October 19 - October 25, 1995

B y  J e f f  S m i t h 


SOME SHIT IS about to happen which promises to make my neighborhood, and yours, and neighborhoods from here to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, a little slice of Beirut.

It's called NAFTA, and I've been bitching about it since it first raised its ugly, red melon.

NAFTA has been more or less in effect for the past several months; less in effect, actually, since coming this next December one of the first major effects will kick in and probably kick a lot of asses, one way or another. I allude to the entry of Mexican trucks onto Yankee highways.

I don't know if you've ever driven the highways of Mexico, but those of us who have are abundantly aware of the terrifying nature of their semi-truck traffic. Mexican semis are very often 50 percent heavier than is legal in the U.S. This wears out roadways in an average of eight years as opposed to 20. Many--if not most--of their drivers are unlicensed, uninsured and driving vehicles which, if subjected to U.S. regulations, would be parked by the side of the road for unsafe conditions, pollution or other technical deficiencies. Many--if not most--of their drivers speak little or no English.

So what is our government doing to protect its citizens, as well as the Mexican drivers, from these life- and health-threatening violations?

Practically nothing.

Why? Because it would cost money, and making more profit--not increasing expenses--is what NAFTA is all about.

Today and tomorrow the U.S. Customs Service is conducting a school for its officers at the border crossing in Nogales. Sounds like a positive step, right? Sure, but customs officers can do nothing about requiring Mexican truck drivers to have either licenses or insurance. They can't even have a truck parked for safety or pollution violations.

Their job is to protect us from killer tomatoes, essentially.

As to issues of safety and such, this falls to the Department of Public Safety--Highway Patrol--which has one (count 'em, 1) officer in Nogales to handle the roughly 1,200 commercial vehicles that enter the U.S. there every day.

This is not a joke, this is a nightmare. How did it come to trouble our slumbers? The men and women who've pushed for NAFTA did not want such disquieting thoughts to threaten passage of the trade agreement. So the obvious was simply ignored.

What will it take to get something done about it?

A body count.

It's as simple as that. The undeniable, unblinkable fact is that these rolling death-traps that are so much a part of Mexican contemporary folklore--manned by drivers wired for days on little white pills and the poison of machismo and testosterone--are going to kill more gringos than we are accustomed to contributing to interstate commerce. Lots more. Random inspections find about 23 percent of U.S. commercial trucks are in violation of safety regs. The same inspections found 63 percent of Mexican rigs to be unsafe. And this says nothing of the drivers themselves.

So all we can do is wait until enough of us, or a few who are connected to the well-connected among us, are rendered roadkill by huge smoking diesels with dingle-balls on the windshield and Oaxacan plates on the bumper, and the hue and cry will be raised to crack down on the slaughter.

By that time, the boys behind NAFTA hope and believe they will have raked in enough cash not to care about the cost of keeping our highways comparatively safe.

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October 19 - October 25, 1995

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