China’s Declining Economic Miracle

The End of the Chinese Miracle

Financial Times (2017)

This documentary explores factors behind China’s declining economic growth and the potential effect on the rest of the global economy.

The filmmakers attribute China’s recent economic miracle to an explosion of young workers willing accept low wages in hundreds of thousands of factories manufacturing cheap consumer goods for the West. Over two decades, the lure of jobs has prompted the migration of millions of Chinese youth from the countryside to 88 super cities (the size of London) all over China.

Owing to demographics, this supply of endless young workers has stalled, causing average manufacturing wages to more than double. The global recession and declining demand for cheap plastic has prompted many Chinese manufacturers to move to Southeast Asia, where wages are much lower. Others are are illegally employing undocumented Vietnamese laborers smuggled into China. Not mentioned in the film, is the rapid replacement of Chinese workers with robots (see China Replaces Workers With Robots) .

Owing to the decline in good paying manufacturing jobs, many rural workers are returning to their families to work the land.

Meanwhile commodity exporting countries (eg Australia, China’s main source of coal) are being forced into recession as Chinese manufacturing declines.



Fighting (and Dying) to Reclaim the Commons in Latin America

Land of Corn

Peace Brigades International (2015)

Film Review

Land of Corn is a documentary by Peace Brigades International about four environmental and land rights activists fighting to protect the commons in Oaxca Mexico, Santa Helena Honduras, Choco Columbia and La Primavera Guatemala. In each case, activists are fighting collusion between US-backed corrupt governments and international corporations to end their communal land rights and destroy their livelihood.

In Oaxca, a multinational corporation seeks to illegally evict residents to construct a giant wind farm.

In Santa Helena Honduras, a US-backed corporate giant seeks to displace local farmers for a giant dam and hydroelectric project. This illegal eviction stems directly from the 2009 US-backed coup, in which Obama and Hillary Clinton supported the overthrow of the democratically elected Honduran president.

In Primavera Guatemala, a multinational seeks to clear cut a rain forest residents’ ancestors have fought for generations to preserve.

In Choco Columbia, land rights activists are seeking to reclaim land they lost in the 1980s and 1990s to a corrupt public-private partnership that converted their land to large scale cattle ranches and palm oil and GMO crop plantations.

It’s extremely dangerous to be a land rights/environmental activist in US-backed Latin American countries. One-hundred-sixteen were assassinated in 2014 alone. Those featured in the film face constant death threats. On March 3, 2016 Honduran activist Berta Caceres was murdered by gunmen in her sleep.

As a woman fighting to reclaim community land in Columbia bitterly observes, non-farm jobs are virtually non-existent in her country. If her family is unsuccessful in reclaiming their land, their only other option is to  illegally immigrate to the US, as so many other displaced Latin American peasants have done.

Migrants Who Cross the Deadly Sonora Desert

Sonya Dooley in the USA – Border Wars

BBC (2013)

Film Review

Most Sonya Dooley documentaries are contextless valley girl puff pieces, but this one isn’t too bad.

Border Wars is about the one million migrants who attempt to cross the Sonora Desert every year to gain illegal entry to the US. The Mexico-Arizona border is sparsely patrolled in the desert. The US Border Patrol catches approximately 300,000 illegal migrants every year and returns them to Mexico. An estimated 600,000 make it safely to major US cities, where they find work. Several thousands become lost during the five day desert crossing and die of dehydration.

The documentary begins in the small Mexican town of Alta, which is under the control of Mexican drug cartels. In addition to smuggling illegal drugs across the border, the cartels also provide the coyotes (people smugglers) who charge up to $7,000 each to escort migrants across the border.

Dooley interviews migrants staying in a charity hostel while they wait for their coyote. She also visits a Red Cross trailer that provides free medical care, as well as an informational leaflet providing tips for surviving the five-day desert crossing.

Two migrants she interviews are mothers leaving small children behind because she has no way to provide for them in Mexico. Her only hope is to try to find subsistence-level work in the US and send money home for them.

One man Dooley interviews was raised in the US and deported after twenty years, despite having a US-born wife and children. Several migrants tell her they’re from Guatemala.

Out of the seven migrants she profiles, only one succeeds in making it to California, where she now earns $300 a week as a farm worker. To earn a comparable sum in her southern Mexico village would take two months.