Mexican Sugar Tax Activists Walk on the Wild Side


The highest per capita consumption of Coca-Cola occurs in Mexico, which holds less than 2% of the world’s population but accounts for 12% of Coke’s worldwide sales. In January of 2013, the 10% soda tax started, and during the first year, purchases of sugar-sweetened beverages declined by 6%. Alejandro Calvillo, head of the consumer organization El Poder, who was largely responsible for getting the tax passed, aspires to see it raised closer to 20%, but this might turn out to be futile overreach.

At the same time, an 8% tax on junk food went into effect, and a followup study indicated that, in urban areas, the purchases of junk food decreased by around 5%. No data was available for rural parts of the country.

Melissa Healy reported for the LA Times that if the trend of reduced consumption continues, over a 10-year period the savings on diabetes treatment alone could amount to more than $900 million. Based on the first two years, researchers project that “over 10 years, the 10% excise tax could prevent 189,300 new cases of Type 2 diabetes, 20,400 strokes and heart attacks, and 18,900 deaths among adults 35 to 94 years old.”

The Mexican experience certainly seems worth some positive attention, especially if it can be achieved through imbibing only 6% less soda. But even that small diminishment of their profits is apparently too much for Coke to tolerate.

Investigative reporter Beverly Bell wrote:

To control the soft drinks market in Mexico, Coca-Cola has shown repeatedly it will break the law. The Angel Alvarado Aguero case, currently in the Mexican courts, describes how this former marketing executive of Coca-Cola was unjustifiably dismissed when he refused to carry out illegal monopolistic marketing practices as directed by the Company.

Since 2000, Coca-Cola has negotiated 27 water concessions from the Mexican government. Nineteen of the concessions are for the extraction of water from aquifers and from 15 different rivers, some of which belong to indigenous peoples. Eight concessions are for the right of Coke to dump its industrial waste into public waters.

Bear in mind that this is a country where more than 12 million people have no access to potable water. When a rival beverage called Big Cola started to capture some market share, Coke used a combination of carrot and stick — of bribery and intimidation — in what was characterized as a viciously coercive campaign to persuade the owners of small shops not to stock their rival’s product.

The company is also suspected of cheating workers out of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of profit sharing and other benefits. Also, the soda manufacturers owe the Mexican government millions in taxes.

Throughout the world, most workers are exploited, so in that respect Coke’s behavior in South America is not unusual. In Colombia, where Coke has a private mercenary army, the corporation is suspected of kicking it up a notch, disposing of at least 10 troublesome labor organizers. In Mexico, hired assassins are less obvious and the attack is more sophisticated, carried out by cyber weapons.

What do a research scientist, a nonprofit foundation director, and the coordinator of a 40-group anti-obesity coalition have in common? They, and several others in similar positions, both civilians and government employees, were harassed by phone and internet in ways designed to make them open a link that would infect their devices.

The University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab figured it all out and Nicole Perlroth wrote it up for The New York Times:

The timing of the hacking coincided with a planned effort by advocacy organizations and health researchers — including Dr. Barquera, Mr. Calvillo and Mr. Encarnacion — to coordinate a mass media campaign to build support for doubling the soda tax, an effort that stalled in Mexico’s Congress in November. The three men also opposed a failed effort by Mexican legislators and soda lobbyists in 2015 to cut the tax in half.

Their computers and phones were taken over by Pegasus, malware that can track and trace every voice call, text message, and email sent or received. Unbeknownst to the owner, the spyware can turn on the device’s camera and mic and send the information to whoever wants it.

These cyber arms are made by the mysterious NSO Group, and supposedly are only sold to governments, to surveil political dissidents. But it appears that the soda industry has gotten hold of them.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Two Years In, Mexico’s Soda Tax Is Still Working,”, 07/07/16
Source: “Mexico’s soda tax will save 18900 lives and more than $983 million over 10 years, study says,”, 11/03/16
Source: “Breaking The Law: Business As Usual for Coca-Cola,”, undated
Source: “Spyware’s Odd Targets: Backers of Mexico’s Soda Tax,”, 02/11/17
Wall of Crosses in Nogales
Photo credit: Jonathan McIntosh via Visualhunt/CC BY

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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
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