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Northern Farmers Occupy Storehouses in Price Protest

January 12, 1988

MONTERREY, Mexico (AP) _ Farmers in Chihuahua state on the U.S. border have occupied 25 government- own ed storehouses in a growing protest over prices paid for beans and corn, leaders of the movement said Tuesday.

About 80 other members of the Chihuahua Peasant Organizations Front were on a 65-mile protest march to the state capital, also named Chihuahua, to press demands for higher prices.

Farmers occupying the warehouses of the government’s Conasupo food company complain about government-guaranteed prices of 245 pesos - about 11 cents - for a kilogram of corn and 525 pesos - about 23 cents - for a kilo of beans. A kilogram is 2.2 pounds.

Conasupo handles food throughout the chain from the farm to retailing. The Spanish acronym stands for National Company of Basic Food Supplies.

The guaranteed price for a kilo of corn ″will only buy one soft drink,″ said the Rev. Camilo Perez, spokesman for the farmers’ organization and pastor of the Roman Catholic parish in Anahuac, about 60 miles southwest of Chihuahua.

He said by telephone Tuesday that farmers want price increases of 43 percent immediately, and a further increase of 85 percent to match that for gasoline followed by future hikes to keep up with the cost of products farmers must buy.

Archbishop Adalberto Almeida of Chihuahua and 65 of the 90 priests in the diocese have declared support for the movement.

″They’re paying us better now but everything costs so much,″ said farmer Marco Gutierrez, one of the protesters. ″We’re just struggling to make ends meet.″

Gutierrez, 44, said by telephone from Anahuac that his family harvested 20 tons of corn this year and earned 4.9 million pesos, or about $2,130 at the current exchange rate of 2,300 pesos to to the dollar.

″It sounds like a lot,″ he said. ″But we’re a family of 10 people and even a cheap pair of shoes costs 40,000 pesos,″ about $17. ″We can’t even buy the most basic necessities.″

He said he had just finished his shift of guard duty at the occupied storehouse in Anahuac.

Angel Torres Perea, state communications director, said Gov. Fernando Baeza was in Mexico City to discuss the demands with federal officials, who must approve price increases.

″The state government does not buy corn from the farmers,″ Torres said by telephone. ″The governor is only speaking for the farmers.″

He said Baeza was requesting a price increase for farmers who work small areas of non-irrigated land on the government’s communal farm system, ″not ... for the rich producers.″ Gutierrez is a communal farmer.

Farmers took over the Conasupo storehouse in Anahuac on Dec. 27 and gradually have occupied others, most on communal farms in northwestern Chihuahua, the state’s main area for corn and bean production.

″They are allowing corn and beans to come in but not go out,″ Perez said.

State police are monitoring the storehouses but have not intervened, authorities said.

Archbishop Almeida and the other priests supporting the farmers said in a paid newspaper advertisement: ″The peasants aren’t asking for or demanding privileges. They’re asking for, demanding and struggling for subsistence, the first of all Christian and human rights.″

Perez said a price increase would affect about 6,000 communal farmers in the region.

Members of the peasants’ group began their march to Chihuahua on Monday from Cuauhtemoc, a town about 65 miles away, and expect to reach the city Thursday.

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