Posted by: Jack | April 21, 2008

Tortilla protests grip Mexico

Mexican march over food prices

As I wrote about below, a global crisis in food prices has caused protests and riots across the poor world in recent weeks.

I said I was going to try and document some information on different places this was happening, and one obvious example is the mass movement in Mexico demanding government action on the price of corn for tortillas.

Maize is a staple food in Mexico, where it was first domesticated thousands of years before Columbus arrived in the Americas. Its role as a fundamental food is hugely culturally significant for people.

However, the price of this staple went up by 50% in the month of January alone.

The result was that on February 1st around 75, 000 people marched in Mexico City, demanding measures to safeguard the poor diet. Mexicans typically devote a third of their income to spend on corn flour, and variations in price hit them hard.

The protest follows riots last year that broke out in cities across the country after the price of corn flour rose 400% in a few months.

This is all against the background of the political crises of the last couple of years-first federal troops were used to crush a teacher’s strike that turned into a near revolution in the state of Oaxaca; then the left-ish candidate for the Presidency was cheated (AGAIN! Mexican Presidential elections are hardly and free and fair) by the candidate for the conservative catholic National Action Party Felipe Calderon. The cheated candidate, Andres Manual Lopez Obrador, or AMLO, went on to build a huge mass movement around the electoral fraud, with mass demonstrations demanding Calderon stand down.

AMLO has since styled himself “the legitimate President of Mexico” and formed his own shadow cabinet to make demands of the government. Currently he and other left legislators are blockading the Mexican houses of congress in protest against the privatisation of state oil firm PEMEX.

Andres Manual Lopez Obrador

AMLO spoke at a rally following the tortilla protest demanding a rise in the minimum wage, subsidiaries and supervision over the prices of basic foods. He also called for cancellation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the US and Canada, which opened up Mexican land to US agribusiness.

Over the years since NAFTA came into force over a decade ago, Mexican imports of corn and beans were limited to protect Mexican farmers. From 2008 the agreement states that these limits must be revoked.

But yet again, one of the biggest causes of the rocketing prices is the US race to use biofuels in their cars. Mexico has become more dependent on US imports in the years of NAFTA, but as huge swathes of US farm land are switched from edible corn to industrial corn to feed cars instead of people this is becoming more unreliable.

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Responses

  1. Great post, very informative. Obviously it’s a slightly different situation in Mexico, what with NAFTA and the close ties to US exports, but just how big a role are biofuels playing in the global rise in staple prices?

    It’s ironic that biofuels are being touted as the great environmental hope when (even if you ignore the whole starving to death thing) all they represent is more of the same- crazy hydrocarbons all up in ya face. Sadly, it’s got more to do with what’s short-term expedient for the American economy than any kind of sane concern for public wellbeing or the environment.

    Check out the comedically-named ‘biofuels digest’ (http://biofuelsdigest.com/blog2/)- American biofuel industry blog, they gots the up-to-date insider information, as well a propensity to blame stuff on the Chinese.


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