Transnationals in Mexico: depeasantization and Walmartization*

Interview with Tania González from Otros Mundos Chiapas - Friends of the Earth Mexico

The Mexican diagnosis of government policies that have allowed and promoted the advance of transnational corporations, produced by Otros Mundos Chiapas – Friends of the Earth Mexico, is centered on the agri-food sector and is in line with the rest of the countries of the region at a pivotal moment: the 1990s, neoliberal policies and Free Trade Agreements (FTAs).

In the specific case of Mexico, the tipping point can be referenced with the signing and implementation of the North American FTA (NAFTA). Interviewed by Real World Radio, activist Tania Gonzalez with Other Worlds Chiapas explained that this commercial opening, with the United States as the main partner, caused a turn in the country’s agri-food policies and conceived an agro-export perspective. This weakened institutions and supports that promoted rural development with rural workers and villagers at its core.

“Agri-food transnationals are playing a leading role in the production and consumption dynamics of our country, both internally and externally. They are impacting land and tenure decisions, absolutely everything that has to do with fertilizers, agrochemicals, and seeds. They also control the chain of marketing, exports and logistics. In addition, they are in the retail trade, in the food and drink industry. It’s a worrying picture,” González said.

Among the specific policies that enabled the concentration of power of transnational corporations, González highlighted the amendment to article 27 of the Mexican Constitution, which allowed the lease of socially owned lands. “This led to depeasantization and decreased the area of our main crop, the heart of our country: maize.” In addition, the activist said that the closure of the National Seed Producer (PRONASE), due to lack of support and encouragement, allowed the entry of transnational seeds, since national production was lacking.

On the other hand, Mexico’s food policies have transnational corporations as their main suppliers, and programs aimed at the field include technological packages with improved seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. Mexico’s diagnostic report also questions export-oriented agricultural subsidy policies. “Subsidies are given to large producers working with transnational corporations, even Cargill has received subsidies,” González said.

Companies grab and control the entire agri-food chain, including retail marketing. The report includes a term used by researcher Silvia Ribeiro, with the ETC Group: Walmartization. González explained: “It is a change in personal and daily relationships based on food and health. They are models of standardized and commercial relationships; we don’t know who is producing or where does it come from. Today we buy medicines, clothes and food in a single store. This is dangerous, since it’s a model that controls the entire chain and reduces the possibility of competition from small producers and retailers.”

The direct consequences of all these policies are borne by peasants, indigenous people and small traders. And doubly by women in these sectors. González analyzed the situation from two different points. One is that the policies of subsidies for women in Mexico “reinforce conventional gender roles and the sexual division of labor, in addition to increasing the workload of women,” who end up being the breadwinner of the household, but without the rights to land ownership and therefore without room for decision-making in the territory.

The other point is that, together with depeasantization, there are migration processes that have negative impacts on women. “They work in the horticultural agroindustry, with precarious labor conditions, lower salaries, with hourly and temporary wages,” González explained.

Faced with transnational progress motivated from the public and legal sphere, Otros Mundos Chiapas proposes actions of social advocacy and prevention in territories. Even with the constitutional change, in Mexico, the form of social ownership of land represents more than 50 percent of the national territory. This is an opportunity, since according to González, “there are no projects of any kind where the municipality and the assembly of agrarian nuclei do not have to intervene; companies have to negotiate and confront the communities without fail.”

*At the end of 2021, Friends of the Earth Latin America and the Caribbean (ATALC) carried out a publication compiling diagnostic reports from eight countries in the region, addressing the increase in the power of transnational companies in the agricultural and energy sectors. In addition, it delves into the public policies and regulatory changes that have driven this concentration of power.
The report Resistencia al aumento del poder de las transnacionales en América Latina y el Caribe (Resistance to the increase in the power of transnational corporations in Latin America and the Caribbean) includes reports from Mexico, Honduras, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, El Salvador and Costa Rica, carried out by Friends of the Earth grassroots groups in each country.
This compilation shows general, current and historical trends in the region, which have allowed the advancement of transnational corporations. Among them are: anti-democratic scenarios, militarization and criminalization of social struggle, lobbying and political pressure by companies, liberalization of trade and investment, direct effects on women, processes of dispossession and forced displacement.
Real World Radio proposes a review of the diagnoses of each country through interviews with the referents of the ATALC organizations involved.
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