Speak Spanish, Sell American! Local Ad Agency puts on a Business Seminar for Investing/Exploiting

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (June 1995)

Since the beginning of 1995 it has been no secret to most that the Mexican economy has taken a turn for the worst. That is to say that most Mexicans, who are not included in economic planning, are the ones suffering from the current economic crisis. The several dozen billionaires and other corporate hacks are not worried about where their next meal will come from. The situation is like this – the peso has been devaluated (again), strict conditioned international loans have been given, and there are pressures to privatize more and more of the Mexican economy. Sound familiar? It should. In many ways this is a text book example of the USA government led structural adjustment programs that the IMF and the World Bank have been forcing on the majority of the developing countries around the world. Then again maybe this doesn’t sound familiar, because the corporate media has chosen to blame Mexico’s woes on their government’s incompetence or societal backwardness and not the earlier IMF imposed economic plan.

A similar failure of the corporate media was it’s failure to report on the recent Chase Bank memo directed at the Mexican government on the Chiapas problem and a favorable investment climate. In a February 1 issue of the CounterPunch newsletter we are given excerpts of an internal memo from Chase Bank. The memo says “There are three areas in which the current monetary crisis can undermine political stability in Mexico. The first is in Chiapas, the second in the upcoming elections and the third is the role of the labor unions, their relationship to the government and the governing PRI.” The memo goes on to say “While Chiapas, in our opinion, does not pose a fundamental threat to Mexican political stability, it is perceived to be so by many in the investment community. The government will need to eliminate the Zapatistas to demonstrate their effective control of the national territory and of security policy.” It seems clear to me that from the reporting by the justice-based press that the Zedillo government is taking to heart Chase’s suggestion about eliminating the Zapatistas.

An April 21 article from the National Catholic Reporter states that “on April 7, Roger Maldanado, from the Chiapas human rights organization CONPAZ, documented abuses in at least 20 towns and villages under army control. The violations include torture, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention and rape.” As to the issue of “labor unions and their relationship to the government,” again we have to consult the justice-based press since the corporate press continues to wax eloquently about the wonders of NAFTA.

To most workers in Mexico the devaluation of the peso was no surprise. According to numerous studies done by the Inter-hemispheric Resource Center based in New Mexico “the average wage in Mexico has stagnated or declined over the past 15 years, unemployment has risen and the cost of living has increased.” In addition to this, the climate for labor organizing has become very repressive, especially in USA run companies like GM, Motorola and Nike. Fortunately the bleak economic picture is not going unnoticed in some sectors of the US left. As we go to print there is a labor conference in Detroit sponsored by Labor Notes that is focusing on the consequences of NAFTA and the prospects for US/Mexican labor solidarity.

On our side of the Rio Grande things are also not as lovely as was predicted by pundits with the passage of NAFTA. Some government and corporate claims have stated that NAFTA has created 100,000 jobs in the USA in 1994. That claim however, is being challenged by the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). An IPS study could only pinpoint 535 jobs attributable to NAFTA. On the other side of the ledger, the number of jobs lost to the trade treaty appears to be in the tens of thousands. “The US Labor Department says that nearly 13,000 workers have applied for NAFTA-related Transitional Adjustment Assistance (TAA), but the AFL-CIO labor organization reports 47,000 applicants in the first nine months of NAFTA operations.” (Latinamerica press) According to the IPS study, the apparel industry, with one-third of the applicants in the TAA program, was hardest hit by NAFTA displacement. Fifty-one percent of all job loss was attributable to plant relocation to Mexico and another 21 percent to increased NAFTA competition.

Eat Mexican Food

Listen to Mexican Music

Don’t Give a Shit about Most Mexicans

In March I attended a seminar organized by a local ad agency (Burglar Advertising) on some of the benefits and how to of investment in Mexico. The seminar took place at San Chez restaurant, complete with “ethnic” food, music, and little name tags that said me llamo (my name is). The entire morning was filled with speakers that ranged from economists and investors, to ad people. Needless to say the majority of those in attendance were Anglo businessmen.

The tone of the seminar was set by Comerica Bank economist David Litman. His talk was entitled “After NAFTA, GATT and the Psycho peso: What Next?” Mr. Litman’s job was to basically calm the storm that might have been in the minds of current and potential investors since the recent crash of the peso. Like most economists he gave us a whole litany of facts and figures that seemed meaningless. In the end he said “the bailout will only prolong the inevitable growth. In the real world Mexico has done well. The Salinas program set the stage for future expansion.” If by future expansion he means greater control by transnational corporations in the region, then he is right. This of course leaves out the majority of the population that will drown in poverty or join the ranks of the Zapatistas and their allies.

Next we were entertained by Andrzej Rattinger, publisher of ADCEBRA, an advertising and marketing journal in Mexico “for establishing the Mexican view of American Marketing.” This former employee of Bayer and Kodak talked about the potential for marketing in Mexico and how “most of the Mexicans are waiting for your product.” He shared an interesting image with us on the possibilities of product growth, even in a country that he said had 53 million people earning between $120-500 per year. “On highway 95 in Mexico you have two men, one is driving a new 1995 car, the other a donkey. Both are in two completely different economic brackets, but both may be drinking Coke, wearing Levi’s jeans and listening to the same radio station.” That, he said, is the importance of “Speaking Spanish, but Selling American.”

The founder of Burglar Advertising, Marcel Burglar, spoke about an ad campaign he did for the Asgrow Seed Company. This seed company wanted to introduce new tomato seeds into the Mexcian farm industry. This new type of seed would be for northern Mexican climate and would give the tomato a long shipping and shelf life. Obviously these seeds are designed for the export market. As an ad man he talked about the cultural education that he learned in attempting to develop a campaign that would speak to Mexican cultural heritage. This is all quite fine except he did not address how the increased agro-export model is unsustainable for most economies, nor did he address the fact that it will hurt most of the small ejido farmers who can not compete with these large scale farming operations (like the ones targeted by this ad campaign).

The only two Latino presenters spoke last and also echoed the words of the previous speakers. They showed us some car commercials made in Mexico for the Chrysler LaBaron. Mind you they were trying to sensitize us to the culture. The commercial was filled with elite images, and a woman waiting to be picked up and taken away by her man. This almost Victorian display did not seem to reflect the cultural sensitivity about most Mexicans that I have met either here or in Mexico. It was obvious that the target market was the upwardly mobile members of Mexican society, not the masses of indigenous or mestizos that make up the bulk of the Mexican population.

For me the seminar was a clear demonstration of cultural and economic imperialism that some in the business continue to display. Not once did anyone ask the question about what our responsibility is to promote free trade systems that honor people’s needs, respects the environment and fosters solidarity among the people of North America. One way to make this happen would be to investigate local business/government efforts that take advantage of the NAFTA model. It is with these examples that I believe we can reach a broader audience, since it makes the local connection about the real effects of these policies. People understand the local connection and will organize around it. Focusing only on the multinational corporations can sometimes leave people feeling overwhelmed. However we do it, it is high time we hold businesses and governments accountable for their policies at home and abroad.