Air Date: October 22, 1996 Program 9643


Various residents of Mexico;
Gurinder Chadha, filmmaker

(This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely
distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)


JEFF MARTIN: This is Common Ground, a program on world affairs and the people who shape events.

MALE (Translator): To get to the heart of the matter, it shouldn't be a simple commercial treaty, but rather a multinational treaty. A free movement of capital, goods, and people.

MARTIN: In this edition of Common Ground, the North American Free Trade Agreement and human rights in Mexico. Amnesty International has just issued a warning that human rights in Mexico are worsening. And then later in the program, England's immigrant population is changing the culture of that ancient nation.

GURINDER CHADHA: The cultural expressions of the diasporic generations is, for me, one of the most exciting new paradigms.

MARTIN: Common Ground is produced by the Stanley Foundation, I'm Jeff Martin. During the debate over the North American Free Trade Agreement, many activists pushed for provisions meant to strengthen labor and democratic rights. For the most part those activists felt that Washington and Mexico City largely ignored their concerns. Three years later, new reports charge that human rights violations in both Mexico and the United States are on the upswing. Reporter Kent Paterson recently traveled throughout Mexico and the US border region where he found grassroots activists who say NAFTA and human rights should be given a second look.

CONGRESSMAN BERNIE SANDERS: And what many of us believe is that the NAFTA Agreement was arranged by the very wealthiest people in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

PATERSON: In 1993, Congressman Bernie Saunders of Vermont addressed rural activists from the United States and Mexico, meeting to oppose the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

SANDERS: ...and that the major beneficiaries of that agreement are going to be the very wealthy and not the workers or the farmers of those three countries.

PATERSON: A fierce debate arose in the US Congress over the trade packs expected impact on the environment, jobs, and the human rights of workers on both sides of the border. Proponents argue NAFTA would tie Mexico and the US together in a prosperous economic union, while encouraging democracy south of the border. Now three years later, some charge that democratic and human rights have been forgotten in the business of NAFTA.

PATERSON: Hello sir, what's your citizenship?


PATERSON: We're were at the junction of El Paso, Texas, and Cuidad Juarez, Mexico, thousands of people visit one of the world's greatest border crossing every day. But NAFTA's promise of closer relations is not always evident at the frontier. Long delays force Mexican visitors to sit in their vehicles as US border guards scrutinize documents. National Guardsman wearing combat fatigues shuffle bags through x-ray machines. Called "Operation Hard-line" by the US Custom Service, the search has prompted public criticism from the Mexican council in El Paso. But Roger Meyer, spokesman for the US Custom Service, says the stepped up enforcement is necessary.

MEYER: We do receive complaints about not only the frequency of inspections, but the lines. However, the numbers show that we are having a lot of success, we're seizing a lot of drugs. Drug abuse is a national problem, a national epidemic. It's unfortunate that the law-biding citizens have to be subjected to the occasional long lines and the expanded searches. But it is something that is necessary. The reports have shown that up to 70% of the drugs entering the United States are coming through the 2,000 miles US-Mexican border.

PATERSON: Not far away, border patrol agents are deployed to prevent illegal Mexican immigrants from entering the United States. Just to the north at Semlin Park, New Mexico, a new fence built by the United States will divide the two nations. The Mexican government has expressed unease over such Clinton administration policies and protested incidents including the 1996 police beating of undocumented workers in Riverside, California. Reports compiled in the last three years by the US based organization, Human Rights Watch documented numerous cases of brutality committed by border control agents. Mexican nationals and US citizens of Latino descent alleged physical and sexual abuse, shootings, and improper detentions. Mexican human rights organizations are also critical.

Francesca Jimenez is a spokesperson for the Chihuahua Commission and Solidarity, with the defense of human rights or Cossydach a non-governmental group based in northern Mexico.

JIMENEZ (Translator): Contrary to a good faith collaboration between the countries, one can see how Mexico has been effected in other ways. One of these is a concern since we are neighbors of the United States, over the increase in military forces stationed along the border of the two countries. This is contrary to a spirit of goodwill that the Free Trade Agreement should have produced. It creates a conflict of situation because it's Mexican workers who are having their human rights violated. They don't receive dignified treatment.

PATERSON: Supporters of NAFTA cited jobs as a key reason to approve the pact. They argue that greater investment in trade would create employment opportunities on both sides of the border. But after the December 1994 Paso devaluation, almost one million Mexicans lost their jobs, creating a renewed push to the North arrest of undocumented Mexicans by the US government. Subsequently soared by 40% between early 1995 and 1996.

Some of NAFTA's critics argue the agreement failed to consider the long-standing labor relationship between Mexico and the United States. With US agri business claiming a dependence on Mexican labor, proposals for a new legal program of guest workers are reemerging in the United States business community. The question is, whose interests and rights will be protected. Antonio Villalba is a spokesman for the Authentic Workers Front of Mexico, an independent union group representing about 35,000 members. He says that if NAFTA allows the free transit of goods, it should be amended to also permit the free circulation of people.

VILLALBA (Translator): To get to the heart of the matter, it shouldn't be a simple commercial treaty, but rather a multinational treaty. A free movement of capital, goods, and people. In the European union, there's a citizenship status that's called Community Citizen. And the Community Citizen can live in Portugal, Spain, Greece, Germany, France, and travel in any of the 15 countries of the community. We're proposing the same concept here.

PATERSON: The post NAFTA human rights issue was not just confined to the increasingly tense border region. Here in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero, labor, peasant, and neighborhood groups met in 1996 to counter what they charge as wide spread repression of their political and democratic rights. Dramatized by the June 1995 Aguas Blancas massacre of 17 members of the peasant organization of the southern Sierra Madres by the Guerrero state police.

Since NAFTA's enactment, scores of opposition activists in Guerrero have been murdered by police or mysterious gunmen. Others are in jail, disappeared, or on the run from police.

Higinio Torres is a fugitive leader of the March 6 movement in Guerrero, an organization of small farmers who want democratic and economic change in a region of Mexico long dominated by single party rule and rural bosses. Torez says that in the eviction of protesters from the town of San Marcus last spring, he was almost murdered three times. But the Guerrero state government blames Torres and other opposition leaders for the violence and has issued warrants for their arrest.

Andres Campusano, spokesman for Guerrero governor Angel Aguirre, claims there are no political prisoners in Guerrero. He says the people in jail are there for damaging property and breaking the law. And he adds that one of the priorities of the Aguirre administration is the promotion of human rights.

COMPUSANO (Translator): The days of Aguas Blancas, which hurts all of us in Guerrero has been magnified to an extent in which it would appear that this happens every day in the state of Guerrero. And that's just not true. What happened is very regrettable. And I feel a lot for my peasant brothers who were the object of the vile aggression. But that's not a generalized thing in this state. I think that after the bad experience of Aguas Blancas the same thing will never be repeated in this state, if God wills it.

PATERSON: But since the Aguas Blancas massacre other political activists have been killed in Guerrero. In Mexico more than 400 members of the opposition PRD party have been murdered nationwide since 1989. Despite the carnage, the US State Department recently declared that the Mexican government generally respects the rights of its citizens. Scores of complaints made by Mexican human rights advocates to the inner American Human Rights Commission, tell a different story. Although the Mexican government has both federal and state human rights commissions, some citizen activists say they have no confidence in the officials. Rocio Masino is a leader of the peasant organization of the Southern Seitta Modrays??, a group that suffered the killings of 27 members since 1995.

MASINO (Translator): We have more faith in non-governmental human rights organizations because they've been helping us. We're talking about Amnesty International, the French human rights group. And here in Mexico Rocio Culebro's group, Human Rights for All. As well as the human rights promotion organization of Mari Claire Acosta in Mexico City. All these organizations are supporting us. We have more trust in non-governmental human rights organizations because the government human rights organizations don't benefit us.

PATERSON: At this forum in Acapulco, a Mexican and US human rights groups heard witnesses testify about alleged political assassinations, disappearances, and police brutality. Eric Olson, a staff member of the non-profit Washington Office on Latin America, says the US Congress omitted human rights concerns when it took up NAFTA.

OLSON: There were actually hearings on the hill on human rights in Mexico as part of the thinking that went into the Free Trade Agreement. Ultimately, it was left out. Ultimately, the only sort of, a rights issue that was included indirectly were the labor side agreements. And those, even those agreements were fairly weak.

PATERSON: Three years later a deteriorating political climate in Guerrero and other parts of southern Mexico, has the region in a state of war between the Mexican army and a new rebel movement, the Popular Revolutionary Army. According to Eric Olson should be reconsidered in the context of NAFTA.

OLSON: If there's going to be economic development, economic growth which presumably everybody wants, there has to be basic respect for human rights, basic democratic principles been observed. And I think it will ultimately undermined any kind of benefits that come from a trade relation between US and Mexico. And I'm afraid that the United States government has not placed enough importance on democracy, human rights issues in its relationship with Mexico. Its entirely focused on the economic relation. I think...

PATERSON: Some non-governmental human rights groups advocate making international loans contingent on compensation of human rights victims. Others favor putting the matter on the agenda of trade agreements. Cossydach's Eric Urizar says a revision of NAFTA could incorporate human rights. But he cautions against making one sided changes.

URIZAR (Translator): I think the great danger many times is wanting to become the supreme judge who says rather or not rights are violated and who then issues demands. A little like the policy the policy of former US President Jimmy Carter. I think that it would be valid to demand respect for human rights from a country if the same thing is done for all the countries who made the agreement. That's to say that Mexico would also be able to sanction, revise, observe, and condemn the violations that happen in the other countries. Many of the abuses that happen to Mexican workers aren't done by Mexicans, they're done by North Americans. And the basic rights of important sectors of the North American population are also affected.

PATERSON: Almost three years after NAFTA's enactment, labor, democratic and immigration controversies are unresolved between Mexico and the United States. At the same time, the human rights issue is emerging in other pending trade pacts. For instance, some members of the European Parliament now say human rights guarantees with enforceable sanctions must be part of any expanded commercial ties between Mexico and European Union. And although human rights advocates in Mexico and the United States are taking a second look at the issue. No such proposals are being entertained by the respected governments.

For Common Ground, I'm Kent Paterson reporting.

MARTIN: When Common Ground continues, the impact of an increasingly diverse population on England's culture.

CHADHA: I think the world is much bigger than nationalist boundaries. I think the world is, has a lot more to gain by being more open.

MARTIN: Printed transcripts of Common Ground and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details on ordering. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that conducts varied programs and activities meant to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.


MARTIN: We are living in an era of unprecedented migration. What happens when people move from one culture to another? In this next report, Mary Gray Davidson talks with a British filmmaker who is exploring multiculturalism in the late twentieth century.

MALE: This happy breed of men, this little world, this precious stone set in the silver sea. This blessed plot, this Earth, this realm, this England, this...

MARY GRAY DAVIDSON, Senior Producer: Shakespeare and Britain's royal family are what often come to mind when Americans think of England. But this England of centuries ago is far from the reality today. Britain has seen an empire rise and fall since Shakespeare's time. And for several generations now, residents of the former colonies have been migrating to England. British filmmaker, Gurinder Chadha, whose parents came from India breaks through old stereotypes of England in her films to show the diversity and complexity of her country today.

CHADHA: The idea is that I'm resisting being categorized. And I think all too often people always put race into the problematic and therefore culture into the problematic. And people often, in Europe, you know, people obviously have quite a strong year or Eurocentric view of the world. And what I like to present is the opposite of that. And to show that by having several languages, several cultural backgrounds you're actually living a much fuller and varied life than if you were monocultural, monolingual. And I think that, I feel very much that I'm part of a wide cultural force that is gaining more and more ground. I mean its been there, you know, ever since people starting moving around the world. But its gained a lot of ground in the twentieth century.

As Salman Rushdie said, you know, "The twentieth century is the century of the migrant." And I think, you know, as we now move towards the millennium and the next century the cultural expressions of the diasporic generations is, for me, one of the most exciting new paradigms, cultural paradigms to happen.

DAVIDSON: That's fascinating. I was wondering if, in order to live a full life, as you mentioned, is it necessary to create what could be called a third identity and not to maintain the traditions of the past and the life you might have left behind if you're a migrant?

CHADHA: I'm not sure if it's a third identity, because I think the nature of identity is that it's continually changing and continually shifting. I think that what's happening is that as we move into more of a kind of internationalist arena and as the world gets smaller and as people, like myself, and other people like me in kind of cosmopolitan centers and cities around the world—as people like me grow up and as newer generations come up and as we move ahead with our kind of combinations of cultural influences and combined identities I think what we'll end up with is a way of living where we automatically all accept and assume a multiple sense of identity. A very pluralistic society. And pluralism as the norm as opposed to essentialist identities being the norm.

I mean there's always a problem in this country when people talk about being American. Because, you know, it always throws up all kinds of things. What's an American?

DAVIDSON: In one of the recent films directed by Gurinder Chadha, she takes on some of the more difficult issues facing both the former empire nation as well as the rest of modern society. The film titled "Bhali on the Beach," explores with great humor themes of racism, feminism, family, tradition, and domestic violence by following a group of Asian women who live in London on an outing to the English resort town of Blackpool. These women range from elderly sari-clad immigrants trying to hold on to the values and tradition of the India they left decades ago, to two teenage girls out to pick up some boys on the beach. Leading this disparate mix of women is Simi, the director of this Saheli Asian Women's Group.

SIMI (from film): Hello sisters. It is not often that we women get away from the patriarchal demands made on us in our daily lives. Struggling between the double yoke of racism and sexism that we bear. This is your day, have a female fun time. (women yelling yeah)

DAVIDSON: What you can't see, because this is radio, is how Chadha pokes a little fun at this feminist jargon, by fixing on the bewildered expressions of two of the older women. The group first clashes when the older women learn that Asha, a pre-med student whom everyone has high hopes for, is pregnant and by a Black man at that.

FEMALES (dialogue from film): Thirty years I have lived in this country. Never have I known anything like this.

Look, so what if she's pregnant? So what is the father's black.


Tis the twentieth century, you know.

That will kill your family, you know.

It is not color. It is culture.

And why a black boy? What's wrong with our men?

What about the child?

DAVIDSON: Eventually, the women overcome their generational differences when they come to the defense of another character who is attempting to leave her abusive husband. In "Bhaj on the Beach" and much of her other work, Gurinder Chadha says, "The pull is between tradition and the freedom to create one's own identity."

CHADHA: And that's one of the pleasures of growing up, you know, for me in Britain where there's a prescribed way of looking at things and doing things. Whether that's an English way of looking at things or whether it's a more traditional Indian way of looking at things. And the pleasure is finding that path between. And negotiating that path between. And coming up with what's right for you. I think also, what's important to say is that in Britain I feel very very lucky, because I've been part of a very vibrant development within my community to deal with these matters in a very creative and celebratory way.

Obviously there are problems and these are conflicts, you know, in some ways. There are also a lot of plus points. And one of the most exciting moments in my life has been to document this process of defining what is a British-Asian identity. And that's what I set about recording in all my work. And because I've come from such a position of empowerment, I'm able to then look in other countries where it's still seen as the problematic, and hopefully try shifting away from that.

Recently, I was in France at a festival in Brittany where the theme was migrant communities of Europe. And they showed all my work there. And also work by the kind of people equivalent to me from France, that is North African, kind of young filmmakers. And it was very very sad, to me, how kind of separate and isolated they seemed to be. And how their lives and everything about them seemed to be wrapped in the problematic. They were a problem, living in France was a problem, the French thought they were problems. I mean everything seemed very negative. And it was very important to be at that festival and to be there with Bhaji, because of that sense of celebration within that film. It was important for a lot of black and white people there to see the film, and to see another European community kind of dealing with those questions in a kind of empowering way.

DAVIDSON: Do you feel that England has dealt with immigrants better than the rest of Europe?

CHADHA: I don't know about better. I mean, I think that there are plenty of problems in England in the same way that there are in other countries. And there is institutionalized racism within England, as there is in other parts of Europe. I mean, you know Europe was the supreme, kind of, colonizer and imperialist power. So those facets of their kind of cultural heritage and legacy is there. But I think what's happened in Britain, perhaps this is strangely because of its relationship with its colonies, it meant that we are allowed a voice of sorts, you know. I don't know how loud that will ever get.

But at the moment I'm quite optimistic about the way we're able to make inroads across all kinds of sections of life. In that we have MPs, we have Black and Asian MPs. We have black and Asian artists, filmmakers, writers, you know. Every walk of life is represented by black communities and Asian communities. And several have risen to quite, you know, famous status. Salman Rushdie again, Hanit Kareshi, you know, I myself among, won in the British Film Awards—the Best British Newcomer. So in that sense, I think there is a progressive element there that is coming to terms with the fact that Britain is a pluralist country and has a responsibility to all its citizens.

The point is, is that there's more to being Indian than coming from India. There's more to Indianness than India. And I think that what I represent is precisely a sense of Indianness, which is very British and at the same time pretty much international now. And I think the world is much bigger than nationalist boundaries, I think the world is, has a lot more to gain by being more open. And if a culture is strong enough, you know, it survives. And cultures will change, they always do, things will change century after century. It's just a question of people being more open minded and tolerant about how they change. And accepting change, rather than holding on for the wrong reasons.

DAVIDSON: Director Gurinder Chadha's film "Bhaji on the Beach" came out in 1993 and is available on video cassette. Chadha says she's now working on a screenplay set in Colombo, Sri Lanka, about a young gay man coming of age in the midst of the Tamil-Sinhalese conflict there.

For Common Ground, I'm Mary Gray Davidson.

MARTIN: Our thanks to Michael Hordern and Living Shakespeare Inc., for the performance of "King Richard II." Also to First Look Pictures for the clips from "Bhaji on the Beach."

For Common Ground, I'm Jeff Martin.

Cassettes and transcripts of this program are available. Transcripts are free, cassettes cost $5. To order or to share your comments, write to us at the Stanley Foundation, 216 Sycamore Street, Muscatine, Iowa 52761. Our e-mail address is When ordering transcripts or cassettes ask for program number 9643. To order by credit card, call us at 319-264-1500. Again, tapes are $5 and transcripts are free. Be sure to ask for program number 9643. The phone number again is 319-264-1500.

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Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.


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