Mexican Communities Fight Costco and McDonald’s

Date: 1 Nov 2002 | posted in: Retail | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Residents of Oaxaca, a city in southern Mexico, are handing out free tamales by the thousands in an effort to stop a McDonald’s from opening in a 500-year-old plaza at the center of town. News of the company’s plans surfaced in May. Since then, opponents have been holding rallies with free food to highlight the importance of local cuisine and build opposition to the McDonald’s.

The plaza, a United Nations designated World Heritage Site, is currently home to dozens of locally owned businesses, many of which have been around for decades. McDonald’s already has 235 outlets in Mexico, including one on the outskirts of Oaxaca. The fast-food giant has offered to pay $8000 a month to rent a former shoe store on the plaza. That’s well above the going rate and could induce other landlords to also seek out high-rent fast-food outlets.

City officials have the power to veto McDonald’s under a local law that allows them to halt any project that endangers the city’s cultural heritage. Officials are taking their time with the decision. A public forum was held in October.

Meanwhile, in Cuernavaca, a city 50 miles south of Mexico City, residents are also fighting the invasion of an American chain—a giant Costco store slated for an historically significant site that is home to the former Hotel Casino de la Selva, more than 900 century-old trees, and dozens of murals. In this case, however, city officials, despite widespread opposition, are squarely in Costco’s camp, virtually ensuring that the store will open.

Plans for the development were first made public more than a year ago, after the city’s sold the site to Costco for one-sixth of its market value. Opponents soon launched the Civic Front for the Defense of the Casino de la Selva, organizing rallies, gathering petition signatures, writing to Costco executives, and meeting with national and local officials.

Cuernavaca’s sunny climate has earned it the nickname “the city of eternal spring,” but residents contend that uncontrolled retail sprawl is reducing Cuernavaca to “the city of the eternal shopping mall.” They believe a park would be a far better option for the Costco site.

The protests came to a head in late August. After the city gave Costco the official go-ahead, some 300 protesters blocked roads to prevent construction crews from reaching the site. The police beat several protesters and arrested 28 people on charges of rebellion, sabotage, and assault. Within hours 3,000 people converged to demand the protesters’ release. They were released several days later and organized a massive rally of more than 15,000 people.

Unfortunately, Cuernavaca officials seem determined to override their citizens. Construction crews are now on the site. Activists have called for an international boycott of Costco.

Some believe these recent rumblings may be the beginnings of a broader backlash against global chains like Wal-Mart, Carrefour, and Blockbuster Video, which have multiplied throughout Mexico. “Investment by multinational companies. . . has reached its limit,” Flora Guerrero Goff, a Cuernavaca activist told the Dallas Morning News. “They have disrespected Mexicans not only because the megastores bring a lifestyle based on brutal consumption, but they are also destroying our customs, our culture, our traditional food.”

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Stacy Mitchell

Stacy Mitchell is co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and directs its Independent Business Initiative, which produces research and designs policy to counter concentrated corporate power and strengthen local economies.