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Food Riots in Latin America - An Overview


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Coursework for my "Our Global Food System: A Framework in Crisis" class at ISES-Corvinus University of Budapest

Submitted - May 15, 2011

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Food Riots in Latin America - An Overview

  1. 1. Food Riots in Latin America<br />Our Global Food System: A Framework in Crisis<br />Renjie Butalid<br />ISES-Corvinus University of Budapest<br />Kőszeg, Hungary<br />May 15, 2011<br />
  2. 2. Overview<br />In Latin America, the famines experienced on the continent have not been as severe as in Africa, although in recent years, food shortages have started to represent a real and pressing problem for the continent.<br />Although certain pockets of Latin American society have benefited from soaring global prices for agricultural commodities and petroleum: Venezuela and Mexico are flush with oil profits, and good times are rolling for soybean farmers in Argentina and Brazil; it is a completely different story in large parts of the continent.[1]<br />In Central America, a major importer of grain and oil, the price hikes are continuing to wreak havoc on already fragile economies. International aid agencies are also warning of a continuing rise in social tensions in countries where typical wages for one day will not buy a gallon of gas, and whereby food inflation is breaking family budgets.[2]<br />
  3. 3. Food Shortage Factors<br />Going well beyond the booming bio-fuels industry on the continent and around the world, which has increased the price of grains and cereals worldwide; as well as an increase in population size on the continent; food shortages in Latin America are further complicated by a number of factors that have deep roots in the social and political psyche of Latin American society.<br />Food shortages in Latin America not only threaten the political and economic stability of governments, but are also creating a new generation of misery and poverty for entire communities. It is also evident that malnutrition and impoverishment has increased in Latin American throughout the last decade.[3]<br />
  4. 4. Food Shortage Factors<br />A number of these factors include [4]:<br />“Caciquismo” – roughly translated as “boss politics”, the peculiarities of which have greatly depended on a kind informal politics which combines repression, clientelism and charismatic authority, and has and will continue to play a major role in Latin American society; [5]<br />Immigration from rural to urban areas;<br />Negligence from authorities towards peasants and indigenous people;<br />Lack of financial and technical support;<br />Corruption;<br />Poverty;<br />And infringement of human rights.<br />
  5. 5. Environmental Consequences<br />All of these factors have also aggravated the consequences of climate change in the region. The most recent example includes the devastating landslides experienced in Brazil in early 2011, where over 650 people were killed and thousands more lost their homes.[6]<br /> [7][6]<br />
  6. 6. Mexico<br />In Mexico, a shortage of supply in maize caused a dramatic increase in the price for this product.<br />In addition, riots and massive demonstrations took place against Mexican authorities that were blamed for the inefficiency of the supply of “tortillas,” considered to be Mexico’s daily bread by its population.[7]<br />
  7. 7. Guatemala<br />A very similar situation was experienced in Guatemala, particularly in the region of Chiquimula, where the prices for corn tortillas jumped 30% in recent months.<br />Many families were severely hit by the drought in 2009 and dozens of people died because of malnutrition. The effectiveness of the Guatemalan government was called into question, causing its widespread unpopularity.[8]<br />
  8. 8. <ul><li>The country has also experienced two social uprisings caused by food shortages in the country. This includes the uprising in 2002, known as “cacerolazo,” where people poured into the streets marching and banging pots and pans. The second one took place on March 2008, when farmers blocked roads in protest to what they saw as a punitive rise in taxes on their exports.[9]</li></ul>Argentina <br />In Argentina millions of people live at or below the poverty line. The prices of beef, cooking oil and flour have also risen more than three time its value in recent years.<br />
  9. 9. Venezuela<br />In Venezuela, food shortages were experienced beginning mid-2000’s, which caused milk, rice, pasta, sugar, eggs, oil and wheat to vanish from Venezuelan supermarkets across the country.[10]<br />
  10. 10. Honduras <br />In Honduras, the price of propane gas used for cooking in homes and small eateries and cafeterias, had risen by nearly 39%; electricity prices had also increased in recent years. <br />As a result, in 2008, thousands of people took to the streets to protest their eroding purchasing power.[11]<br />
  11. 11. El Salvador<br />Similar to what was taking place in neighboring Honduras, bakers in El Salvador also took to the streets to vent their anger and frustration over the rising cost of wheat flour.[12]<br />
  12. 12. Bolivia<br />In Bolivia, mass demonstrations and lootings of food warehouses in protest against severe shortages and high prices of staples such as sugar, have shaken the government of current President Evo Morales.<br />International observers report long lines in front of state-run food distribution centers,<br /> as people try to obtain basic staples just to survive. On Jan. 31, 2011, the state-run marketing entity, EMAPA, began selling sugar it had imported from Brazil, but at a 40% price mark-up, which enraged buyers. The government has been forced to import food on an emergency basis to counter shortages.[13]<br />
  13. 13. Nicaragua<br />However, no Central American country, though, is more vulnerable to increases in agriculture-commodity price increases than Nicaragua.<br />The nation does not produce a single barrel of crude, and yet, approximately 80% of its electricity is generated by plants that burn imported oil. The financial stress of rising oil prices contributed to a series of lengthy blackouts in 2006 and sparked a nationwide popular insurrection against then Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolanos.[14]<br />Former Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolanos<br />
  14. 14. Conclusion<br />Food shortages in Latin America have also been accelerated by the constant growth in size of urban areas, the reduction of lands dedicated to agricultural farming together with a lack of financial support from the government for agriculture, along with the intensive migration of populations from rural areas to the cities.<br />All in all, the world continues to face a “real risk” of a sustained and drawn out food crisis as agriculture-commodity prices climb, increasing the likelihood of riots in developing countries.<br />According to recent World Bank estimates, rising agriculture-commodity prices have already pushed 44 million more people into “extreme” poverty in developing countries since June 2010, and there seems to be no end in sight, with many experts hereby declaring that global food shortages could ‘continue for decades’.[15]<br />
  15. 15. References<br />[1] Belts tightening in Nicaragua. Marla Dickerson. Los Angeles Times May 6, 2008<br />[2] Ibid<br />[3] 2011 World Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics<br />[4] Food shortages in Latin America may foreshadow famine. Los Angeles Times July 19, 2008<br />[5]Caciquismo in Twentieth-Century Mexico. Alan Knight and WilPansters, eds., Institute for the Study of the Americas 2005 c. 409pp.<br />[6] Brazil Landslide and Flood Toll Reaches 665. Wall Street Journal January 17, 2011<br />[7] How the rising price of corn made Mexicans take to streets. Jerome Taylor.The Independent June 23, 2007<br />[8] The Great Food Crisis of 2011.Lester R. Brown.The Guatemala Times January 14, 2011.<br />
  16. 16. References<br />[9] Argentina's taxes on food exports: Killing the pampas's golden calf. The Economist March 27 2008<br />[10] Venezuelan shoppers face food shortages. Greg Morsbach BBC News January 10 2006<br />[11] Belts tightening in Nicaragua. Marla Dickerson. Los Angeles Times May 6, 2008<br />[12] Ibid.<br />[13] Protests Erupt in Mexico, South America, Over Soaring Food Prices and Shortages. LaRouchePAC February 2, 2011<br />[14] Belts tightening in Nicaragua. Marla Dickerson. Los Angeles Times May 6, 2008<br />[15] Food Price Hike Drives 44 Million People into Poverty. The World Bank February 15, 2011,,contentMDK:22833439~pagePK:64257043~piPK:437376~theSitePK:4607,00.html<br />