Walmart, Bribes, and Jala, Nayarit... the effects of US business on life in Mexico...
[The basilica of Jala]
Jala is the type of sleepy town that wakes up once a year for their festival. Their chief claim to fame is an ability to grow giant corn and the nearby volcano, Ceboruco. Throw in a beautiful basilica, a classic town square and you have central Mexico.
Most of the 15000 or so residents are, or at least were, connected to corn and sugar cane farming.
[Casa Arriola in Jala, where I spent many a night with Octavio and his Tia Caratina]
I was there a number of times with a good friend who was on the Board of Directors of my ministry, Adventures in Life, at the time.
Octavio spent his summers growing up in this little sleepy town and he wanted us to visit, learn the culture, and help the people in some way. It was at his urging that we went.
One of the challenges in small town Mexico if you are taking care of a group, is getting food.
Life in these places is not like life here in the states.
To make breakfast, you first go to the place that sells eggs. Then the place that sells bacon and cheese. Then the place that sells tortillas. And on and on and on. It is terribly unproductive, unless of course you want to get to know the community, her people, and the culture.
[A typical small store in Jala, this one sells furniture]
As is my custom, I like to ask a lot of questions. One morning as Octavio and I were making the rounds looking for enough food to make a meal for our group of 16 people, I asked a question... "Why doesn't someone open up a supermarket here with everything in one place?"
His response was both quick and concise. He asked me why I hated the people of Jala, his village?
I was stunned as he went on to explain that while a supermarket might make things easier, it would kill a lot of local merchants. Many of the small stores or tiendas that we visited everyday were family stores. Many of the folks that owned those stores would never be able to get a job in someplace like Ralphs, K-Mart, Home Depot or Walmart.
The only thing that would happen, Octavio went on, if those big box retailers came into Mexico and entered the small towns and villages would be a loss of revenue, livelihood, and the businesses of the very people who had sacrificed and built the city. We would also see a loss of community as people would no longer go to Maria's corner store for eggs and conversation, or maybe Juan's ferreteria for nails and advice.
That was almost 20 years ago. And sadly, Octavio was right.
With the recent news that Walmart has been systematically bribing people to get their stores into all corners of Mexico, perhaps it is time to ask Octavio's question a different way.
Does American business hate the people of Mexico so much that after devastating the corn industry and cutting down the sugar cane farmers, it felt a need to illegally take aim on the Mom and Pop stores that dot the landscape across the country and form the backbone of the Mexican community?
I'm just askin...
Here's some great photos of Jala