Mexico City, MX. Biomedical Scientist Loses Job Over Wal-Mart, Costco Protests
In April of 2004, Dr. Jaime Lagunez Otero, a highly regarded biologist and human rights activist working at the National Autonomous University of Mexico's (UNAM) chemistry institute, was abruptly fired -- after twelve years. UNAM has denied Dr. Lagunez access to his personal possessions, archives and computer files. He was locked out of his own laboratory, and given no reason for his dismissal.
Dr. Lagunez believes he knows why he was terminated: his outspoken opposition to Wal-Mart and Costco in Mexico.
Dr. Lagunez says in Mexico many serious problems have emerged because of the arrival of big retailers: damage to the environment, violations of civil rights, loss of valuable world heritage sites, destruction of local economies.
A very large protest against the construction of a Costco store was finally repressed by Mexican police in August of 2002. 450 state and local police brutally attacked a peaceful protest and arrested 32 people. About a week later, 20,000 people took to the streets to demand the release of the detained activists.
At the time, Dr. Lagunez contacted Sprawl-Busters to report these abuses. In August of 2005, he again informed Sprawl-Busters that Mexico's National Human Rights Commission had declared the construction of a Wal-Mart at the Teotihuacan pyramid in Mexico to be illegal, and a violation of the nation's Constitution. Teotihuacan, first settled nearly 2000 years ago, remains one of the most important and spectacular pyramid complexes in the world. The Commission charged that a world heritage site was placed at risk.
Several months later, Dr. Lagunez wrote to the United Nations urging the Secretary General to "guarantee that no more damage be done to World Cultural Heritage" sites at the hands of big box stores like Wal-Mart and Costco. Dr. Lagunez went on to state, "The companies are not the only responsible parties. Mexican officials, in particular President Vicente Fox, Minister Reyes Tamez, and Sarah Bermudez of Conaculta, as well as UNESCO's authorities represented in the country, are not fulfilling their duties to safeguard and protect the world's Humankind Cultural Heritage found in this country."
In April of 2004, Dr. Lagunez, lost his job. He believes he was terminated for his outspoken opposition to Wal-Mart and Costco in Mexico. Three other academic organizations expressed their dismay over Lagunez's dismissal: the American Chemical Society, the APS for Physics, and the Network of Concerned Historians.
Before he was fired, Dr. Lagunez was a level A researcher for UNAM and a member of the 'Sistema Nacional de Investigadores' (SNI), a government-sponsored organization that certifies the competence level of local scientists. Since 1992, Dr. Lagunez had published original research papers on the subject of nucleic acids and their computational analysis, allowing his group to propose compounds that could co-adjuvate in the treatment of breast cancer and inhibit HIV.
Lagunez filed a law-suit against the UNAM, but after eight years, his case is still pending. The University has remained silent about the reasons for Dr. Lagunez's dismissal, but Lagunez says it was a politically motivated retaliation for his role in human rights activism outside of the University.
The National Action Party (PAN )of Presidents Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderon, have assisted Wal-Mart de Mexico to become an enormous colonial retail power within their country's borders. There is no reason to believe that the recently-elected Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) of President Enrique Peņa Nieto will be any less hospitable to American retailers.
Dr. Lagunez has been unable to find other work in his field in Mexico. He told Sprawl-Busters this week, "I've had to deal with the pain of seeing my colleagues hurt and myself being jailed and treated as a criminal for protecting world cultural heritage. My financial situation is critical... I'm badly in need of a source of income."
What you can do: Lagunez notes that he did get the support from the Mexico City congress to continue his research in AIDS and Cancer with oligonucleotides. But he still cannot find work in his field.
Readers who want to support the work of Dr. Jaime Lagunez Otero can go to the following link of the organization Frente Civico: https://apps.facebook.com/fundrazr/activity/8d04b5f037424a9fb521c1ce03faf9b8?psid=bdb716891edc4554899809c6c5ceb6c4.
The Mexico City congress signed a bill in 2010 to continue Dr. Lagunez' research in AIDS and Cancer -- but nothing further has happened. Dr. Lagunez explains: "The owners of these big box companies go so far as to ruin economies, damage cultural sites, instigate police brutality, put a scientist critical of their companies behind bars, bribe authorities, etc. Would they stop at blocking investigations in public health?"