U.S., Mexican activists to fight Wal-Mart

/ Source: The Associated Press

U.S. and local activists formed a common front on Sunday to fight the expansion of Wal-Mart stores in Mexico, saying small stores and the national culture are under threat from what is already the world’s biggest retailer.

Activists from several U.S. groups and 10 Mexican labor, community and commercial organizations wrapped up a two-day meeting dubbed the First Binational U.S.-Mexico Meeting Against Wal-Mart.

In a statement Sunday, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said that it had opened four more discount outlets, a Sam’s Club, two restaurants and a clothing store in Mexico in recent days, bringing the chain’s total number of stores under various nameplates in the country to 870.

But company officials were not immediately available to respond to the activists’ claims that the chain’s boxy stores are a blight on the landscape and are changing Mexicans’ work, shopping and eating habits.

“We think Mexico should mount a defense of its cultural and historical legacy,” said Ruben Garcia of Global Exchange, an activist group based in San Francisco, Calif.

“They (Wal-Mart) want to open stores in Comitan, Juchitan, in Oaxaca, in Patzcuaro, in many places we consider historic,” Garcia said, referring to several picturesque, largely Indian cities in southern Mexico.

“If Wal-Mart could open a store in the Zocalo (Mexico City’s historic main plaza), they would,” said Garcia, who was accompanied at the meeting and subsequent news conference by activists from U.S.-based groups like ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) and the International Labor Rights Fund.

In October Wal-Mart won preliminary approval to build a store in Cabo San Lucas, in Baja California Sur — the only one of Mexico’s 31 states where it currently does not have an outlet.

Responding to fears expressed by small business owners there, Antonio Ocarranza, a spokesman for Wal-Mart de Mexico, said at the time that the company would contribute positively to the community.

“We not only generate benefits for our customers, but also for businesses, who benefit from the traffic generated by our firm,” he said.

Juan Salazar, the outreach secretary of Mexico’s Democratic Association of Public Markets, called on Mexicans to shop instead at the country’s many public marketplaces, where small vendors sell meat, produce and other goods.

“Our country’s culture is precisely that of the public market, because it is the bastion of nutrition for our people,” Salazar said. “That’s where we should go, and buy products from our own producers.”

Garcia said Wal-Mart benefits from the business brought in by grocery vouchers — which the government hands out to low-income families and public employees — that are for the most part only redeemable in supermarkets. The activists called on officials to allow shoppers to use them at public markets.