As a specialty coffee lover, you’re probably here because you like a better-tasting cup, but you may also be drawn to understand more about where your coffee comes from. Typically in specialty, we’ve proceeded from quality cups to stories about the producers, and attempts to dig deeper into the struggles these producers face are avoided as being too “political.” However, it’s fair to say that in most cases where coffee is concerned, avoiding politics is only possible if you decide to ignore it.
Through this year, The Roasters Pack has shared coffees from the town of Mataquescuintla, Guatemala. Started under the initiative of Bows & Arrows and Drumroaster, coffees from this region were purchased not solely on the basis of quality but out of a desire to put a narrative focus on their specific struggles and to lend economic solidarity to them through purchasing their coffee.
As indigenous Xinca peoples, these producers united in a formal resistance to the illegal construction of a massive Canadian-owned silver mine in their backyard. As per the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, they should’ve been consulted prior to its construction and were not. Their peaceful protesting has led to a Guatemalan Constitutional Court ruling in their favour and a suspension of the mine’s licence. However, the current owners, Pan-American Silver, appear they won’t be giving up on the project easily. The struggle continues.
Guatemala is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a land defender, and this is precisely what this group has done and continues to do. Their stand against this mine is not one concerned with profit — they’ve already seen the detrimental effects to their local environment and have no desire to watch as the land that sustains their communities be threatened. Their peaceful protests have led to members being imprisoned, assaulted, shot, and even murdered for their participation.
This year was the second year of purchasing out of the area, and dozens of roasters across the country got involved — many without even tasting the coffee. In short, these roasters took the decision to put the social value of these coffees ahead of their quality. This doesn’t mean they bought “bad” coffee for political resons. They simply did what is uncommon, and it means a lot.
It means a lot because now we’re talking about it. We’re Canadians acknowledging that a Canadian-based extractive company — one member of an industry with a huge international implication — is acting in ways we do not condone and is doing so with little accountability for their abuses beyond a recently created and largely toothless oversight body wielding flimsy resolutions on how to police these abuses. And we’re talking about it because this group has asked us to, to discuss openly the daily threat they live under, to use our position of power as consumers to speak out against that which harms people from our own backyard.
It means a lot also because in addition to resisting this mine, these producers face what is sadly totally common for many lifelong coffee producers: a lack of market access and dedicated buyers. These growers have been selling their coffee in cherry to intermediaries who then sell them to large multinational companies at a profit, leaving them without any knowledge or agency concerning their own coffee, nor the money to reinvest in their farms or take care of their families. Their struggle has had the effect then of also bringing them a new network of buyers they can rely on going forward.
This is how we make a start on doing things a little bit differently. In a way that puts people first. Call it politics if you want, but I think it makes the coffee taste that much sweeter.
Find more on Semilla by Brendan Adams here.
Read more about Mataquescuintla here.