MEXICO: Wal-Mart's Plans for Indigenous Areas Under Fire

The U.S.-based retail giant Wal-Mart, which
last year opened a store near the ancient Teotihuacan pyramids of Mexico
despite loud protests from local activists and small businesses, is now
seeking a repeat of its earlier victory, this time in two heavily
indigenous areas. But local opponents are set for a pitched battle.

"This time we will definitely keep Wal-Mart from continuing its attack on
Mexico's culture and its people," said Lorenzo Trujillo, head of the Civic
Front for the Defence of Teotihuacan Valley, a coalition made up of local
residents and shopkeepers from the internationally renowned archaeological

"We will occupy public offices and will do everything necessary to impede
Wal-Mart's cultural plunder," the activist told IPS.

Trujillo is facing legal action for the protests his organisation held
against the construction of a Wal-Mart store less than two kilometres from
the Teotihuacan pyramids.

Wal-Mart, which is now the biggest retailer in Mexico, has 710 stores and
fast-food restaurants in this country of 104 million, with total revenues
of more than 13 billion dollars a year.

Trujillo said he has already begun to coordinate protests and other actions
with organisations of local farmers and shop-keepers in Pátzcuaro in the
state of Michoacán, home to the Purépechas Indians, to keep Wal-Mart from
building one of its superstores in the town.

The picturesque colonial town of Pátzcuaro has a population of 48,000,
5,000 of whom speak indigenous languages. It is located on the banks of a
lake in the state of Michoacán, east of the Mexican capital. The area is
famous for its typical indigenous celebrations and crafts.

Trujillo reported that his group would also help organise the resistance in
the town of Juchitán, in the southern state of Oaxaca, where Wal-Mart also
plans to build a new store.

Juchitán is a largely indigenous town of 3,500 where prehispanic practices
like bartering still survive in the open-air markets.

"We are not going to let Wal-Mart barge in with its neoliberal trade
practices to sites of historical and cultural importance in Mexico. We
cannot continue allowing this plunder," said Trujillo.

As during the earlier construction of the hypermarket near the pyramids -
which carries the name "Bodega Aurrera", a Mexican chain that belongs to
Wal-Mart - representatives of the retail giant did not respond to IPS
inquiries about the plans for new stores and the resistance put up by local
civil society groups.

When Wal-Mart built its supermarket in Teotihuacan, with the authorisation
of the National Institute of Archaeology and History (INAH) and several
other government agencies in Mexico, Trujillo's organisation held a number
of protests, including the occupation of INAH offices in the Mexican
capital. It is in connection with that action that Trujillo is facing
charges of ransacking and use of force.

Although those opposed to the "Bodega Aurrera" store in Teotihuacan
received the support of a number of academics and historians, the
superstore opened its doors in late 2004.

By contrast with other Wal-Mart stores, the hypermarket in Teotihuacan is
ochre-coloured and has no loud colours or signs. It is located near the
ancient citadel, within the limits of San Juan Teotihuacan, a town that has
grown steadily over the past 20 years to its current population of more
than 45,000.

The buildings and roads built in the area where the original city of
Teotihuacan was located only left the 263-hectare ceremonial centre and
part of a 200-hectare "buffer zone" surrounding it intact.

A number of small local businesses in San Juan Teotihuacan have closed in
the last few months, unable to compete with Wal-Mart.

The store is barely visible from the citadel of Teotihuacan, which was
built by indigenous people at the dawn of the Christian era and reached its
peak of splendour between the years 450 and 600 AD, when it was home to as
many as 200,000 people.

Teotihuacan is the name given the spot by the Aztecs, who discovered the
abandoned buildings around the year 1300. The Aztecs were so impressed by
what they found, they thought the pyramids had been built by giants with
the help of the gods, historians report.

The main ceremonial complex, which is visited by more than two million
people a year, is made up of the pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, and
numerous temples and houses along the Avenue of the Dead, which is five km
long and between 50 and 100 metres wide.

The Pyramid of the Sun is as high as a 20-story building and 215 metres
square. It is the third largest pyramid in the world and the largest at

Activists predict that only the ceremonial centre of Tollan Teotihuacan, an
indigenous name that means "Where Men Become Gods", will be left in 20 years.

According to Trujillo, ôif logic and reason win out, someday in the
not-too-distant future" the Wal-Mart supermarket near the pyramids will be
shut down and demolished. ôTime will prove us right," he argued.

The activist said the transnational corporation would continue facing
resistance to its plans for building new stores in Pátzcuaro and Juchitán.
But local business sources said Wal-Mart was going ahead with its expansion
plans and had not run into any major hurdles.

AMP Section Name:Retail & Mega-Stores
  • 104 Globalization

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