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Report from Guadalajara Continental Student Meeting
by Stephanie Lofquist, Green Youth Network
The Canada-US Free Trade Agreement and the proposed NAFTA, as part of globalization, signify a decline of democracy on this continent. NAFTA will solidify a process in which the ability of the people of North America to determine the role of government, to affect change, to define the political agenda, and ultimately, to influence decisions which affect their lives is being appropriated by corporate interests.
When considering NAFTA in its larger context—that of a neoconservative agenda—the importance of the movement includes more than defeating NAFTA. The fundamental question is: How do we take back decision-making power and create alternatives to the existing social order that respect the needs of all people, communities and the earth? This question brings to light the need for a popular movement that involves and is informed by the struggles of people continentally and globally. The significance of our work in challenging NAFTA is the formation of broad-based coalitions of people working together.
At the end of November, 1992, youth from Canada, Quebec, Mexico, the US and indigenous nations met in Guadalajara, Mexico to develop a continental youth network to challenge NAFTA and globalization. Education systems throughout the continent are being fundamentally transformed by neoconservativism. University education has been affected disproportionately and in different ways in Canada, Quebec, Mexico and the US. Comparing the education systems in the three countries, Mara Robbles commented that, "...when Mexican, Canadian and US students speak of education we are talking different languages."
In Mexico, education is state-funded and is guaranteed by the Mexican constitution as a right. Students emphasized that their universities are more "holistic" and less focused on "producing" people to fit into society than schools in Canada and in the US in particular. The right to education continues to be challenged, however. The lack of student employment opportunities—a necessity for the survival of many students while attending university—threatens the accessibility of higher education. Foreseen among many consequences of NAFTA and neoconservatism, is the depopulation of universities, costly tuition, the transformation of universities into technical training schools and increased funding for private education institutions. Mexican President Salinas has already attempted to institute a cuota (tuition). It was defeated, due to enormous student mobilization.
In Canada, higher education is supposedly "public." However, tuition is skyrocketing. Since 1986, funding for higher education has been cut by $3.2 billion. With NAFTA, the government will be permanently trading away its ability to fund education. As a result, universities will be privatized. NAFTA will also affect Canada Student Loans Programs, research and development and student employment programs. Catherine Remus of CFS explained that the changes to higher education represent a particular understanding about the role of education in society. The neoconservative agenda for education is informed by the logic of the marketplace and dominated by notions of profit and global competitiveness.
The future of education in Canada and Mexico is already a reality in the US. The public education system is in crisis. As this system is being dismantled, for-profit schools are being opened. David Noble, co-founder of the D.C. based National Coalition for Universities in the Public Interest, refers to the crisis of higher education as the "hijacking of higher education" where the "interlocking directorships between universities and corporations in the US has reached a point of identity." Students from across the US spoke about tuition hikes, cutbacks and lack of accountability on their campuses.
A Continental Call for Economic, Social and Environmental Justice (Communique from the Continental Student/Youth Meeting
in Guadalajara, Mexico)
Young people from across the continent believe that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), imposed on them by their governments, in the interests of transnational corporations, must be challenged. A glimpse of the assault on peoples and ecosystems has been seen through structural adjustment programs forced on Mexico and the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement. The need for solidarity amongst young people was recognized by a diversity of youth constituencies: women, people of colour, indigenous peoples, environmentalists, student organizers, labour and community activists from Mexico, Canada and the US.
Specific actions and resolutions were developed in response to the impacts of economic restructuring for labour, women, people of colour-indigenous people, the environment, human rights, culture and economic sectors. Continental actions were also planned. These included coordinating a speakers tour to continue the exchange of experiences and ideas between the three countries and three international days of action. Most importantly, a continental network emerged from the conference. The network will act as a forum for the exchange of information, to plan and implement action to oppose NAFTA and to build a base for future work.
We have the beginnings of a continental network. The work starts now to build a movement that actively supports the social change process across the continent and in our own communities.
The International Days of Action will include :
March 23—protesting privatization of education;
April (first weekend)—border actions targeting polluted waters;
May 1—participate in May Day mobilizations to support concerns of workers.