By Elizabeth DiNovella on January 19, 2007

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."


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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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