Guatemala: Miguel Rodriguez / Cafe Colis Resistencia
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FARM: Quebrada Onda
FARM SIZE: 3.5 hectares
LOCATION: San Miguel, Mataquescuintla, Jalapa, Guatemala
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A Letter From Miguel Rodriguez (third generation farmer who grows our Guatemalan coffees):
A pleasure to introduce myself and comment a little on my story: In the year 1955, my father Patrocinio de Jesús Rodriguez Ortiz began cultivating cafe Arabigo (Arabica) and since that time I have inherited his farms.
It was 5 years later when I began to grown my own coffee, beginning by planting a half manzana (~.9 acres) of the varieties Pache San Ramon, Caturra, Bourbon, Catuai as these are the highest quality coffees.
Continuing to the present day, my children and I continue working to improve the managements of these coffee fields by, for example, planting trees such as Cuje, Gravileas, Pine, and others. We also undertake practices of soil managment including weeding and draining, in order to conserve the environment and our soils, and we also continue fighting for our common house or, that is, everyone’s home who is fighting against megaprojects and monocultures.
It is worth mention a little of my story from the 11 of April 2013, when I was unjustly detained for peacefully protesting against the mine, leading to our four day detention for having defended our common house, and for expressing our constitutional right of free expression that we all possess, because we know the damages these mineral extraction companies cause. Thank you for your interest,
Miguel Angel Rodriguez Cordero
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About Cafe Colis Resistencia and Miguel
Cafe Colis Resistencia is the name given by Alex Reynoso to identify coffee producing members of the the Indigenous Xinca community around Mataquescuintla who are interested in developing an international market for their coffee, and therefore finally receiving fair prices for their work.
Within Mataquescuintla and the surrounding area, nearly 90% of the population identifies as a coffee producer and yet, almost none of these producers have access to a market beyond selling in cherry to local intermediaries or to large farms who process their coffee and sell it as blended lots to their international market.
While theoretically the price of cherry is decided in relationship to the New York Stock Exchange coffee commodity price, really anything goes for these buyers. As producers have little to no options, they simply sell to whoever they can, and accept whatever price is offered. To make matters worse, Guatemala offers little to no support to farmers like those in Mataquescuintla.
Guatemala’s history of coffee production has always erred to the support of major landowners of European or Mestizo descent, and relied upon the forced labour of Indigenous people to claim its place as one of Central America’s largest coffee producers.
This violent and painful system leaves its vestigial remains in the monopoly that exists today — in short, a system of production and export in which the government supports major landholders while holding back resources and access to small producers such as those in Mataquescuintla.
This monopoly not only keeps producers away from the market access they need for truly sustainable prices, but it also keeps them away from technical assistance and education that could propel them forward.
Miguel himself is a lynchpin of this community. One of the heads of the Xinca parliament, he is omnipresent in all meetings, at the resistance point, and whenever bodies are needed to protest the Escobal Silver Mine (see below). A man who has truly put his life on the line for his community, his traditions, and his values is one that Semilla and the Artery Community Roasters, are more than honoured to represent.
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Xinca Resistance: The Escobal Silver Mine and Beyond
The name Cafe Colis Resistencia builds off the storied history of resistance amongst the Xinca peoples, which traces its lineage back to the era of contact by Spanish conquistadores.
As shared with Semilla by Kelvin Jimenez, lawyer for the group and one of the sole remaining Xinca language speakers: A pertinent and longstanding story tells of how the Xinca, after refusing to cede to Spanish colonization, were finally convinced to lay their arms down by Spanish generals who claimed to only want free passage through their territory. Once granted, the Spanish took the Xinca by surprise and in retribution for their resistance, forbade the use of their language and cultural traditions.
This would be the beginning of a loss of culture that would continue until the 21st century, with the Guatemala government consistently stating the Xinca were either non-existent or not actually Indigenous peoples. In 2003, the Xinca began waging this war for recognition in earnest, seeking via legal channels the reinvigoration of their cultural traditions as well as their near forgotten language. However, with the development of the Escobal land concession gaining speed around 2008, this struggle was placed on the back-burner, and instead, their focus shifted towards resisting an extractive project that had been green-lit without their approval — the Escobal silver mine.
In contravention of the United Nations Declarations of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), this mine had been approved for construction without their consultation, a project which threatens the land, water, and air upon which the Xinca depend for survival. The story of extraction is long and complex in this region, and the specifics of the Escobal mine are no less so. Luis Solano’s extensive report “Under Seige,” offers great detail and we encourage all to read it. Broadly, the land in question has been in the hands of multiple mining companies, many of them Canadian, until it was finally purchased by the Vancouver-based Tahoe Resources in 2010.
Located outside of San Rafael Las Flores, about 5km away from Mataquescuintla, the mine is considered to pose significant danger to not only San Rafael, but to all of the communities nearby. Recognized as the third largest silver mine in the world (depending on reports), it produced a record output of 21.2 million ounces of silver concentrate in 2016. Tahoe Resources would proceed to construct the mine despite multiple local plebiscites held by the Catholic diocese and the communities which roundly opposed its development, to the tune of 93-100% against.
In December of 2013, the Guatemala Constitutional Court ratified these plebiscites and stated it was mandatory for these results to be taken into consideration by Tahoe Resources, based on the UNDRIP and its predecessor, the International Labour Organizations Conventions of the Rights of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples. Hundreds of complaints were lodged from 2011-2013 against Escobal’s license, claiming a lack of good faith consultation and of adequate environmental impact assessments. For example, only 14 soil tests were recorded in place of the traditional 5000+ necessary to deem impact. Regardless of this, on April 3, 2013, the Guatemalan Ministry of Energy and Mining announced the licence had been processed and the complaints would be dismissed.
Since then, multiple detrimental environmental effects have been recognized. In the neighbouring hamlet of La Cuchilla, houses have collapsed due to the subterranean mining, and nearly all the residents have been forced to relocate. Multiple freshwater springs have dried up due to the mine’s use of 255 gallons of water per minute, and fish have been noticed dying off in surrounding lakes. Poorly constructed tailings ponds have been proven to seep into the watershed, with arsenic levels presumed to be on the rise. The dismissal of the complaints and ratification of the license led to a significant reaction from the local community.
Peaceful protests turned ugly when private security firms hired by Minera San Rafael (MSR - Tahoe Resource’s Guatemala subsidiary) and police forces shot at and attacked protesters, leading to hospitalization of multiple members and the arrest of people like Miguel. A military state of siege was declared by May 2013 in order to squash community consultation and MSR has been proven to have invested in local police and political officials in the aftermath to be able to proceed.
The specific impacts this had on members of the group like Alex Reynoso was captured in the LA Times, as well as other accounts in The Guardian and The Intercept. Despite all of this, the Xinca communities continued their resistance, culminating in a full blockade of the mine’s entrance in 2017. In July of the same year, this effort finally prompted the Constitutional Court to rule against Tahoe Resources and suspended their license pending a proper consultation process. This was a huge victory as not only were Indigenous rights recognized as necessary in the consultation process of mining projects, but specifically that the Xinca’s rights were recognized.
This is considered hugely important by the Xinca as previously their existence had been denied. Since this time, Xinca populations have come to more accurately be represented in census data, counting 268,223 in the 2017 census, up from 16,214 in 2002.
The suspension of Tahoe Resource’s license led to a subsequent plunge in their stocks that was so severe, the mine was sold to one of world’s largest silver producers, the likewise Vancouver-based Pan-American Silver, at a bottom barrel price. They have agreed to the consultation process as mandated by the Constitutional Court, but in the last year have been exposed for waging false consultation hearings without Xinca observers present.
The mine has remained shuttered to work since 2017, but the group maintains resistance encampments in the neighbouring towns of Casillas and Mataquescuintla, where members of the group stand watch 24 hours a day, stopping any truck that could be bringing materials into the mine. These camps have unfortunately had to be abandoned for the first time in years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had devastating impacts on Guatemala in recent months.
Our support for this group comes not only as an attempt to buy their coffee at a solid price, but to also lend our voices as Canadians against the illegal extractive projects that exist around the globe. Canada forms an enormous part of the global mining sector, with 60% of the world’s mining companies being listed in Canada.
Due to a myriad of factors including low corporate taxes and “near negligible control over company activities abroad,” Canada has come to be considered a “judicial paradise” for the global mining industry. The effects of projects like Escobal are felt all over Latin America, which is the “principal destination for Canadian foreign investment, with 55% of non-Northern American assets located in Latin America.”
In Guatemala specifically, Canadian companies are largely responsible for the exploitation and export of precious and base metals. In working with Cafe Colis Resistencia, we’ve made a commitment as buyers to raise our voices against this industry standard which pads Canada’s coffers, and to stand on the side of Indigenous sovereignty the world over.
Real Support Requires Risk - This project is perhaps Semilla’s most dear in terms of impact, advocacy, and support. Every roaster or consumer who buys, drinks, and enjoys this coffee — especially in Canada — is offering a huge lift to a community who until three years ago, felt completely abandoned.
Many considered and continue to consider leaving coffee production altogether. In taking a step forward with this group, you’re taking the uncommon path of choosing to work with a group on the basis of solidarity and support more than or in equal measure to the quality of their coffee.
The first coffees to arrive in Canada from this group, including Miguel’s, did so without ever being cupped. They were purchased on good faith alone, out of a desire to put our money where our mouth is and to take a risk on a group who truly required support. This struggle against the mine, coupled with their struggle to access resources within a monopolized national coffee sector, means that they will face an uphill battle even now to maintain the market they are just now developing. Our coffee value stream believes a cup of coffee is much deeper than a quality score.
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This information has been developed with information provided to us by our friend and partner Brendan Adams of Semilla Coffee, who helps us source our ethical beans and connects us directly to farmers and processors. Get to know the passion and sacrifice that goes behind every cup of our Guatemalan gems. For more information on where our coffee comes from, and Semilla's advocacy work, visit their website.