Food Sovereignty in Latin America: Confronting the ‘New’ Crisis
During the first months of 2007, Mexicans took to the streets to protest a sudden doubling of the price of corn tortillas, the mainstay of the national diet.
Government officials and industry blamed the increase of corn prices in the global market on the widespread promotion of ethanol production from corn as part of the agro-fuels initiatives being promoted by then President George W. Bush and President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil. While speculation on corn futures to feed ethanol plants did contribute to the price rise, it later turned out that hoarding and price speculation by private grain-trading corporations like Cargill, which benefited from Mexico’s earlier privatization of national grain reserves, played at least as big a role.
In fact, Cargill bought a healthy chunk of the late-2006 Mexican corn harvest for 1,650 pesos per ton. It then withheld its inventory from the market, creating an artificial shortage, which drove prices up to 3,500 pesos in January, when it finally began to sell, making a handy profit.2 Throughout 2007, Venezuelans periodically faced milk shortages, which sometimes generated lines several hours long at supermarkets.
President Hugo Chávez accused transnational dairy giants Nestlé and Parmalat of buying and exporting milk from the Venezuelan market, precisely when the population most needed it. While the Venezuelan government eventually purchased a huge milk-processing facility from Parmalat, it is possible that these transnational corporations (TNCs) were following an old Washington script, by which artificial shortages of food and other products are used to create long lines at shops to undermine the legitimacy of gov- cases of looting illustrate the desperation of the hungry,” ernments that the U.S. government doesn’t like