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Agricultural Protests Hit Mexico City - 2002-12-05


Residents of Mexico City have become accustomed to protests and political marches, but a demonstration of a different sort is now taking place in front of the nation's Congress. Part of the street in front of the building was blocked by cows.

There are 18 cows standing about in front of the Chamber of Deputies building, munching on straw, and looking generally oblivious to the scene around them. They are watched over by several farmers who brought them to the Congress to pressure legislators on the issue of farm subsidies.

Deputy Luis Pasos, of the ruling National Action Party, is not amused. He says the Congress is working to approve a budget and end its current session by the December 15 or, at the latest, the December 20. He says the session could be delayed by what he calls interference from sectors that want to take the Chamber hostage and take the budget hostage in an irresponsible manner.

The farmers are hoping to convince the legislators to provide more money for agriculture in order to partially offset the effect of subsidies in the United States and the lifting of agricultural tariffs under the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, on January first.

Several Mexican farm groups are represented in the protest in front of the Chamber of Deputies buildings, along with the cows and their owners. The farm group representatives are asking the Mexican senate to delay implementation of the NAFTA tariff elimination by three years in order to allow the agriculture sector to adjust. They are also asking for increased subsidies. They note that while subsidies in the United States have increased dramatically in recent years, the amount spent by the Mexican government in the rural sector has decreased.

Some lawmakers are backing the farmers and calling on Mexican President Vicente Fox to renegotiate the NAFTA tariff reductions. Some members of Congress are also asking that President Fox utilize a section of the NAFTA treaty that would allow him to declare a state of emergency in the Mexican countryside and delay implementation of the tariff elimination.

The terms of the agricultural tariff reductions were set in the original trade treaty, which began taking effect in 1994.

Mexican government leaders then thought that expansion in manufacturing jobs would allow millions of farmers to leave their small, inefficient holdings and take better-paying factory jobs. But growth in the manufacturing sector has not been sufficient and deep poverty persists in the rural areas. These areas also produce most of the immigrants who cross the border illegally every year looking for work in the United States.