Thousands Protest NAFTA and Defend Food Sovereignty in Mexico

Angie Rodriguez | 02.18.2008

On Thursday January 31st, thousands of people took the streets of Mexico City as part of the mobilization to demand the renegotiation of the agricultural chapter of the North American Free Trade Agreement. In what was called March in Defense of Food Sovereignty, several labor unions, university students, teachers, civic organizations and members of the opposition parties, joined dozens of farmers organizations such as the National Confederation Of Farmers (CNC) and the National Union of Agricultural Workers to protest the elimination of trade barriers on corn imports.

On January 1st of this year, the last tariffs on corn, beans, sugar and milk were lifted under the North American Free Trade Agreement, completing the transition to an open market between Mexico, Canada and The United States, which initiated in 1994.

Under the slogans “Without corn, there is no country”, “No to NAFTA” and “Defending our country’s sovereignty”, approximately 200,000 protestors marched towards the Zocalo – Mexico City’s main square- to express their disagreement with NAFTA’s agricultural chapter, which they consider only creates an unfair competition between them and the farmers of Canada and the U.S.

Almost 30 percent of the Mexican population works the land, and for them –according to the organizers of the protest- food sovereignty becomes an issue of national security. In that sense, the elimination of trade barriers on corn imports will open the door to U.S. products and put more Mexican farmers out of business. “The Government’s unwillingness to promote the renegotiation of NAFTA’s agricultural chapter, sheds light on its decision to maintain an excluding economic policy that only benefits international producers and their wealthy Mexican business partners” says a document signed by the organizers of the rally. In the same document, the organizations called for the creation of a movement in defense of food sovereignty, workers’ rights, and democratic freedom that will keep mobilizing people in the upcoming months.

Almost 30 percent of the Mexican population works the land, and for them… food sovereignty becomes an issue of national security.

“The ongoing neoliberal model only increases inequality, poverty and unemployment for the marginalized sectors of the urban and rural populations, which are the majority in this country. The deterioration of the environment and the handing over of our natural resources to foreign investors only aggravates our social problems, and today it is time for us to stop all that” adds the document.

Protestors noted that their U.S. counterparts receive almost 20,000 dollars each in annual subsidies, while the Mexican producers only receive less than $ 700. The vast disparity in government support between Mexican campesinos and U.S. producers, along with the high costs of fertilizer and electricity creates an unfair competition against Mexican farmers on the international and local markets.

The mobilization in defense of food sovereignty in Mexico started last year when a coalition of social organizations launched the campaign Sin maíz no hay país (without corn, there is no country) to create awareness on the population about the consequences of NAFTA on Mexico’s agriculture. So far, the Mexican government has refused to negotiate with the organizations, and in turn launched its own media campaign to express that “since the introduction of the NAFTA, the quality of the products in the Mexican market has increased”.

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Thursday’s demonstration in Mexico City was accompanied by smaller protests in other states that included the blockage of streets and other civil disobedience activities in border crossing points on the U.S.- Mexico border and some government buildings.