Wal-Mart has been in Mexico for nearly two decades, first through a joint venture with a company call Cifra to open Sam’s Clubs in 1991, and six years later Wal-Mart bought control of the retailer Cifra. For the past decade, the company has been called Wal-Mart de M??xico. It currently controls 1,529 units, including 175 superstores, and Bodega Aurrera stores. Wal-Mart de Mexico, which employs 168,000 workers, is said to control more than half of all grocery sales in Mexico.
But Wal-Mart’s colonial empire in Mexico is running into more and more opposition at the grassroots level. Here is a story published on October 29th by the Narco News in Mexico by reporter Fernando Leon:
“In the last month we have seen two different cases where the effective organization of local residents has worked to stop the construction of Walmart multinational shopping centers in two locations in central Mexico. The mobilization of residents in areas that would be affected by the installation of Walmart megastores prevented their construction. Al Norman, “Walmart enemy number one” according to Forbes magazine, talked to Narco News about the importance and the hope these achievements bring.”
“In places like Mexico City and Cuernavaca the installation of Walmart megastores is something very common. The Walmart corporation — since September 30, 2010 — owns 2,115 franchises throughout the country and in Mexico City alone there are 650 of these franchises. The destruction of the local business economy, among other things, is often the result of the establishment of large shopping centers in specific locations. Focusing everything on a wide range of products in one space makes shopping easier for the consumer and annihilates competition that could go to small businesses located in the vicinity.”
“Al Norman is the director of the organization Sprawl Busters, with the mission “to help local community coalitions on-site to design and implement successful campaigns against megastores and other undesirable large-scale developments.” According to Norman, “The Walton family controls more than half of the Mexican grocery market, and its dominance needs to be reduced.” For Norman the danger Walmart represents for Mexico is very clear, for him the corporation “is just another colonial power that is sapping Mexico’s economy and draining money into US banks.” Besides the danger that the corporation represents for the Mexican economy, it also destroys the local economy where it’s located.”
“According to Luis Tamayo, an environmental investigator with Ecosof??a, “the convenience, prices, and efficiency of the superstore kills competition, turning those who were in small businesses before into employees of the megastore, or worse, into the unemployed.” Thus, with the installation of these megastores local merchants are forced to close because it’s impossible to compete with a multinational megastore that has large tax benefits. However, this month we observed how two movements trying to reduce the dominance of the corporation have been successful.”
“In the city of Cuernavaca, Walmart tried to build a Superama store near the Tlaltenango roundabout , only a kilometer from two stores owned by the same corporation. Besides the harm to the local economy, the project would have irreparable environmental consequences. For the construction of the megastore, the Walmart corporation would destroy 166 trees and two colonial houses. In an interview with Narco News, Francesco Taboada Tabone, a filmmaker and participant in the movement against the construction of the superstore, reported that official approval of the store was decided unilaterally, without consulting the local population, violating Article 45 of the Ecological Equilibrium and Environmental Protection Law of the State of Morelos.”
“With the intentions of the US corporation, residents of the area in Cuernavaca and environmental groups rallied for 16 consecutive Saturdays in the square where they tried to build the store, as well as at other corporate stores nearby. The movement began to gain notoriety among the inhabitants of the region to disseminate the serious impact that the megastore would have on the area. Last October 8, almost unanimously by the mobilization of neighbors, the town council of Cuernavaca approved the purchase of two lots where Walmart sought to build the store. The decision was seen as a triumph of neighborhood organization, and according to a statement from the residents, “the acquisition… in the traditional urban village Tlaltenango is destined to be created into an environment-friendly public park and cultural center. ”
“With this triumph, according to Taboada Tabone, “Walmart threatened to sue the town council and pressured local government officials.” However, the decision was made, and a citizen committee made up of neighbors, community members, and environmentalists will be in charge of the cultural center and environment-friendly park project, which will be operational by the end of the year on the same site where Walmart tried to build the store. For Norman, the victory is very encouraging as is shows that “if the Mexican government does nothing, then citizens have to act to save their neighborhoods, save their local merchants, and save their economy.”
“About 80 kilometers north of the Tlaltenango roundabout, Walmart tried to build five stores in popular neighborhoods in the Magdalena Contreras delegation in Mexico City. Residents of the San Nicol??s Totolopan, La Cruz, and San Bernab?? neighborhoods located in the same delegation — with the solidarity and support from La Malinche and the Broad Front Against the Western Superhighway — have mobilized since this summer against the construction of the megastores. The construction project of the five stores has been stopped by the same mobilizations.”
“In August the affected neighbors closed a side road to Perif??rico in Mexico City due to the lack of response from Magdalena Contreras delegation chief Eduardo Hern??ndez. Since then the mobilizations were constant, to the point that on Tuesday October 12, residents of the region and members of the Front moved into the area to demand the cancellation of the Walmart projects. The mobilization was sucessful and the construction of the stores has been stopped. The areas where the megastores were to be constructed are located near local traditional markets. As in Tlaltenango, the imposition of these projects do not have the acceptance of the local people.”
“Similarly, the location of these megastores is in the area influenced by the Western Superhighway project. Said project, imposed by Mexico City mayor Marcelo Ebrard without support from the citizens, has been paralyzed by the mobilization of residents in the La Malinche neighborhood with the Front. Since July 26, neighbors have held a sit-in in the zone to stop the construction machines from entering the area and destroying the neighborhood, an important environmental area of Mexico City with a forest. The construction of these five megastores demonstrates to area residents that the superhighway project is for real estate in the area and is not only a highway project, but is also a gentrification project.”
“Added to this, according to Walmart’s corporate website, two brothers of the Mexico City mayor have key management positions in the corporation. Alberto Ebrard Casaubon, 48, is listed as the vice president of Bodega Aurrera, a store with the Walmart de Mexico corporation. Eugenio Ebrard Casaubon, 42, serves as the vice president of marketing for Walmart Mexico.”
“The construction of these multinational megastore projects has been achieved with the complicity of the local authorities. However, these corporations have come across a strong resistance from residents in many parts of the country.
In both cases refereed to here, it was the mobilization of these residents and merchants who would be affected who succeeded in stopping the unpopular commercial megaprojects. They show that, in the words of Norman, “the victories in Cuernavaca and Mexico City are just a reminder that citizens united can beat the world’s largest retail corporation.”
For more background on the Wal-Mart wars in Mexico, go to www.narconews.com.