Synthesis: Thoughts on the Price of Tortilla

January 21, 2007

 

The price of tortillas makes the front pages these days. It’s not pushing off the APPO struggle, the denunciations of human rights violations, the marches, the shoot-outs for control in small towns, the teachers’ battles, nor the formation of a new local assembly on the Coast.

      However, this is my thinking as I survey the Latin American countries where the popular assembly movement seems to have taken hold – Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil, Peru.  I believe the necessary pre-conditions have been:

 

poverty and impoverishment of the middle classes;

loss of job security, jobs, and the disappearance of unionized work forces;

a rise in the cost of living;

 refusal of the political class to pay attention to complaints and petitions;

endemic corruption and government repression.

 

When these causes converge, the people converge in self-help assemblies.

      An opinion piece published in Noticias on Monday, January 22, 2007 by Ifigenia Martínez, was interesting to read in this light. Martínez is identified as  Directora del Instituto Nacional de Formación Política del PRD. To translate just a portion of what Martínez writes:

 

…On January of 2007  when the price of a kilo of tortilla went up on average from 6 to 10 pesos while the minimum wage, which more than a third of the population receives, went up only 3.9%, to 50 [less than $5 US] pesos daily, a great popular objection arose. At the same time the prices went up for milk, gas, gasoline, and electricity, among other increases. In Fox’s PAN era the price of a kilo of tortilla, which was at 4 pesos in 2000, ended in 6 pesos in 2006, an increase of 50%, while the minimum wage went from 38 to 50 pesos daily‒  an increase of 24% in the same period.

      The reply [to the outcry ] of the present government consisted of putting out an “Agreement to Stabilize the Price of Tortilla”, written by President Calderón; the secretaries of Economy, Agriculture, Farming, Rural Development, Fish and Food, Social Development, Diconsa S.A. of C.V. and the Federal Attorney for Consumers. With the businesses linked to the productive maize-tortilla chain via Diconsa and its more than 22,000 stores, the association ANTAD and the Wal-Mart chain with more than 1900 outlets, Bimbo with its more than 300,000 sales outlets,  the 5,000 tortillerias (tortilla makers) joined together in the National Union of Mills and Tortillerias with a total of more than 300,000 according to the census data and the presidents of CNC and the National Council of Agriculture.  The government, the big businesses, some middle-sized and small, plus only two rural organizations, united around this proposal which regarding the cost, raised the official price of tortilla 42% (an agreement) which only will last a trimester.

      In the neoliberal era of Salinas numerous para-state businesses  were privatized and transformed into private monopolies, (in the line of Corninto a gigantic producer of corn flour, MASECA) condemned by the World Bank in a recent meeting. The North American Free Trade Agreement has resulted in the destruction of countryside production and the expulsion of small producers as cheap manual labor to the United States. …

 

Martínez goes on to say that it is possible for Mexico to be food self-sufficient and provide nutritionally for its people. So, she asks,  why is that not part of public policy?

      I guess that’s a rhetorical question. The government policy of  Salinas when he came to the presidency was to reduce the population of Mexico.