Coffee Not Coughing Up Enough in Guatemala

Times.com reports that small-production Guatemalan coffee growers can’t make ends meet, even with higher Fair Trade prices. Living in La Antigua Guatemala, I can’t escape the enticing aroma of “cafe.” Here, most of the cafe is supplied by major local producers whose farms carpet the hills surrounding the Panchoy Valley. Producers like the R. Dalton Coffee Company at Finca Filadelfia or Azotea Cafe at Finca Azotea are certainly not having any problems. Finca Filadelfia is a continually developing lush resort with an elite hotel, coffee tours, canopy tours and more. It’s sad to know that these operations can rake in the dough while smaller coffee farmers can’t even make ends meet.

Ever since Jesuit monks brought coffee to Guatemala three centuries ago, raising the beans has been a losing business for small farmers. Conditions are miserable–try lugging 100 lb. of fertilizer up a mountain–and even though coffee is the world’s second most valuable traded commodity, after oil, the money it brings in is measly. “It’s not enough to live on,” says Luis Antonio, who has grown coffee near Quetzaltenango, in Guatemala’s western highlands, for three decades but gets deeper in debt each year. “What we earn isn’t enough to buy food for our children.”

Antonio and the world’s 25 million other small coffee growers don’t have a lot of career alternatives. So you’d think they would be enthusiastic about Fair Trade–a global campaign that for 25 years has sought to bring struggling Third World farmers, including Antonio, out of poverty by paying them higher-than-market prices for everything from coffee to quinoa. Along the way, it has recruited retail giants like Starbucks, which is the globe’s largest purchaser of Fair Trade–certified coffee.

But the future of the Fair Trade–coffee movement is in question, as some backers raise concerns about whether it has reached the limit of how much it can help. In a private-industry survey last year of 179 Fair Trade coffee farmers in Central America and Mexico, a copy of which TIME obtained, more than half said their families have still been going hungry for several months a year. “When I got the results, I was shocked,” says Rick Peyser, director of social advocacy for Green Mountain Coffee Roasters in Vermont, the Fair Trade company that commissioned the survey. “I was ready to quit.”

Click here to view the entire article.

Massacre Survivor of the Rio Negro Fights to Memorialize, Not Forget, Victims

Global Voices Online has highlighted the unsettling testimony, yet inspiring work of Maya Achí activist Jesús Tecú Osorio. Tecú is one of the few survivors of the Río Negro Massacre, considered “one of the most horrific massacres of Guatemala’s armed conflict” and his recount of what happened is disturbing and graphic:

“The military and paramilitary forces rounded up all of the women and children and accused them of collaborating with the guerrillas. Together they proceeded to rape, torture, and murder everyone. Some 177 human beings, including 107 children, were massacred on the 13th of March, 1982, in Rio Negro. The few survivors, mostly young boys, were forced into slavery. In The Massacres of Río Negro, survivor Jesús Tecú described being enslaved by a leader of the Xococ PAC, a man who ripped his youngest brother out of his arms and swung him by his feet, smashing his brains against rocks in front of his eyes because his wife was “not used to caring for [such] a small child.”

After forced to work under the oppression of his brother’s murderer, Tecú is now leading work that is exhuming the mass graves of the victims and bringing murderers to justice. In the meantime, he is also helping residents, both surviving victims and perpetrators live together in peace within their small communities.

Click here to view the entire Global Voices Online article and related video.

Oil Hunt in Guatemala

Guatemala is a strikingly beautiful country… stunning and magical. I cringe at how this latest quest to find oil and natural gas will affect this “Land of Green Light.”

Read the report from Life in Guatemala:

World Energy Research, a New Zealand-based energy research and investment company, is moving into energy exploration in Guatemala. WER plans to investigate the viability of 12 project sites with a focus on environmentally-friendly oil and natural gas extraction methods.

Of the 12 sites, three are natural gas reserves off the Pacific coast of Guatemala and nine are onshore sites located in the departments of Peten, Huehuetenango, Quiche and Alta Verapaz. All projects will be privately operated and based on contracts by the Guatemalan government.

This development is expected to bring multiple benefits to the area, including the creation of up to 1500 direct and indirect jobs in each project area. As well, World Energy Research is structuring plans for a long term and holistic preservation of the Maya Biosphere Reserve. Next to the Brazilian Rain Forest, the Maya Biosphere Reserve is the world’s second largest oxygen producing natural habitat.

Chad Willis, managing director of World Energy Research, said, “This move into Guatemala will be an important advancement not just for our company and our investors, but also for Guatemala who will benefit from having their own sustainable energy market into the future, possibly even enough to develop their export markets.” Guatemala is the largest oil-producing nation in Central America.

A Parallel Guatemala

I just wanted to briefly comment upon the fact that I had to get online and read the news to realize that Guatemala, a Latin country that is slightly smaller than the state of Tennessee – the country in which I’m happily living – is enduring the worst drought it has faced in 30 years. The drought is reportedly affecting 2.5 million people… and, living in La Antigua, I had no clue. The only reference I’ve heard in passing about the drought is the fact that the tomatoes are super pricey at the market right now. Other than that, I haven’t heard, seen or felt much about the fact that the Guatemalan government has declared a ‘state of public calamity.’

Report from Voice of America (VOANews.com):

United Nations agencies say Guatemala is facing the worst drought in 30 years. They report some 2.5 million people in 21 provinces are affected and in need of urgent food assistance.

The effects of the weather phenomenon known as El Nino have extended the dry spell in Guatemala, triggering a food crisis in the country. The drought has caused a reduction and loss of agricultural production.

The World Food Program says people are suffering from a combination of factors, including high food prices, the global financial crisis, unemployment and recurrent poor food crops.

WFP spokeswoman, Emilia Casella, says this situation is having a bad affect on the nutritional status of the rural poor in Guatemala, particularly women and children.

“Guatemala has the fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world and the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean,” she said. “Nearly 50 percent of children under five years old in Guatemala suffer from chronic under-nutrition, which can cause stunting or severe weight loss. WFP is expecting that the worst-hit families will be about 54,000 families in Guatemala, although the government is estimating the number could be closer to 300,000.”

Casella says WFP so far has managed to distribute food to more than 20,000 families in affected areas. She says 20 metric tons of high-energy biscuits also are currently being distributed to more than 10,000 families. In the next few weeks, she says WFP will continue to distribute these biscuits to a further 20,000 families.

She says stocks in Guatemala are at their lowest level in years. She says WFP currently is providing a special fortified blended food to 100,000 children under three, as well as to 50,000 nursing and pregnant women in 136 communities.

The WFP spokeswoman warns this critically important program will be cut by the end of October unless the agency receives seven million dollars to fund it over the next 12 months.

More from UPI.com:

UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 19 (UPI) — Guatemala’s worst drought in 30 years is affecting an estimated 2.5 million people, especially children and pregnant women, the United Nations said.

Drought conditions have been exacerbated by pest infestations, which have reduced the food supply, especially in the so-called dry corridor along the Pacific Ocean, U.N. officials said in a release Friday.

An estimated 30 percent of all pregnant women in the corridor are malnourished and 25 children have died in recent weeks, Guatemala’s Ministry of Health said.

The Guatemalan government needs $117 million in foreign aid to feed 54,000 families in the corridor and another 410,800 families elsewhere in the country, the United Nations said, noting food aid to tens of thousands of families will end this month unless more money is made available.

Nearly half of all Guatemalan children under age 5 suffer from stunting because of chronic malnutrition and the number of children being admitted to hospital for acute malnutrition has tripled in recent months, the United Nations said.

Wildlife, Soccer and Sunken Ships at Monterrico

monterrico_egret_4Monterrico has became a favorite weekend-destination for me. In the past several months, I’ve shuffled back to the lazy, Latin beach town at least four times, maybe more. There are several ways to get there, but hands down, the best way is to include “una lancha” or a small, motorized boat in your route. For just Q5 (Q7 to Q10 if they insist on giving you the “gringo” rate), you get to skim through a swampy waterway, observing wild birds among the tall swaying reeds and knotted roots of thickly tangled mangroves. You can spy local huts, with children bathing near the shore. For the Westerner, it’s rather alarming when you first see a small, wooden “ferry” slowly churning by, carrying one, even two automobiles. You wonder how the “ferry,” which looks more like leaky planks of wood tacked together, manages to stay afloat with such a load.

Elegant white egret with fish at Monterrico

Just this last weekend I went to Monterrico with some friends on a last-minute whim. I took the chicken bus, or camioneta, to La Escuintla in order to catch up with Chicharon, Pepin, Peter and Asusana who had already left. We finished the trip by car, crossing over the bridge that passes by the sunken ships, but skipping the boat ride. When we arrived, I immediately changed into my bathing suit and ran out to join the locals in the daily game of beach soccer. Once again, soccer has served as an invaluable resource in bridging the “local-foreigner” gap, helping me get to know the local people and the local culture. I have a lot of local friends at Monterrico now and it’s because of soccer. After the soccer match it began storming. At night, the night sea always feels fierce and wild, but when heavy, ashen clouds charge a dark sky with crackling lightening… the waves responding with their own fit of crashing fury… the wild and fierce sensation is overwhelming.

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We dined at El Pelican with the rain spilling off our palm-thatched shelter. I enjoyed guicoy soup (guicoy is a zucchini type squash) and a Camembert cheese salad with walnuts and grapes. The French-cuisine restaurant is a little on the pricey side for Guatemala, but the extra Q is definitely worth it. The food is mouth-watering.

The next morning Pepin, Peter and Asusana took off. Chicharon and I decided to stay and enjoy the rented beach house complete with its little, palm-shaded pool for a few hours more. Our plan was to leave around noon. But, noon turned into never… that day at least. I was having too much fun sun-tanning and enjoying refreshing fruit licuados. Chicha was enjoying new friends he met over cocktails. By four I was enjoying another game of beach soccer with the local Latino chicos. I must say, its quite fun playing the sport you love on the beach with a bunch of dark, handsome men! Hahaha.

That night was the typical dance party at Johnny’s Place, the most-popular place to chill out in Monterrico: Dancing salsa, reggaeton and techno with those same chicos guapos. Yeah, the beach is sweet… especially when it’s in Latin America.

Chicharon headed back to La Antigua quite early on Sunday. I decided to stick around for a few more hours and catch a ride back with another friend Randy and a random Polish traveler who tagged along as well. Because Randy had parked on the other side of the canal, we got to enjoy the little boat ride through the reeds and mangroves before leaving. I am so behind on photos that I haven’t been taking many lately. But, I did whip out my camera to try to catch the elegant egret (pictured above and below) taking off with its freshly caught fish as we lazily cruised by on our lancha. I should have picked a higher shutter speed for the shot since we were on a moving boat… but the pic still turned out pretty cool.

Elegant white egret with fish at Monterrico

I also spent the weekend prior (Sep 12,13) at Monterrico. In contrast to the highly-festive, beach party atmosphere of this past visit, this was a nice tranquil visit at the exquisite, beach paradise house of a friend. Alex invited Joaquin, Chofo, Sofia and I for the chill getaway at his family’s beachfront home. We spent our time relaxing by the pool, reading on hammocks, playing cards and cooking pasta and ceviche. Joaquin and I also enjoyed a nice, black sand beach run before heading back to La Antigua.

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Volcanic Booms

I'm still poor at identifying which volcano is which around La Antigua.Recently, the days have truly been picture-perfect here in La Antigua with a bright sun peering out from big, puffy clouds that slowly trawl across a deep blue sky. Three volcanoes – Fuego, Agua and Acatenango – loom around the colonial streets of La Antigua like protective guardians. Sometimes the summits of the volcanoes are wreathed in their own sea of clouds, other times they stand, unobstructed like other-worldly giants. Often, on these bright sunny days, you can hear a reverberating boom, similar to the sound of far-off thunder or a distant canon. Moments later, you’ll spot a plume of gray, ashy smoke in the horizon. One of the volcanoes has just exploded…

Luckily the explosions are small and prove no threat… at least for now.

I captured this photo from the grounds of Las Gravileas in Santa Catarina Bobadilla just outside of La Antigua. My article about the impressive trade school for women will be appearing in the October issue of Revue Magazine.

Freshwater Pools at El Pilar

Pools of fresh mountain spring water at Finca El Pilar, La Antigua Guatemala.As I’ve started to get into my groove here in La Antigua Guatemala, I’ve began to run again. I’m hoping to become disciplined enough to start training for a marathon again. That’s difficult in this socially non-stop Latin hot spot though. Anyway, one of the lesser known gems of La Antigua is Finca El Pilar and I’ve begun running from my house to the mountainous little getaway. The farm has three sky blue pools that are filled with fresh mountain spring water everyday. I cool off with a good swim and then run back home. It’s a nice little routine. I have an article about the farm and the unique natural reserve located on the grounds coming out in the October issue of Revue Magazine.

Contributing to the Revue

Revue Magazine is Guatemala’s english-speaking cultural guide. I started contributing to the magazine beginning in the month of August. I’ve had a ton of fun crafting various articles about various treasures I’ve already found here in Guatemala and I really enjoy working with them. The articles that have been published both in the magazine and online can be found in the links below:

August

A Stand Out Artist

The Magic of the Marimba

Horses Have Rights

Rising Rock Star: Luis de La Rosa

September

On The Rocks

Growing The Industry

Quick Sketch: Seven Questions for Orestes