Mataquescuintla and the power of coffee
This Mataquescuintla coffee is part of a four-year project spearheaded by Drew Johnson, the owner of Bows Coffee Roasters. This project began after Johnson read an LA Times article.
The LA Times editorial written by Kate Linthicum led with the headline: “’If we’re attacked, we’ll die together,’ a teenage anti-mining activist told her family. But when the bullets came, they only killed her”. It recounted the story of Topacio Reynoso, a bubbly 14-year-old teen from Guatemala who devoted herself to opposing the construction of a large silver mine near her town of Mataquescuintla.
The mine was owned by Canadian company Tahoe Resources. As they sought a mining license from the Guatemalan government, locals like Topacio fought back.
Topacio was the daughter of Alex Reynoso, who’s one in a long line of coffee farmers. She felt that it was her obligation to protect her family’s farmland from contamination. In 2012, Topacio went to her first protest, and alongside her father, campaigned ahead of a referendum in Mataquescuintla.
They were successful: Over 98% of voters said they opposed it. Despite the success of the popular vote, the mining project had enough support in high places and in April 2013, the Guatemalan government granted a 25-year license to begin mining.
A protest ensued at the Canadian mining company, and violence slowly took over. Tahoe’s guards began shooting at peaceful protesters for interrupting their business (later claiming they used rubber bullets despite multiple serious injuries). Amid the chaos, Guatemalan officials deployed thousands of troops and began arresting anti-mining activists.
Still, Topacio wasn’t deterred and maintained a commitment to defending her family’s land. On April 13, 2014, Topacio was returning from a music festival when unknown gunmen sprang from behind and opened fi re. Within hours, Topacio had passed away.
In 2017 the Guatemalan Constitutional Court fi nally ruled in the protesters’ favour and suspended the Tahoe resources mine’s license. In 2018, Tahoe sold the halted mine to Canadian-based Pan-American Silver. As of now, the mine is on a moratorium.
Bows initially teamed up with other Canadian roasters like Drumroaster and De Mello Palheta to increase the buying power for the area. Now, many others have joined in to support.
“It’s a wait-and-see. Certainly Pan-American Silver isn’t going to sit on it forever. They have been pressuring both the Canadian and the Guatemalan governments to intervene and get the mine operational again," Johnson told us.
As of now, The Pan-American Silver website reads, “Operations are currently on care and maintenance pending completion of an ILO 169 consultation. No timeline has been set for a completion of the consultation process or a restart of operations at Escobal.”
ILO 169, is a convention adopted by The International Labour Organization, an agency of the United Nations. This convention, the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (No. 169), promotes and protects Indigenous people’s rights.
Ten years in, the community’s resistance in Mataquescuintla remains strong.
To ensure that the government is honouring the moratorium the municipalities have implemented checkpoints at entrances to the town. These checkpoints are staffed on a rotating basis, forcing farmers to split their time between maintaining their farms and protecting their land.
The makeshift B.C. buying group that Johnson created in 2018, continues to purchase coffee from the Mataquescuintla region. But, as Johnson explained to us, this year has posed challenges.
“Yields were way down this year. It’s typical of the varieties they grow to have quiet years. It is also complicated by erosion and bad weather. They also have to take time away from the farm to work checkpoints and take part in resistance to the mine. We prefinanced the mill so farmers would get paid when they dropped off their coffee but the money was misspent.”
With the systems in place now, all the risk is assumed by the producers. In November, Johnson is returning to Guatemala to strengthen relationships with the farmers and devise a new purchasing plan.
“We have to learn better what we can do to anticipate crisis situations like this and find ways to respond to them. Everyone is still on board for the partnership but the limitations of communication over phone calls and Skype aren’t enough. With all these new stresses of this year, it’s better to be down there and see what we can improve. They want to enact some changes as well and we want to collaborate and strategize with them about how to make it more seamless.”