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Location: Las Vegas, Nevada

I am a self proclaimed coffee addict and Executive Director of a non profit missions agency working primarily in the Mexican cities of Oaxaca, Guadalajara, and Ensenada. I've been married for over 30 years to Chelle, and we have one grown son, Joseph, a graduate of Auburn University in Alabama.

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Monday, April 23, 2012

Walmart, Bribes, and Jala, Nayarit... the effects of US business on life in Mexico...

[The basilica of Jala]

In 1996, I led my first short-term mission team into central Mexico.  We spent a week in Guadalajara and another in the little town of Jala, in the state of Nayarit.

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

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Comments on "Walmart, Bribes, and Jala, Nayarit... the effects of US business on life in Mexico..."


Anonymous Matt said ... (12:03 PM) : 

I suspect the answer you will get from the is "if company XYZ does not go in and make it efficient, somebody else will." It is not a very satisfactory answer to me, yet it is hard practically speaking to know how to "fight" the inevitability of corporate (and individual) greed.

What do you think?

Obviously in the US small communities have not figured out how to beat Walmart. I doubt others will either. This leads me to think adaptation of the way we think, work, and our idea of vocation is the only solution long term. I have no idea what that looks like, but do appreciate Seth Godin's ideas on this. He largely speaks to the top few percent however.

Certainly as with all change, this will be a more painful road for those who are not educated, wealthy, or who have less viable choices. So those of us who are must share some of the burden of assistance? What would this look like, when talking about fighting a large corporation? Fight the corruption? It seems like that is a first step, but it is hardly a fair fight even when the rules are even.


Blogger dmarks said ... (12:45 PM) : 

What do the bribes allow them to do? Something outrageous? Or something real mild like merely letting them build a store on land they already own (something they should be able to do anyway).

As for the mom-and-pop stores, is it anything like in the US, where the stores have killed themselves through their own choices of having overhigh prices and lousy customer service... and then they blame Walmart?


Blogger Dave Miller said ... (2:39 PM) : 

Dmarks, your questions reveal your bias...

Many of those Mom and Pop stores have been the only stores in these areas for years, indeed generations. it is their hard work that built those communities that major US corps are now invading.

The arrival of many US multinational corporations has destroyed the community in lots of areas of Mexico, something of which, i know a little about.

Here's what the bribes have done... they have allowed US big businesses to secure leases in areas where locals do not want those businesses because they know those businesses are not operating for the good of the community but rather, for the good of their company.

Now I know you are for local control, but when that locality loses control of their community because someone paid a big time bribe, and the numbers are above 25 million US in this case, how does the little cash starved community fight back?

Now if conservatives think this is a good plan, then they should shut up when Mexicans cross into the US looking for jobs. Because it many cases, it is the result of our trade policies and business plans regarding expansion that have taken the jobs that used to go to millions of Mexicans in their own country.


Blogger Shaw Kenawe said ... (6:05 AM) : 

"To make breakfast, you first go to the place that sells eggs. Then the place that sells bacon and cheese."

Dave, that sounds like the neighborhood I live in. But my neighborhood is in an urban setting! The North End of Boston is also called "Little Italy," since the influx of Italian immigrants in the late 1800s displaced the once majority Irish and Jewish population.

It has the distinction of being the city's oldest residential community, where people have lived continuously since it was settled in the 1630s.

We have butchers, cheese shops, green grocers, homemade pasta shops, sandwich shops, coffee cafes, gelateria, pastry shops and bakeries, one exclusively for bread, and several small convenient grocery stores, most of them Mom and Pop owned. [We once had a store that sold only eggs!] There are several clothing, consignment, and jewelry boutiques, as well as beauty salons and old fashioned barber shops. We have a few tailor shops and even a Chinese laundry and take out! Three Catholic churches and two elementary schools. There are no chain stores in this community. Housing is condominiums and apartments, and the neighborhood is a great mixture of students [from the neighboring Suffolk University], young families, and retired people and the elderly--mostly the Italians who stayed here where they were born, and did not move to the suburbs.

I raised my family in a community 25 miles west of Boston, a semi-rural suburb, where I had to drive 6 miles round trip to get to a supermarket or any other shop for anything I needed. I lived there for 20 years and never got to know anyone in any of the several chain supermarkets or other mall stores.

I've lived in this community for over 6 years and can walk into any of the stores I mentioned and have a conversation with people who know me by name. Never happened in the suburbs!

I treasure this experience. I feel so much a part of this place--a community where my father opened his first business when he came here from Italy. It's urban, for sure, noisy, streets not always clean, but its home.

I can understand Octavio's trepedation about a large foreign corporation like Wal-Mart moving into the village and displacing home-grown businesses. That would be a tragedy for and hardship on the community and its residents.

My sympathy is with the peoople of Jala. I would fight tooth and nail if Wal-Mart tried to enter my neighborhood and ruin its businesses and the charm that makes it such a desirable place to live.

It appears, from the bribery scandal, that Wal-Mart can't win on its merits of wanting to insert itself into a foreign country's culture, so it has to engage in dishonesty and breaking the law to attain its goal. The good people of Jala and other small towns in Mexico have little chance against such a dishonorable corporation.

I have never set foot in a Wal-Mart, and this scandal only reinforces the reason I will never do so.


Blogger Brian and Joy said ... (6:52 AM) : 

Luddism is beautifully nostalgic, but utterly futile.


Blogger BB-Idaho said ... (9:20 AM) : 

Despite their touchy-feely business statement, WalMart is
quite bottom-line. Other businesses that sell through WalMart are very familiar with
selling at or below production cost, simply to generate their
own volume overhead (and some
companies refuse to even deal
with them as a retail outlet for
product. Given their cutthroat
approach, they can be convinced
by similar hardball tactics. IMO, they
are beginning to get too big..in
my locale, a huge store sits empty after they opened another a scant
five miles away. I avoid the place, preferring locally owned.
WalMart failed in Korea, Germany
and Brazil, BTW


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