's decision to protect both public health and the integrity of Mexican farming,” Schafer said in a statement. “It is completely unacceptable for U.S. public agencies to be doing the bidding of pesticide corporations like Bayer, who are solely concerned with maintaining their bottom-line profits.”


Fernando Bejarano, director of Pesticide Action Network in Mexico, explained that “we are part of the No Maize No Country Campaign, a broad coalition of peasant organizations, nonprofit NGOs, academics, and consumers which support the presidential decree and the fight for food sovereignty.”


The letter … highlights Guardian reporting that CropLife America and Bayer-Monsanto worked with US officials to lobby against Mexico's plans.


“We strongly object to any interference by US government officials or agribusiness interests in a sovereign state's right to enact policy measures to protect the health and well-being of its people,” the letter states. “We urge your agencies to resist and reject these ongoing efforts.”


Recent news reports and commentaries, from progressive and mainstream media,
on life and struggles on both sides of the US-México border


Kurt Hackbarth, AMLO Wants a United Latin America, Jacobin. Andrés Manuel López Obrador is calling for a union of Latin American countries as a bulwark against foreign interference. Could that work?


Patrick McDonnell, México revisits Spain’s conquest, Los Angeles Times. Aztecs’ defeat stirs disquiet in national psyche 500 years later.


Mexican president apologizes to Indigenous for Spanish conquest, Aljazeera. Marking the 500th anniversary of the fall of the Aztec capital, AMLO asks for forgiveness.


Manuel Pérez-Rocha Loyo, Riesgos en la renegociación del TLC con la UE, La Jornada. Los gobiernos neoliberales, desde Salinas de Gortari, han cedido nuestra soberanía jurídica ante empresas trasnacionales mediante la firma de tratados de libre comercio.


John Ackerman, A los mexicanos sí nos interesa la política y somos solidarios, IMER Noticias. La Encuesta Nacional de Culturas Políticas y Democracia 2021 pone de cabeza las teorías “neoliberales” sobre la cultura política de México, que dicen que los mexicanos somos individualistas, agachones, solitarios y resentidos; cuando en realidad es todo lo contrario.


Laura Carlsen, The Exaggerated Death of México’s Drug War, CounterPunch. What would have to change to really kill the Mérida Initiative, the U.S. drug-war push in México?


David Rogers, How Trump stiff-armed Congress — and gaslighted the courts — to build his wall, Politico. Lawmakers remain divided over how to respond.


The Mexico Solidarity Project brings together activists from various socialist and left organizations and individuals committed to worker and global justice who see the 2018 election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador as president of México as a watershed moment. AMLO and his progressive Morena party aim to end generations of corruption, impoverishment, and subservience to US interests. Our Project supports not just Morena, but all Mexicans struggling for basic rights, and opposes US efforts to undermine organizing and México’s national sovereignty. 


Editorial committee: Meizhu Lui, Bruce Hobson, Bill Gallegos, Sam Pizzigati. We welcome your suggestions and feedback. Interested in getting involved? Drop us an email!


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