On May 3, 2006, a group of flower vendors in San Salvador Atenco, Mexico, were forcibly removed from the streets to prepare for the coming of a Wal-Mart store. The vendors from People in Defense of the Land Front (Frente de Pueblos en Defensa de la Tierra) were occupying a space in the Texcoco market when they were were attacked by state police. The vendors were dispersed, but they returned to reoccupy their space before dawn, backed-up by people from the nearby municipality of Atenco. Instead of selling flowers, the vendors were now armed with machetes and Molotov cocktails. The police attacked the vendors again, this time with tear gas and batons. During the confrontation, a 14 year-old boy was killed from the impact of tear gas hitting him in the chest, More than forty people were arrested. Zapatista rebel leader, Subcomandante Marcos, called for his regional coordinators throughout Mexico to organize themselves in solidarity with the Texcoco vendors. “The municipal president wants to evict these people because he thinks their market leaves the area dirty and he wants to put a commercial center, a Wal-Mart, in Texcoco,” Marcos said before thousands of people during a public rally in Tlatelolco. The peasant flower venders have been resisting eviction for weeks. The area they occupied has been targeted by local officials for a new commercial center. As part of the People in Defense of the Land, the flower venders have been joined by people in struggle from Atenco, a town adjacent to Texcoco. “The Zapatistas are, today, Texcoco,” Marcos said. “We are going to be alert to their demands. Closure of streets, highways, flyering, painting, protests. We respect their decisions, we will arrive to where they tell us to go.” The Chiapas Center for Independent Media (CMI) said that Wal-Mart “is an unwelcome guest for many Mexican intellectuals, artists, working people and activists. This is not the first time Wal-Mart has encountered problems moving in on new territory… (Atenco) is a reflection of growing outrage about Wal-Mart’s unethical business practices, notorious union-busting, and general disregard for the people affected by their pactices.” The CMI called on Mexicans to boycott Wal-Mart stores. “We call for a civil and peaceful rebellion, and the first step is to stop shopping at Wal-Mart. Your money pays for the bloodshed of innocent lives worldwide.” Demonstrations took place last weekend, in protest of Wal-Mart’s “ties with the Mexican police and Wal-Mart’s effective death sentence to local farmers and merchants.”
American-based big box stores, like Costco, Home Depot and Wal-Mart, have a sordid track record in Mexico. To read earlier stories on this theme, search by Casino de la Selva, Teotihuacan, and Mexico. Wal-Mart seems incapable of working with local people in places like Texcoco, and instead becomes the flash point for demonstrations against their corporate behavior. Wal-Mart says it wants to help small merchants, yet didn’t lift a finger to protect the flower vendors of San Salvadore Atenco.