And now, according to another researcher -- Priscilla Stephan of the World Wildlife Fund -- Mexico, Canada, and the United States have been "secretly negotiating" changes to the rules so it will become even harder for citizens of the three NAFTA countries to have a say in environmental matters. "In the shadow of Seattle," Stephan wrote recently, "and protesters in the streets of Washington, D.C. responding to commercially driven globalization, the NAFTA parties appear to be weakening one of the only mechanisms ever designed to create international rights for individuals and nonprofit groups..."
Under Article 14 of the NAFTA environmental side agreement, writes Stephan, "The citizens submission process is at the core of the environmental promises made when NAFTA was signed."
In a letter to the commission, Stephan says a U.S. position paper, which she acquired with Environmental Protection Agency help, "contains ideas that raise the specter of unjustified new restrictions on the citizen petition process.... We demand, quite simply, a halt to these negotiations until the citizens whose interests are directly at stake have an opportunity to make their voices heard. Anything less makes a complete charade out of past shows of concern for public participation."
Yet on April 10, San Diego's Environmental Health Coalition scored a small victory. NAFTA's environmental secretariat in Montreal, Canada, announced that a "factual record" (read: investigation) should be undertaken regarding the San Diego and Tijuana petition for action over the abandoned Metales y Derivados lead smelter. They rejected Luna's proposal that Mexico should seek to extradite Kahn from San Diego but were willing to examine the group's claim that Mexico "has failed to effectively enforce its environmental laws" at the site.
"Alan Hecht [Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator of International Activities at the EPA in Washington] told us he's been monitoring our case very carefully," an excited Luna said last week. "He says the case is being fully considered, and he expected something may happen after the next meeting of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation bosses [environmental administration chiefs from each NAFTA member government] in June. He said this case 'is really on the radar screen. It's a hot topic for discussion.' And he was very impressed with ours and the commission secretariat staff's analysis of the case."
The best that Luna and his co-activists can get out of this is publication of that commission's "Independent Factual Record." The commission has no enforcement or penalizing powers against member countries that have broken their own environmental codes. "But at least the factual record might shed light into why the Metales y Derivados problem continues to exist," says Luna. "What we're hoping for is that the U.S. and Mexico will now find the will and the way to actually do the cleanup. Hecht told us, 'This is prompting us to really look at "How can we remedy it."' So...I think it's actually working!"
If it is, it will not ring any big bells like Richardson's $50 million border-cleanup proposal. But for the people of Colonia Chilpancingo, after decades of what they believe has been breathing, drinking, and eating lead poison, it will spell relief.