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ABSTRACT

Favored by neoliberal agrarian policies, the production of fresh crops for international markets has become a common strategy for economic development in Mexico and other Latin American countries. But as some scholars have argued, the global fresh produce industry in developing countries in which fresh crops are produced for consumer markets in affluent nations implies “virtual water flows,” the transfer of high volumes of water embedded in these crops across international borders. This article examines the local effects of the production of fresh produce in the San Quintín Valley in northwestern Mexico for markets in the United States. Although export agriculture has fostered economic growth and employment opportunities for indigenous farm laborers, it has also led to the overexploitation of underground finite water resources, and an alarming decline of the quantity and quality of water available for residents’ domestic use. I discuss how neoliberal water policies have further contributed to water inequalities along class and ethnic lines, the hardships settlers endure to secure access to water for their basic needs, and the political protests and social tensions water scarcity has triggered in the region. Although the production of fresh crops for international markets is promoted by organizations such as the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank as a model for economic development, I argue that it often produces water insecurity for the poorest, threatening the UN goal of ensuring access to clean water as a universal human right. [Water; export agriculture; neoliberalism; Mexico–U.S. border; Baja California]