WASHINGTON – The NAFTA superhighway, a north-south interstate trade corridor linking Mexico, Canada and the U.S., would mean U.S. truckers replaced by Mexicans, more unsafe rigs on American roads and more drivers relying on drugs for their long hauls, charges the International Brotherhood of Teamsters – the latest group to weigh in against the Bush administration plan.
The August issue of Teamster magazine features a cover story on the plan for an enlarged I-35 that will reach north from the drug capital border town of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, 1,600 miles to Canada through San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Kansas City, Minneapolis and Duluth, while I-69 originating at the same crossing will shoot north to Michigan and across the Canadian border.
Public proposals for the superhighway calls for each corridor to be 1,200 feet wide with six lanes devoted to cars, four to trucks, with a rail line and utilities in the middle. Most of the goods will come from new Mexican ports being built on the Pacific Coast – ports being run by Chinese state-controlled shipping companies.
“Tens of thousands of unregulated, unsafe Mexican trucks will flow unchecked through out border – a very real threat to the safety of our highways, homeland security and good-paying American jobs,” writes Teamster President Jim Hoffa. “The Bush administration hasn’t given up on its ridiculous quest to open our border to unsafe Mexican trucking companies. In fact, Bush is quietly moving forward with plans to build the massive network of highways from the Mexican border north through Detroit into Canada that would make cross-border trucking effortless.”
So incensed was the union over the plan for the NAFTA superhighway that it sent investigative reporter Charles Bowden to Mexico for its August magazine report on the problems affecting Mexican drivers – problems that could soon come home to Americans with the plans for the new intercontinental highways.
Drivers interviewed for the magazine report say they are exploited by companies that force them to drive 4,500 kilometers alone over the course of five or six nights without sleep. How do they stay awake on such long hauls?
One driver says, “professional secret.” Another laughs, “magic dust.” Others mention “special chemicals.”
“And then they are off, a torrent of words and quips and smiles, and a knowing discussion of that jolt when a line of cocaine locks in,” writes Bowden. “They are all family men who run the highways at least 25 days a month and they are adamant about two things – that nobody can run these long hauls without cocaine and crystal meth, and now and then some marijuana to level out the rush. And the biggest danger on their endless runs comes from addicted Mexican truck drivers, which means all truck drivers.”
Mexican drivers, of course, earn considerably less than their U.S. counterparts – about $1,100 a month. Hoffa says the NAFTA superhighway plan would “allow global conglomerates to capitalize by exploiting cheap labor and non-existent work rules and avoiding potential security enhancements at U.S. ports.”
The drivers interviewed for Teamster magazine say they are completely at the mercy of their employers, the Mexican government and police – who are the first to rob them. All of those interviewed said they have killed people with their trucks on the highways and fled the accident sites.
Hoffa calls NAFTA an “unqualified disaster” up to now – and wonders why the nation continues to pursue the “free trade” agenda. Instead of creating new jobs, he said, it has cost 3 million in manufacturing alone. Instead of creating trade surpluses, America’s trade deficit is the worst ever, he says.
“If there’s a positive side to the disastrous legacy of NAFTA, it’s that it has made it a little harder for the free trade cabal to wrap their lies around subsequent job-killing deals,” says Hoffa. “While the White House and Senate still have a majority who continue to support the free trade agenda, their ranks have shrunk over the years – sometimes due to members of Congress changing their minds and sometimes due to voters changing their member of Congress.”
He adds: “If the Bush administration succeeds (with the NAFTA superhighway), American drivers and their families will be forced to share the roads with unsafe, uninsured trucks and millions of good-paying American jobs will be lost. And just one weapon of mass destruction in an unchecked container will be too many.”