The weekly newsletter of the México Solidarity Project


March 2, 2022/ This week's issue/ Meizhu Lui, for the editorial team

Food: A Great Deal More than Sustenance

Food sustains life. But food does more than feed the body. For indigenous peoples, foods have always taken on cultural and spiritual values. And no wonder. They relied on particular plants and animals uniquely suited to their climate conditions and health needs. In México, corn became revered. As revolutionary anthropologist Guillermo Bonfil Batalla puts it: Our lives are based in corn. We are the people of the corn.”


Severing a people from the food integral to their way of life may not kill individual people. But this severing can kill a people’s collective identity. The Spaniards who conquered México understood that dynamic. The Aztecs had been cultivating the grain amaranth for thousands of years. They had embedded amaranth — a prime source of protein — into their spiritual and seasonal rituals. In fact, amaranth had become so important to Aztec civilization and health that the Spanish used the outlawing of its cultivation and consumption as a tool of conquest.


In recent years, as trade and food security expert Karen Kuhn-Hansen recounts in our interview this week, free trade policies have ravaged traditional agriculture practices around the world, including in México. Mexican corn farmers have been cut off from the land, the Mexican people cut off from the many kinds of corn they’ve traditionally enjoyed, a turn of events that has engendered the “Without Corn No Country” movement.


What happens to food affects us all. At the grocery store, we find tasteless tomatoes developed to fit snugly in shipping crates and get only one choice of avocado, the Hass, the variety notorious for its long shelf life. And those perfect red apples — we can’t help wondering how much toxic insecticide produced all that shine.


We don’t have to live this way. If farmers and consumers unite, we can stop the treatment of food as a mere commodity. We can restore a sense of reverence to that which gives life, joy, and connection to the world around us.


Just before our deadline this week, we received the welcome news that workers in México have scored a second stunning victory over the sham “protection” unions that long have dominated Mexican labor. Workers at the huge Tridonex auto parts plant in Matamoros have rejected their corrupt old union by a whopping seven-to-one margin. Check our Clicks section below for details. We’ll have more on this landmark victory in an upcoming issue.


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How Trade Policy Impacts What We Eat

Karen Hansen-Kuhn, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policys program director, is working worldwide to help create fair food and farming systems. Her experience includes bringing together social movement activists from over 20 countries to develop alternative trade policy proposals. Uniting farmers and consumers from the Global North and South around a different approach to international agriculture, she believes, will be one prime key to averting environmental and climate disaster.

Indigenous people in today’s México have been pushed off their land several times since the Spanish colonizers arrived. What have been the latest tools of “conquest”?


We can trace the latest set of tools to the “Structural Adjustment Programs” — the SAPs — of the late 1980s and early 1990s, years when the International Monetary Fund was forcing weaker countries of the Global South to open themselves to agricultural imports. The IMF gave the familiar excuse that the West needed to “modernize” agriculture, that agriculture amounted to a “backward” sector.


NAFTA would soon be proposed to expand the SAP concept. The only silver lining: This provided a good opportunity for activists from rich and poor countries to connect and fight together. Remember that NAFTA only passed in a very close vote. The pressure from below became quite effective.


How did NAFTA affect Mexican farmers?


Let’s start with corn, much more than a staple food. Because of its central place in every household for millennia, corn has cultural and spiritual significance, as a symbol of México. But after NAFTA, corn imports from the US grew by 400 percent. Mexican corn farmers couldn’t compete. Two million farmers were driven off their land, and another two or three million became contract farmers to the mushrooming agribusinesses owned by transnational corporations.


Did corn imports have other effects?


One major impact: The imports changed how people eat. As former farmers moved into jobs with long work hours and little pay, investments in and imports of cheap processed foods shot up. Obesity rates increased, as well as rates of diabetes and heart disease. At the same time, fresh fruit and vegetable exports — avocados, limes, tomatoes, peppers — almost doubled in the ’90s. With most of the imported corn feed corn, industrial meat production increased on both sides of the border, with just a few corporations dominating the food system throughout North America.


But the changes in agriculture didn’t go without response. Farmer organizing has been strong. In the “Without Corn No Country” campaign, a coalition of savvy farm organizations demanded, among other things, that NAFTA be renegotiated. The USMCA that succeeded NAFTA did include some improvements, especially for labor, but the agreement’s agricultural chapter still promotes a failed model of industrial agriculture.


The “other things” that Mexican farmers demanded now stand at the forefront of the international food justice movement, right?

Mexican campaigners demanded a ban on GMO corn. GMOs cause a reduction in plant diversity, because agricultural trade policy prevents farmers from exchanging seeds, forcing them to buy from corporate sources. And the main reason we have GMO corn and cotton in México? These GMO varieties resist glyphosate — Roundup — an herbicide that the World Health Organization has deemed a probable carcinogen.

Farmers and their allies began calling for a ban on glyphosate a decade ago. They mounted a sophisticated campaign that brought social movement pressure on lawmakers and the courts. After the 2018 elections in México, farmers found a more receptive audience in the new Morena administration. The AMLO government banned GMO-corn planting in México and began phasing out imports of both GMO corn and glyphosate. These new policies open the door to alternatives better for people, biodiversity, and the environment.

What agricultural initiatives would ensure healthier foods and greater economic security for farmers?


Victor Suarez, now the undersecretary of agriculture, is leading the Mexican government’s initiative for food self-sufficiency and, really, food sovereignty. He founded the National Association of Rural Commercialization Enterprises in 1995, to give market access to small- and medium-sized farms. ANEC promotes a “dialogue of knowledges” model. For example, ANEC brought together soil scientists with local farmers, combining ancient wisdom and modern techniques. Together, they came up with ways to strengthen the soil specific to each different situation and location, while respecting cultural traditions.


In another case, ANEC worked with a local university to put up mini weather stations on small farms, giving farmers control over data. ANEC and many other Mexican farm groups are promoting “agroecology,” a perspective that sees agriculture as an element of an entire ecosystem. They’re developing ways to produce that respect both nature and farmers’ livelihoods.


What trade policy provisions could promote access to healthy foods for everyone?

Some farmers’ organizations, like the international La Via Campesina, think that agriculture should not be in trade agreements at all. They see food as not just another commodity, but a basic human right. It’s not that countries should stop trading food products. But nations should be able to feed themselves first. The NAFTA fight taught us that our economies, and our food systems, are deeply intertwined. Farmers should be able to stay on their lands and produce healthy food at fair prices. Exports should be the icing on the cake, not the driver of rural economies. Trade rules should make that possible rather than getting in the way.

Photo: Wikiwand


The Chicano ‘Guernica’ of Fernando Barragan

Last month saw a landmark exhibit of the art of Fernando Barragan at the Jean Deleage Art Gallery in Boyle Heights, California. Barragan’s fellow artist Jimmy Centeno curated the exhibit, and I'm pleased to share his thoughts on Barragan’s work. A fuller appreciation appears in CounterPunch, with a Spanish text also available— Vicky Hamlin

An invitation to paint a protest instead became the first Guernica manifestation by a Chicano artist. Fernando Barragans masterpiece No Somos Animales is a daring raw canvas mural depicting violence, pain, and anger in Chican@/Latin@ communities.

During the opening of Squaring off with Brushstrokes, Barragans solo exhibition at the Jean Deleage Art Gallery in Boyle Heights, he is invited by Casa0101 Theater art director Emmanuel Deleage to step up to the microphone and share with friends and guests a few words about his art.

Barragan stands in front of his monochrome black-and-white canvas. He moves close to the microphone as everyone waits for him to share some insight. Barragans voice begins to crackle with emotion. His eyes turn watery and his voice ties up into knots. He goes speechless! He raises his hand and points to the painting hanging behind him, with tears rolling down his cheeks, choked up with feelings he manages to squeeze out: This is why I paint!” The tears and the speechless moment testify to Barragans love, care, and concern for his community.

The themes fused in No Somos Animales are made of past and present historical moments. Barragans draws from his Mexican heritage of resistance by including in the painting one of the strongest symbols in the western hemisphere, the La Virgen de Guadalupe, the image that led the peoples political resistance during Méxicos struggle for independence in the early 19th century. In the canvas, La Virgen de Guadalupe stands side by side with the Chican@ pueblo, not one step behind or one step ahead. She stands shoulder to shoulder with the people.

The wall-size canvas links Chican@ experiences in US history: the expatriation of hundreds of thousands of Chican@s and Mexican families to México during the Great Depression in the 1930s, the Operation Wetback in 1954 that repeated the racist removal of Mexicans and Chican@s from U.S soil. Barragan’s brushes are first soaked with the pueblo’s sweat and dipped in heart before returning to the canvas.


Recent news reports and commentaries, from progressive and mainstream media,
on life and struggles on both sides of the US-México border


Mexico sees 2nd major win for independent unions, Associated Press. Workers in the northern Mexico city of Matamoros have overwhelmingly voted to have an independent union represent them at the giant Tridonex auto parts plant.


Luis Feliz Leon, A New Union, At Last? Mexican Auto Parts Workers Get to Vote, Three Years After Strike Wave, Labor Notes. More background on the landmark Tridonex victory.


Mexican president urges US to end the 'shame' of funding opposition groups, Reuters. AMLO Lopez has also sent a diplomatic note expressing concerns over US funding for Mexican political groups.


Maurizio Guerrero, “Queremos Vivir”: The Workers Who Wouldn’t Die for the Pentagon, In These Times. Maquiladora workers in the border city of Mexicali disrupt the supply chain of the U.S. war machine.


Ulises Rodríguez López, AMLO sube el tono y alza la voz contra Antony Blinken, el segundo de Biden, Polemón. El mandatario hizo énfasis en que ningún funcionario estadounidense debe intervenir en la vida pública de México.


Geoffrey Boyce and Sam Chambers, Robotic dogs patrolling the US border will not stop migrants. But they may lead to more deaths, Washington Post. To steer clear of US surveillance tech, people have pushed deeper into the mountains and now hunker down in desert crevices for longer periods, increasing the likelihood of the body’s ability to regulate heat collapsing.


Nick Miroff, Where Trump’s border wall left deep scars and open gaps, Biden plans repair job, Washington Post. The Biden administration will prioritize “remediation” of Trump’s haphazard wall construction, to ensure roads and hillsides don’t wash out and “cause some sort of life safety issue for the public.”


Silvia Ribeiro, ¿Quién gana con las importaciones de maíz? La Jornada. México es el mayor importador mundial de maíz. Es un dato preocupante por la dependencia que sugiere, y suena absurdo por ser México el centro de origen del grano.


Richard Smoley, US-Mexico trade: Beyond the avocado moratorium, Produce Blue Book. the US government’s real motives for cutting off avocado imports from México may have more to do with Mexican moves against genetically modified corn and the herbicide glyphosate than anything directly pertaining to avocados.


Jen Moore and Ellen Moore, A Sea of Trouble: Seabed Mining and International Arbitration in México, In the Gulf of Ulloa, a U.S. treasure-hunting company turned seabed mining outfit poses a dire risk to the environment.


The Mexico Solidarity Project brings together activists from various socialist and left organizations and individuals committed to worker and global justice who see the 2018 election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador as president of México as a watershed moment. AMLO and his progressive Morena party aim to end generations of corruption, impoverishment, and subservience to US interests. Our Project supports not just Morena, but all Mexicans struggling for basic rights, and opposes US efforts to undermine organizing and México’s national sovereignty. 


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