Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Protesters remove blockade at Culiacán airport

Corn producers have agreed to lift their 40-hour blockade of Culiacán’s international airport and hold talks with Sinaloa’s Governor Rubén Rocha Moya over the disputed price of grain. 

During a brief radio broadcast, Governor Rocha said that talks would begin on Thursday and thanked the farmers for allowing the airport’s service to resume. 

Farmers protesting
Protestors were angry at a perceived lack of government support for grain producers. Sinaloa is the largest producer of corn in Mexico. (Twitter)

Around 200 farmers from across Sinaloa have blocked entry roads to the Bachigualato airport on Tuesday, demanding a raise in the guaranteed minimum price of grain. Protesters want 7,000 pesos per ton of corn, 8,000 pesos per ton of wheat and 6,500 per ton of sorghum. They are also calling for a government purchase program to buy 3.5 million tons of excess grain.

The government food security program Segalmex currently guarantees prices of 6,805 pesos per ton of corn and 7,480 pesos per ton of wheat but only to small farmers with no more than five hectares of seasonal crops. In May, Segalmex launched a program to buy one million tons of white corn from Sinaloa farmers at 6,595 pesos per ton, if they have up to 10 hectares of crops.

The protests affected 57 commercial flights. Aeromexico announced that it would allow affected passengers to change flights with no fees, while Volaris invited affected passengers to change their flights to nearby Mazatlán or Los Mochis. Viva Aerobus canceled several flights and asked for patience from passengers without announcing any protection schemes.

Despite the lifting of the blockade, services at the airport remained suspended on Thursday, with passengers advised not to go to the airport unless necessary.

Despite the end of the blockade, commercial aviation at Culiacán International Airport has remained suspended through Thursday. (Twitter)

The airport blockade is the latest in a series of protests by the state’s grain producers through May and early June. As Mexico’s largest corn-producing state, Sinaloa has been hard hit by a 50% collapse in global grain prices over the last 18 months after Ukraine grain exports resumed.

Analysts have warned that Mexico’s current grain market prices will leave many farmers unable to recoup their investment in this year’s production. If these farmers go bankrupt, it could fuel further inflation for food prices in Mexico into 2024.

During his daily press conference on Thursday, President López Obrador said he would not negotiate with the protesters, as they’d hoped.

“Our government does not allow blackmail,” he told reporters. “We are not going to give in, even if they have the airport, and also for their peace of mind, we are not going to use public force. I am very sorry because it affects those who use the airport, those who need to travel, but our government does not allow blackmail and even less from people accustomed to corruption.”

López Obrador also expressed doubts about the authenticity of the protests, speculating that his political enemies were instigating them and that the protesters were “elite” farmers used to getting subsidies from previous administrations’ programs.

López Obrador’s administration emphasizes small- and medium-scale farmers through the Producción para el Bienestar (Production for Well-Being) program, but has no supports for larger-scale farmers.

Governor Rocha has expressed more sympathy for the protesters but asked them to redirect their protests toward the large agricultural corporations who, he claimed, are to blame for the situation.

“Let’s go together to protest against those truly responsible for your crops going to waste: [agricultural corporations] Gruma, Cargill and Minsa,” he wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “I am your ally and side by side with you, I will demand fair treatment and a fair price for your work.”

When asked whether he would take the governor at his word, the protesters’ leader Arnoldo Verdugo Aguilar told local media that further action would be decided during Thursday’s meeting.

With reports from El Universal and El Sol de México

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