Desert Capitalism: What Are the Maquiladoras?


232 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55164-090-2
DDC 338.4'767'09721





Reviewed by Ronald N. Harpelle

Ronald N. Harpelle is an assistant professor of history at Lakehead


Desert Capitalism examines the structure of capitalist enterprise in the
manufacturing towns of northern Mexico. The focus is on the
establishment, development, and mechanics of the maquiladoras that
stretch along the border with the United States. Located in the “free
trade” zones of various Latin American countries, the maquiladoras
serve as magnets for cheap labor and are exempt from many of the
regulations and taxes that are imposed on companies operating outside of
the zones.

Unlike similar books, Desert Capitalism offers a good overview of the
period leading up to NAFTA. Whereas defenders of NAFTA characterize the
social and economic problems generated by the development of the
maquiladoras as growing pains, Kopinak argues that these problems stem
in large part from the systematic exploitation of some of this
continent’s poorest people. The book begins with a review of the
origins of maquiladoras in the 1960s and then focuses on the issue of
economic restructuring and its effects on labor. Kopinak’s emphasis on
the shop floor, communities, and households provides insight into the
dilemmas faced by people for whom the maquiladoras represent both
employment opportunities and an exploitive and often abusive labor

This book is an effective counterpoint to the dreams peddled by the
promoters of expanded free trade.


Kopinak, Kathryn., “Desert Capitalism: What Are the Maquiladoras?,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 24, 2024,