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Wal-Mart takeover behind attack on Mexican town

Published May 16, 2006 10:16 PM

Mexican police attacked flower vendors in San Salvador Atenco on May 3 as the vendors tried to sell in their usual area, now a future site of a Wal-Mart.

The government-initiated attack against the group of flower producers and their supporters was actually a result of a rarely seen collaboration among Mexico’s three leading political parties—the PRI, the PAN and the PRD—which supported the municipal president of Texcoco in his opinion that the vendors “looked ugly.”

The truth, however, is that small-scale vendors were getting in the way of plans for big foreign companies to take over this town as they have so many others in Mexico and around the world.

The flower vendors were occupying the space in the Texcoco market when they were assaulted by police. The next day before dawn the vendors returned with supporters from the town of Atenco to confront the police and reoccupy their space.

The police again responded with violence, this time using batons and tear gas.

Some 3,000 federal police surrounded the town of Atenco. They were later joined by state and local police. The troops proceeded to launch so much tear gas that the town was engulfed in a cloud. Some protesters were then arrested while others were able to escape and hide.

Police then went from house to house, smashing windows, breaking down doors and arresting more people. During the confrontation, police gunfire killed a 14-year-old boy and left Alexis Benhumea, a 20-year-old economics student at the Autonomous university of Mexico UNAM, in a coma after a teargas canister struck him in the left temple.

Since then, leaders of the People’s Front in Defense of the Land, or what is being called the Atenco movement, have been incarcerated along with hundreds of their supporters and are among the most brutally tortured. There are currently more than 200 political prisoners—women, men and children—captive in Atenco. There have been several reports that police have raped women. In addition the town has been invaded and plundered.

In response to the attacks, people throughout Mexico and the United States have held protests. The Chiapas Center for Independent Media released a statement calling for a boycott of Wal-Mart.

The CMI says 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 practices.”

The same could be said about all the foreign-owned corporations that move their factories and stores across borders freely, while thousands of people die each year trying to cross those same borders. These people are trying to escape the economic conditions created by imperialism. The people of Atenco are not alone. It is inevitable that workers will continue to rise up and defend themselves. It is their right to do so, by any means necessary, as long as they are confronted with a system where profits come before people.