Tens of thousands of trade unionists, farmers and common citizens marched through downtown Mexico City on Wednesday to protest price increases for basic foods like tortillas, the staple of Mexico's poor.
But the march was also an interesting test of the political feeling among Mexicans. On the one side it represented a challenge to President Felipe Calderon's market-oriented policies, but was also a setback for his archrival, populist leader Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who protest organizers prevented from speaking at the demonstration. The fiery former Mexico City mayor was known for his ability to mobilize millions in support of his allegations that the July 2 election was rigged. But since Calderon has taken office, Lopez Obrador's self-declared alternative government has almost faded from view. The marchers are angry about tortilla prices that have doubled over the last year to roughly 45 US cents a pound, causing hardship among the millions of poor Mexicans for whom they are a staple. There was no official report on crowd size available, but reporters on the scene gave an estimate of 75,000, based on protesters filling about three-quarters of a plaza that holds about 100,000. Protesters were mobilizing to demand that Calderon take stronger action to control prices of basic foods. Since taking office on December first Calderon has been the target of criticism both from the poor Mexicans who have seen tortilla prices balloon to their highest in decades and agribusiness industries hoping to profit from the surge in international corn prices. Last January 18 Calderon signed an accord with business organizations to try to limit tortilla prices to about 35 US cents a pound but many of the independent tortilla sellers have ignored the rate, essentially a gentlemen's agreement with no legal backing. With the new prices, workers earning the minimum wage of about 4 US dollars a day could spend a third of their earnings on tortillas for their family.