Mexican Reaction Mixed on McDonald's Ban
Dec. 13, 2002
OAXACA, Mexico (AP) _ Considered by many to be Mexico's culinary capital, this city took on McDonald's and won, keeping the hamburger giant out of its colonial plaza by passing around tamales in protest.
But not everyone is rejoicing over Oaxaca's victorious food fight. Many say the bitterly poor state _ while rich in traditions _ can't afford to turn down potential employers, much less slam the door on an international company.
City officials decided this week to prohibit the golden arches from doing business under the historic stone archways of Oaxaca's 16th century central plaza, also known as the zocalo. The battle has divided this picturesque community between those who want to preserve its cultural identity and others who simply want a job.
It's not the only fight in Mexico against a well-known U.S. name. Protesters in the wealthy resort city of Cuernavaca, in the mountains outside Mexico City, are calling for an international boycott of Costco after the retail giant began tearing down a historic casino and cutting down trees to build a wholesale center.
McDonald's boasts that a new restaurant opens somewhere in the world every four hours, but in many countries the invasion of American fast food has prompted protests.
In Oaxaca, the fight was led by Mexico's most famous living artist, Francisco Toledo. During their four-month campaign, Toledo and his supporters plastered the proposed restaurant location with signs reading ``No McZocalo'' and ``We don't want McDollars'' while handing out traditional Oaxacan tamales and atole _ a thick drink made of corn starch _ to passers-by.
Opponents collected close to 10,000 signatures against McDonald's in a region famous for its cuisine, including its thick, chile-based mole sauces often served over chicken.
Like many Mexican cities, the zocalo is the community's showcase for both its treasures and its troubles. Lined by cafes where tourists pass the day sipping the region's coffee and hot chocolate, the leafy square hosts everything from folk dances to campaign speeches.
Teachers have packed into it to protest low wages, jockeying for space next to Zapotec and Mixteco Indians selling their traditional weavings and pottery. Loxica Indian women lived on a section for nearly five years to demand the release of husbands accused of being guerrilla fighters.
Elderly women wearing hand-woven black and white shawls hawk bags of spicy grasshoppers _ a local delicacy _ outside the city's ornate, baroque cathedral.
``This place is not for McDonald's,'' said Toledo, a quiet, easygoing man who helped form a historic preservation group six years ago. ``This is a sacred space.''
Toledo said McDonald's, which already has one restaurant at a shopping center on the outskirts of the historic center, can open its doors elsewhere in the city. McDonald's officials could not be reached for comment.
But a statement from its Mexican branch said it has always been ``respectful of the rules and laws of the cities where we have businesses,'' and added that, in the case of Oaxaca, it had ``complied with authorities requirements.''
Some fear the fight may have scared off other international companies interested in Oaxaca.
``This was a step backward for us,'' said Maria Elena Room, 37, head of sales at a Mexican department store. ``We need foreign businesses for our economy to grow.''
McDonald's is popular in Mexico, where it has built nearly 270 franchises since the first one opened in 1985.
Iliana de la Vega, who runs the internationally renowned Oaxacan restaurant, El Naranjo, said censuring businesses worries her more than bad taste.
``I don't like McDonald's,'' said Vega, who also teaches traditional Oaxacan cooking classes. ``But we should have the choice.''
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