Mexico: march for “new social pact”

Tens of thousands of Mexicans filled Mexico City’s huge Zocalo plaza on Jan. 31 in the first large demonstration against the center-right government of President Felipe Calderon Hinojosa, who took office on Dec. 1 and now faces popular anger over a dramatic rise in the price of corn and other staples. “Without corn, there’s no country,” the marchers chanted. “We don’t want PAN, we want tortillas.” (The initials of Calderon’s National Action Party, PAN, form the Spanish for “bread.”)

At the demonstration the organizers proclaimed the “Declaration of the Zocalo,” which called for “broad social unity” to achieve a “new social pact,” including renegotiation of the agricultural sections of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); an emergency program to increase production; restrictions on price increases; punishment for hoarders; an emergency wage increase; a push to create jobs; and an end to repression of social movements. One participant was the sociologist Pablo Gonzalez Casanova, a former rector of the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM). Asked by reporters if the movement could turn back Calderon’s neoliberal economic policies, he answered: “We’re going to win, because now we are in a stage where neoliberalism doesn’t fool anyone…. The whole world knows clearly that neoliberalism is one of the great lies of humanity….”

The march was called by a broad coalition of 150 labor unions and campesino and farmer groups. The coalition included labor federations like the National Workers Union (UNT) that split from the old Congress of Labor (CT), which is dominated by the formerly ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI); but another important component was PRI-affiliated groups like National Campesino Federation (CNC). The march organizers insisted that the demonstration would not be partisan and barred political speeches. But many protesters waited in the Zocalo for the arrival of a second march around the same demands; this one was led by Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the center-left coalition candidate who narrowly lost the July 2 presidential race to Calderon, according to electoral authorities. (La Jornada, Feb. 1)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 4

See our last posts on Mexico and the tortilla crisis.