Government's Crusade Against Hunger Leaves out 4.3 Million Poor People
Angelica Enciso L. - La Jornada
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February 20, 2013

There are 4.3 million extremely poor Mexicans who remain outside the National Crusade Against Hunger, despite the fact that the same social programs are being applied as those of the previous administration.

The government announced that it will care for 7.4 million; yet in 2010 there were 11.7 million people in extreme poverty. In addition, experts warn that these figures do not correspond to reality, since this year the latest data will be processed and an increase in poverty is expected.

The federal government's strategy will not show results if there are no conditions for generating well-paying jobs. So far the biggest news is that [the current administration] recognizes hunger as a problem. The programs that are part of the crusade "have not stopped hunger or poverty. Aligning themselves is not enough, because there are no deeds to resolve the underlying crisis. They have only set out to stem problems in the poorest areas, but the underlying problem is the absence of employment and sufficient wages so people can have a decent standard of living," said José Luis de la Cruz, director of the Center for Research in Economics and Business of Monterrey Tech, at the state of Mexico campus.

As for the number of Mexicans in poverty, he reports that there is a "battle" to count the number of people in that condition, but the lines of poverty that have been used in the measurement are very lax.

"It is proposed that someone in the countryside having a thousand pesos solves the problem of hunger, but it's difficult to justify. The methodology needs to be revised."

He said that the number of poor people that the crusade is going to care for is less than those living in extreme poverty. Focusing on 7.4 million people leaves out an important part of the population that is in that condition.

Added to this, poverty is expected to grow in 2013. According to the data used in the index of labor trends [managed by] the National Council for Evaluation of Social Development Policy (Coneval), in the fourth quarter of 2012, income in cities of Baja California, Baja California Sur [South] and even in Mexico City increased, but "the problem is that there are people with jobs, but their income does not permit them to purchase staples."

The novelty of the crusade, he considered, "is to recognize that hunger is a problem; they reconsidered statements of the previous administration, in which the problem of poverty and hunger was denied."

As for the outcomes that the federal government's strategy is able to affect, he mentions that they are more limited than the government would like, "because they are going against elements already present, such as the economic slowdown; that the labor market faces serious structural problems in order to generate enough well-paid jobs, and also many of the programs and resource transfers that may be made will be insufficient."

Meanwhile, Hector Rubio, researcher in the area of public management of the association Social and Cooperation Management (GESOC), found that many programs included in the crusade have already been in operation for some time, thus we already have evaluations. This is the case of Liconsa and Opportunities, among others, that have shown limitations. The latter has been one of the successes, but the number of people in poverty and extreme poverty has increased: "This would imply that the underlying social policy must be reviewed."

He said other programs "are opaque; no one knows how they work. They attend to clients and function like petty cash. The issue of opacity does not permit us to know whether they work or not." In this situation the actions are mostly related to education, he pointed out.

Changing Economic Model

The Crusade Against Hunger will fail if it maintains the same economic policy of the last twelve years, which has slowed the growth of gross domestic product (GDP) and caused polarization of immense wealth and abject poverty, explained Alfonso Ramírez Cuellar, leader of Barzón [Union of Agriculture Workers].

He explained that the criteria announced by the Inter-Secretarial Commission of the crusade are insufficient to ensure growth, jobs and a better distribution of wealth.

"It's not enough to say that they will relax the operating rules of the programs in order that resources of the crusade will flow. Organizations have made this request for years and, despite the word given by government officials of the PRI [Party of the Institutional Revolution] and the PAN [National Action Party] that they will be appropriate, the changes [adopted] do not favor the flow of resources to the poorest."

He charged that the government of Enrique Peña Nieto began his administration with reforms that can only mean the emergence of new tycoons at the expense of income, of the natural world and of the national culture; therefore, he considered that this crusade is just looking for a statistical impact from actions aimed at alleviating poverty in the target population.

He warned that by achieving short-term results, structural needs are ignored, among them assuring that State enterprises are well managed and giving effective support to small and medium enterprises.

He said that the diagnosis presented at the installation of the Inter-Secretarial Commission is not innovative. The challenge to effectively fulfill the purpose of the crusade is to dismantle the food industry monopolies and encourage competition; otherwise, the Secretariat of Social Development will continue as the coordinator of eye-catching brigades with ample electoral overtones.

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Posted by Jane Brundage at Mexico Voices

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