Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Life and Death of a Border Town

The Life and Death of a Border Town by David Martinez, Special to CorpWatch June 12th, 2007

In the town of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, close to the U.S. border, two streets intersect: one is called Progreso (Progress) and the other is Fabrica (Factory). They are aptly named streets because they are thoroughfares that only house manufacturing plants called maquiladoras - giant mall sized buildings ringed with fences and with guardhouses posted out front. There are no houses or shops here – indeed, the sidewalks on Progreso and Fabrica are empty, and the only noise that can be heard during a workday are the trucks that drop off supplies and pick up finished goods. Some of the factories belong to well-known companies like Caterpillar or Sony, others to less well-known companies like Delphi. Early every morning at the beginning of the workday, special buses arrive from specific neighborhoods carrying workers, while others arrive in their own vehicles. They are smartly dressed young women and men whose jobs range from assembling videotapes to refurbishing defective machines.

The factories are huge, employ thousands of workers and do brisk business. It is hard to imagine that they could ever pack up and leave, but it is a distinct possibility in the chaotic world of border economics. The number of maquiladoras began increasing in Nuevo Laredo and other border towns after the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA was signed in 1994. At the time there was much ado about NAFTA, and "free trade" entered the popular lexicon, with its proponents claiming it would bring prosperity to the impoverished population of Mexico, and its detractors predicting doom for U.S. workers and their Mexican counterparts.

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