We want tortillas, we don't want bread

Mexico City—The high cost of tortillas is front-page news here in Mexico. Prices for this staple have shot up by more than 10 % over the past year. President Felipe Calderon has said he will address the problem and promises to import more corn to bring down the price. He also vows to crack down on grain speculators. But he refuses to renew subsidies which were lifted as part as NATFA.

Peasant groups say that importing corn won’t get Mexico out of this crisis. They are calling for an increase of internal corn production and say it’s an embarrassment that Mexico, widely believed to be the birthplace of corn, can’t produce enough for itself.

The bishop of Mexico City, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, said the rising costs of tortillas “isn’t a tragedy.” But the bishop of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, said the situation could create a movement as dramatic as the one of 1994, a reference to the Zapatista uprising.

People are taking to the streets to protest. “We want tortillas, we don't want bread,” chanted a few hundred people on a sunny January afternoon. These PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution) supporters marched from Chapultepec Park to the Secretary of the Economy headquarters on Wednesday, January 16. The crowd blamed President Felipe Calderon from the National Action Party, known by its Spanish acronym PAN, the Spanish word for bread.

The national league of citizen resistance committees, part of the civil disobedience movement that sprung out of last summer’s post-election demonstrations, organized the rally.

One speaker called for the immediate resignation of the secretary of the economy because prices for many daily needs—corn, eggs, diesel, gasoline--are rising.

Demonstrations are happening across the country every day. The PRD is organizing a big protest on February 1. “We are demanding the fall of prices or the fall of Calderón,” said one PRD speaker. “We are demanding food sovereignty. We are not going to eat at McDonald’s or eat the crappy tortillas that Wal-Mart sells.”

I spoke to Tomasa de Jesús, a thirty-four year old housewife from the working class area of Azcapotzalco. She brought her two young children to the January 16 rally. “I’m here because this government is creating anti-social policies that will starve us to death. The rich don’t eat tortillas. But that’s how we the poor survive. It is our principal sustenance,” she said. “But the rich eat bread. They don’t eat tortillas because they make them fat.”

“We are doing very poorly in this country, even though the government says the opposite,” she said. “I feel impotent. Sometimes I cry because I feel so impotent. There are many who shut up, who don’t say anything because they are scared. They see things on TV and think it is better to keep my mouth shut. Look what happened in Oaxaca. We could end up like them.”

She added, “I would prefer to be in my house sitting down and resting. But I’m sick of this.”