Trading jobs for justice might make NAFTA fair

MIKE ROYKO

October 15, 1993|By MIKE ROYKO

If you listen to the economic experts who are in favor of the North American Free Trade Agreement, they seem to make a lot of sense.

But if you listen to the economic experts who oppose NAFTA, they seem to make a lot of sense.

That's the trouble with economic experts. You could probably find one who said both sides are wrong, and he'd make a lot of sense, too.

But after months of confusion, I've finally made up my mind, at least for the time being, which could be an hour or forever.

And my position has nothing to do with the arguments about the potential loss of jobs, the opening of new markets for exports, or any of the other widely debated points.

I am against NAFTA because of Serapio Zuniga Rios, 29, who is accused of being a really loathsome guy.

You've probably never heard of Serapio Zuniga Rios. I hadn't either, until a few days ago.

I was drowsily watching congressmen jabbering on C-SPAN, marveling that they get paid such handsome salaries and marvelous fringe benefits for making speeches so boring they would be barred by most Chicago taverns.

But then one of them got up and talked about Serapio Zuniga Rios.

It seems that this Rios fellow had been a migrant worker in California until about a year ago.

Then a terrible thing happened. A 5-year-old girl was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and left for dead. But she didn't die and the police say they have evidence that the crime was committed by Rios.

However, they couldn't arrest Rios because he scampered back to Mexico, his native land, before they could grab him.

Ah, but Rios was not too bright. He returned to his wife and family in Mexico and took a job driving a truck.

It wasn't that difficult tracking him down. The girl's family hired a private investigator, who slipped some money to Mexican cops and they pinpointed Rios' whereabouts.

So a request was made to have Rios arrested and extradited to this country so he could stand trial for the foul crime.

That seems like a reasonable request, right? Especially between neighboring countries that have so close a relationship.

We ship things back and forth all the time. We ship thousands of tourists and hundreds of millions of tourist dollars to Mexico. We ship American industry and jobs to Mexico.

In turn, Mexico ships tons of drugs and hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens, especially to southern California, where the assault took place.

So there shouldn't be any big deal about Mexico shipping us one accused sex fiend named Rios.

Ah, it isn't that simple.

True, we have an extradition treaty with Mexico. And if citizens of the United States commit criminal acts in Mexico, then run home, our government will send them to Mexico to stand trial. We have done that many times.

But despite the treaty, Mexico doesn't believe in sending Mexicans accused of crimes to this country.

Their position was explained by Bill Goold, an aide to Rep. George Brown, of California, who has been fighting to get Rios returned.

"There is a 1979 extradition treaty that says both countries are supposed to extradite those accused of 31 different felonies. There was a provision added later, for Mexico, that says either they extradite or prosecute the defendant in Mexican courts.

"But they're not doing either. Their position is that their constitution forbids extradition. But it's also a carry-over from the 'anti-gringo' legacy in Mexico. It is culturally unthinkable that any Mexican official would serve up a Mexican national to the United States. They have never extradited even one.

"We have extradited our citizens down there, handed people over to them. They've never given us anybody. The FBI in our region said they have dozens of cases involving Mexican nationals wanted for murder, aggravated assault and rape, and they can't get any help.

"But if we can't get them to cooperate with us in tracking down murderers and rapists, what confidence should American businesses have in the willingness and ability of Mexican officials to protect our interests?"

A reasonable question. You would think that if Mexico is so eager to get NAFTA approved that it has spent tens of millions of dollars lobbying our politicians, it could see its way clear to part with a few accused murderers and rapists.

So maybe the NAFTA agreement should be amended: For every job we let Mexico pluck from us, we expect one accused child rapist or murderer or other felonious type in return.

And maybe for every Mexican drug merchant the Mexican authorities arrest and convict, another job. For every shipment of dope the Mexican authorities intercept, another job.

I mean, what are a few murderers, rapists, and drug merchants among friends and neighbors?

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