Andreas Jeninga/The Hoya Celia Santiz Ruiz and Lucia Mendez Guzman describe the benefits of fair trade products in the international market in Sellinger Lounge on Sunday.

Textile artisans Celia Santiz Ruiz and Lucia Mendez Guzman from Chiapas, Mexico, described the adverse effects of globalization on exican indigenous communities in Sellinger Lounge on Sunday.

In addition to discussing threats to the native economy from organizations such as NAFTA and the Free Trade Areas of the Americas, Ruiz and Guzman also promoted increasing the number of fair trade products sold in the international market.

According to Jessica Lee (COL ’05), president of Georgetown Students for Fair Trade, women and children comprise more than 70 percent of the poorest people in the world. In response to this disparity, many women have formed Fair Trade Cooperatives, organizations which are designed to market indigenous crafts, educate women and help to build a more equitable economy for Mexicans. These cooperatives pay fair wages, provide safe working conditions and engage in environmentally-sustainable practices.

Speaking through a translator, Ruiz described the process of forming a cooperative comprised entirely of women as an arduous task. In addition to the lack of aid from the government, the knowledge of business and marketing for their products is an unfamiliar realm for many indigenous Mexican women.

“Many women don’t understand what globalization is but we feel the consequences in our lives,” Ruiz said. “It is very difficult to work in this way. We do not know how to lead a cooperative, but we are learning.”

When asked how the men felt about this growing female independence, Guzman, who also spoke through a translator, said that there was some resentment, but that the attitudes of the men are slowly changing.

“Some of the men are OK with it, but some are not,” said Guzman. “Many men let the women participate because they know that the women also have rights not just the men.”

Ruiz added that the cooperatives are essential for sustaining indigenous communities since women often supply all of the income for their families through the money they earn through these organizations.

“A lot of the times the men do not bring money because they bring the food,” said Ruiz. “And sometimes, if they go to the city, they spend the money to go and rest and to drink, which is not very beneficial for us.”

According to Ruiz, the decline in prices of indigenous commodities is the most adverse affect of globalization for exicans. Coffee which previously sold for 30 pesos now sells for only six pesos. In addition, Ruiz said that the infiltration of genetically-modified foods and pesticides has affected the purity of their products as well as decreasing the sale of indigenous products from the introduction of cheaper food.

Ruiz attributed the hardships of the indigenous communities, in part, to the actions and policies of the Mexican government. According to Ruiz, the government displaced settlements and inhabited areas in Montes Azules, a region which was previously occupied by the indigenous Lacandon. Ruiz also said that government officials often take medicinal plants and wood from indigenous settlements.

At the end of the presentation, Ruiz expressed her hope that the cooperative which she works for will help in rebuilding the native economy of Mexico. She also said that it was her goal to raise public awareness of not only fair trade, but the situation of indigenous communities.

“I wanted to show you how we work, how we live, how things affect us, things that the government does to us so that we may touch the hearts of each one of you,” she said.

Lindsey Shively (COL ’07) felt that the experiences shared by Ruiz and Guzman added another dimension to the globalization issue.

“I thought the presentation today was definitely helpful,” Shively said. “Oftentimes the anti-globalization struggle is depersonalized, relying on stats and numbers, and the individual stories get lost. Events like [the one held today] are helpful to remind us that there are real people out there who are directly affected by our trade policies. Whether they have enough food to eat, or clothes to wear is a direct outcome of our consumer choices.”

Lee said she hopes this event presents not only a gender-based perspective on the issue of globalization, but also a perspective on the new crafts which are available for sale which add to other fair trade products such as coffee, tea and chocolate.

During the first week of December, Georgetown Students for Fair Trade will also sponsor a sale of fair trade crafts.

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