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A Mexican town tries out its own currency

Jennifer Collins Jun 26, 2012
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Jeff Horwich: Mexicans go to the polls to elect a new president, but in a remote hill town a small group of Mexicans is already bringing about their own change. They are using an alternative currency that they developed.

Jennifer Collins reports.


Jennifer Collins: At a bustling butcher shop in the town of Espinal, Mexico. Irene Castellanos Cruz is buying beef for her family.

Irene Castellanos Cruz: Da mi un kilo de costilla por favor.

And she’s paying with what looks a bit like funny money — a business card-sized bill with a reprint of a Diego Rivera painting.  It’s an alternative currency called ‘tumin’ — a word that means ‘money’ in the local indigenous language.

Castellanos Cruz: The tumin has changed my life because it’s helped me. Now, the price of things is more affordable.

Castellanos Cruz also accepts tumin at the Iinternet cafe she runs out of her house. She says business is up 10 percent. Around 100 other businesses are participating — from doctors and dentists to restaurants and agriculture supply stores.

Human rights professor Juan Castro Soto, of Veracruz Intercultural University, began printing the money over a year ago. He wanted to give a boost to his struggling agricultural community.

Juan Castro Soto: People don’t have money. Sometimes they have products but no way to exchange them.

So far, he’s printed about $7,000 worth. The Bank of Mexico has notified him his currency is under investigation. And municipal official Silvino Preza worries tumin users could lose out if the money goes out of fashion.

Silvino Preza: It’s something clandestine. It doesn’t have taxes. It doesn’t have a registry. It doesn’t have any of that.

Andrew Lamas is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. He says alternative currencies work because their communities have confidence in them.

Andrew Lamas: People have a sense of ownership of their local space, even if they don’t own the stores themselves. They want to preserve the options of the local.

And tumin creator Juan Castro Soto has been spreading the word, signing up businesses as far away as Mexico City.

Castro Soto: We say this is our small revolution, with the tumin. Mexico isn’t having a revolution. But in Espinal, yes.

And that’s why he says Espinal will be the home of the tumin for many years to come.

I’m Jennifer Collins for Marketplace.

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