El Paso and Juarez farmers protest on NAFTA's 20th anniversary

KTSM Benjamin Zamora

POSTED: Thursday, January 2, 2014 - 6:56pm

UPDATED: Thursday, January 16, 2014 - 4:29pm

As the 20th anniversary of NAFTA comes the voices of farmers standing against the treaty remains strong.

Earlier on Thursday farmers and activists from both sides of the border gathered at the Bridge of the Americas to protest. They state the treaty has only been beneficial to a small part of the population while employees and farmworkers continue struggling.

"The Majority of people have suffered a lot the devastation produced by nafta environmental, social devastation, violence because the way nafta was negotiate didn't include the participation of Mexican, American or Canadian farmers," Farm workers leader Victor Quintana Silveyra said.

Back in 1994 Presidents Bill Clinton, Carlos Salinas and Canada's Prime Minister Brian Mulroney signed the NAFTA treaty which opened free trade among border communities and opened up economic development opportunities for cities like El Paso and Juarez.

Juarez Chamber of Commerce officials said the treaty has been positive, although there are still many challenges and problems.

"We've seen some benefits, trade has tripled after this 20 years between the 3 countries, new jobs have been created however there's still some issues for example some agricultural products that can't be exported freely," Juarez Chamber of Commerce official Armando Prado said.

Farm workers said one of those problems is the lack of opportunities, the extremely low salaries and competitiveness.

"The poverty has also increased in Mexico, we have 28 million people that are in food poverty 21 million are in the country side we produce less wheat and less rice," Quintana added.

According to Armando Prado it all starts with authorities and how they regulate companies, he says ending corruption at all government levels is the key to success.

"Corruption is always a bit factor and it can cause many issues back in 2008 more than 60 maquiladoras left and even today we haven't been able to recover completely in job creation'" Prado said.

But for this group the fight will continue until something happens.

"There is something we can do if we let President Obama and Pena Nieto know that we are not going to sit by idly and we're going to do something and stand in solidarity and that's the biggest thing if we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters from Mexico I think we can do something," El Paso activist Clavo Martinez said.

Group leaders announced they will continue protesting this year to demand better salaries, equality and more opportunities to compete.

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