“Tierra, Agua, Libertad, Justicia y Ley” which translates as Land, water, liberty, and law, often shortened to “land and liberty,” was the rallying cry of the Mexican Revolution, one of the most iconic of the 20th century. Prior to the revolution, Mexico lived in a state of tremendous socioeconomic injustice, with the ruling elite living prosperously, but the majority working class and indigenous people being exploited and oppressed (The Storm that Swept Mexico, 15:43). The United States has continuously intervened itself in Mexican affairs in the latter 19th-century and early 20th, as Mexico lost major territories in the Mexican-American war. The people and political elite were tired and weary of such an aggressive neighbor (The Storm that Swept Mexico, 1:01:13).
The Mexican revolution was a decade of violence but it led to major changes in Mexican policy. First, there was the establishment of the tremendously liberal Mexican Constitution of 1917 which was not only promoted worker’s rights but established economic nationalism, land reform, and brought the military under civilian rule, while enhancing the federal government. As a result, over the next decades, Mexican leaders sought to manage challenging domestic political affairs where the working class used their mass to get the government to meet their demands. However, on the international scale, Mexico became stronger, willing to stand up to the United States, such as when it nationalized all foreign oil companies (The Storm that Swept Mexico, 1:26:43). The government leaders were careful not to upset the working class which had realized their power in numbers and sought certain rights and protections from the federal government.
NAFTA was ratified in 1993, essentially highly integrating the Mexican economy with the US and Canada. This undoubtedly brought some benefits such as modernization and industrialization back to Mexico, without the fear of nationalization by the government, and provided pathways for Mexican workers to economic opportunities, both domestically and via immigration. However, NAFTA was detrimental to Mexico in many ways. Mexico desperate for economic investment agreed to Chapter 11, in the words of Bill Moyers, “NAFTA might be friendly to investment – but it was not all that friendly to democracy” (Bill Moyers Reports: Trading Democracy, 28:08). This was seen primarily in Mexican communities that had previously expressed the will to have certain enterprises shut down, such as landfills across several cities. However, with NAFTA, American companies such as Metaclad bought the land and began to operate bringing more waste, sometimes without permits or permission of the community. Evidence suggests that regardless of if the local government was on the side of the people or not, the projects went ahead causing significant ecological and social damage (Bill Moyers Reports: Trading Democracy, 32:36).
Something similar occurred with Mexican farmers, who attempted to save water for dry seasons, but due to NAFTA agreements, the government was forced to reroute water to the United States. This essentially left Mexican communities in a desperate situation, influencing some to take arms (Chaparro). The change from the times of the Mexican Revolution and early 20th century is tremendous. The sentiments back in the day were focused on protecting the people and Mexican land and sovereignty. The various leaders, despite their instability, responded to the calls of the people, and enacted policy and federal action to address their needs to the best possible extent. The revolution empowered the working class.
However, this seems to have dissipated with NAFTA, which placed investments and money over the will of the people. It is universally believed that Mexico benefited a lot less from the deal rather than its neighbors, and despite some few benefits, the country became exploited by rich American businesses similar to what was happening prior to the Mexican Revolution. NAFTA saw a decrease in democracy and the rule of law, but instead created a climate of corruption (even if official), where the most money buys the will of the government. The Mexican government is much less willing to stand up for its people or national policy, fearing the reprise from the US as well as the potential economic consequences that may create social instability, but as a result, it already leads to the letting down of lower economic classes.
Bill Moyers Reports: Trading Democracy. Directed by Sherry Jones, performance by Bill Moyers. Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), 2002.
Chaparro, Luis. “Army of Mexican Farmers Clash with National Guard Over Paying Water to the US.” VICE, 2020. Web.
The Storm that Swept Mexico. Directed by Raymond Telles. Paradigm Productions, Inc. & the Independent Television Services (ITVS), 2011. YouTube.