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Thursday, 9 August, 2001, 00:34 GMT 01:34 UK
Mexican farmers protest in capital
Mexican farmers demonstrating in Mexico City
Farmers say free trade is destroying their livelihoods
By Peter Greste in Mexico City

Tens of thousands of farmers have demonstrated in Mexico City as part of a nationwide protest at what they call "the farming crisis".

The farmers say their earnings have all but vanished thanks to the Mexican Government's policy of reducing subsidies, and its international trade agreements that have exposed them to foreign competition.

From all corners of the Mexican capital, farmers made their presence felt.

They marched along the main thoroughfares, blocking traffic en route to the Department of Agriculture.

Protest organiser Alvero Lopez Rio said they planned to present their plight to the secretariat before dispersing to other government departments to demand meetings with senior government ministers.

Nationwide demonstrations

The protest in Mexico City was the biggest of some 32 similar demonstrations planned for state capitals across the country.

Mexican President Vincente Fox
President Fox is against subsidies
The farmers' organisation, the Permanent Agrarian Congress, says the government's policies of opening up the nation's borders to free trade agreements have all but killed off small Mexican farms.

Mexico has more free trade agreements than just about any other country in the world.

The government insists that has helped its economy become one of the strongest in Latin America.

But the protesting farmers argue that they have suffered unduly in the face of falling world commodity prices and protectionist policies in other countries.

Despite the scale of Wednesday's protest, President Vicente Fox is likely to press ahead with plans to scrap the old inefficient and corrupt system of farm subsidies.

He has already rejected calls to increase subsidies, arguing that there is no point trying to compete with handouts in developed nations worth about $1bn a day.

The solution, he argues, is to increase farm efficiency.

But that is unlikely to help the protesting farmers, who say they are already on the verge of collapse.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Peter Greste
"It may turn out to be a long fight"
See also:

08 Jul 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Mexico's paradoxes
26 Jan 01 | Business
Mexico pushes for free trade pact
30 Jun 00 | Business
Mexico's economic fears
29 Mar 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Mexico
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