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Mexicans protest sharp hike of tortillas, other food staples

Mexicans protest sharp hike of tortillas, other food staples

Thu Feb 1, 2007

MEXICO CITY (AFP) — Thousands of people marched in Mexico City to protest the sharp hike of basic food products, including tortillas, and to demand the government exclude food staples from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

"No corn, no country," the protesters shouted as they reached central Zocalo square, in the first major demonstration to confront conservative President Felipe Calderon since he took office December 1.

Organized by labor unions, farmer’s groups and opposition parties, participants at the Wednesday protest also demanded a minimum wage increase. The Calderon administration recently hike minimum wages 4.3 dollars to just 4.6 dollars per day.

"Defend the basic rights to food, work and salary," read one of the signs held high during the demonstration, which was peaceful.

The protest was triggered by Calderon’s decision shortly after he took power to raise the price of tortillas by between 40 and 100 percent, with prices varying by region. Tortillas are like bread to Mexicans, who consume about 250-1000 grams a day (0.5-2.2 pounds). Milk prices also shot up.

Protesters also demanded the government exclude staples such as corn and beans from NAFTA, which binds Mexico, Canada and the United States into a free-trade zone. Price restrictions for certain food products, under the agreement, are due to expire in 2008.

Calderon, who made fighting poverty a campaign promise, has insisted in maintaining the market-free policies of his predecessors, which have not mitigated the crushing poverty faced by half of Mexico’s 103 million inhabitants.

 source: AFP