Chiapas coffee campaign
The organic coffee-scandal of certification:
"Fair" coffee from dirty production
Fair-traded coffee and anti-insurgency in Chiapas/Mexico
The system of "fair trade" shows significant deficiencies.
TRANSFAIR: "Good Coffee. Hard Work. Fair Price."
What in the beginning was a good idea to get a little more balance between industrialized and "underdeveloped" regions, is more and more becoming a questionable business. So called "fair"-traded coffee is already marketed through regular supermarkets, but it is becoming harder and harder to see what is fair about it. Let us recap on the facts: the basic idea of "fair trade" was to enable a humane and more or less self-determined life for the people organized in cooperatives. But nowadays we pay e.g. US$ 20 for one kg of fair-traded coffee, just with some kind of vague hope this would do so me good. After all, we can't be sure about it. We just have to trust in the well-known TRANSFAIR label that can increasingly often be seen on packaging. And that's all there is to it. The labeling informs us about oh so important facts such as that this is a highland gourmet coffee. In many cases you don't even find out which country the coffee is from and nearly never if it has really been grown by a cooperative, and if so which one(s). But if you do, there are most unpleasant surprises in store. So it is in the case of the company LEBENSBAUM ("Tree of Life") that most fortunately admits that its coffee, certified not only by TRANSFAIR, but also by Naturland, is obtained from the Mexican cooperative Unión de Ejidos Profesór Otilio Montaño (UDEPOM).
What is UDEPOM?
The UDEPOM (Unión de Ejidos de Producción, Comercialización y Exportación de Productos Agropecuarios y de Transporte Profesor Otilio Montaño, Union of the Ejidos for the production, marketing, and export of agricultural products and transportation 'Teacher Otilio Montaño'), is a cooperation of several Ejidos in Chiapas in the county of Motozintla. Their annual cash flow is about US$ 2.0 million for an estimated 920 metric tons of organically-grown coffee. 70 percent of the crop is exported to Europe and the remaining 30% to the USA and Japan.(1) The organic quality of the coffee is certified by OCIA/USA and Naturland/Germany, the "social quality" by TRANSFAIR/TRANS FAIR LABELING ORGANIZSATION INTERNATIONAL. It is noteworthy that the organic quality is also controlled by Finca Irlanda.(2) In Germany UDEPOM coffee is marketed through LEBENSBAUM based in Diepholz.
The interrelationships of UDEPOM and SOCAMA
The UDEPOM is associated with the organization SOCAMA (Solidaridad Campesino Magisterial) "Farmer-Teacher Solidarity", an organization founded by formerly Maoist teachers and now closely connected with the ruling party PRI.
The interrelationships of UDEPOM, SOCAMA and PRI also function via particular individuals. Take, for instance, Manuel Hernández Gómez. He is a leading member of UDEPOM as well as one of the founders of SOCAMA and currently a member of the Mexican federal parliament for the PRI. The independent scientific center CIACH (3) says of him in one of its bulletins:
"It should also be noted that of the new PRI candidates to become members of parliament many are connected with a SOCAMA in one way or another. So it is in the case of the highest leader of SOCAMA, Manuel Hernández Gómez, candidate for the region of Sierra, where the organization of coffee-producing farmers "Otilio Montaño" is gaining influence. The same is true for the candidate of the Altos, (...). Both are responsible for the displacement of protesters from this place [...]" (4)
Hernández Gómez stems from a family of PRI kazikes in San Juan Chamula where he has been a member of the municipal parliament for along time. One of his brothers, Silvano, has been a municipal treasurer there and has recently become odious, being accused of taking part in large-scale arms-trading with paramilitary groups in Chiapas. In this affair the name of Manuel Hernández Gómez was also heard.(5) Another PRI parliamentarian, Antonio Gonzales Sánchez, was, according to information available to us, a consultant for UDEPOM through the years of 1989-1994. (6)
Taking into account these personal interrelations with the ruling party it is no wonder that UDEPOM, unlike many other coffee producers in the region, has no great difficulty obtaining funds and grants from federal subsidy programs.
CIACH describes it as follows:
"According to statements of inhabitants of the region and some members of the cooperative the organization acquired government money for buying coffee and funding a range of projects: in 1996 for the breeding of pork and bees, in 1997 for the re-cultivation of coffee and fruit plantations, and in 1998 for warehouses for honey and coffee. [...] Manuel Hernández Gómez currently helps them along with the development project PIRS (Proyecto de Impacto Regional de la Sierra)." (7)
In addition to direct government credits amounting to some US$ 100,000, Otilio Montaño also served as a testing ground for new financial strategies of the Mexican government, probably because of its close affiliation to PRI. (8) The extraordinary importance given to UDEPOM by the Mexican government can also clearly be seen in the fact that the Mexican president, Zedillo, met with representatives from Otilio Montaño twice this year. (9)
But it is not only on economical grounds that UDEPOM has an ever increasing weight in the Motozintla area. According to similar statements from human rights groups from Chiapas, Otilio Montaño has political influence that it brings to bear for the governmental party PRI. Thus the candidacy of Manuel Hernández Gómez for the PRI is primarily attributed to the influence of UDEPOM. CIACH states to the same effect: "They have woven a political web to put the coffee growers under pressure and they exercise political control over the entire population of this region. For example, it should be mentioned that they have the support of at least 20 ejido heads in the county of Motozinla - and it's nearly the same in every county. According to statements of the inhabitants of the counties where Otilio Montaño is present, it is formed primarily by kaziques of the ejidos of the Sierra region. [...] The next mayor of Motozintla for the PRI will be enthroned with the help of both Otilio Montaño and the state government ". (10)
The processing and marketing of organically-grown coffee of UDEPOM is done in part by SOCAMA which owns a coffee-drying plant in Motozintla. According to information from SEDESOL (the Ministry for Social Development) a number of coffee-grower organizations belong to SOCAMA other than UDEPOM, namely the UE (Union de Ejidos) Juan Sabinez Gutierrez in the county of Escuintla, the UE Huixtla in the county of Huixtla, the UE Maravilla Tenejapa in the county of Comitan and the S.S.S. (Sociedad de Solidaridad, Society of Social Solidarity) "Los Tres Robles" in the county of Copainala. (11)
According to our own research the SOCAMA annual report for 1996 lists further coffee producers whose functionaries are at the same time instructors for SOCAMA.
SOCAMA calls itself a "trust company for buying and commercial marketing of coffee" ("Fideicomiso para el acopio y comercialización de café"). (12) Buying and commercial marketing is usually the business of resellers.
According to CIACH's information UDEPOM owns a roasting plant (torrefactor) and a truck in addition to its demonstration and nursery plantation in Motozintla. (13)
SOCAMA - breeding-ground for the death squads
SOCAMA functions throughout the state of Chiapas. More than 50,000 families are included in their diverse production branches. Millions of government money are going into this "solidarity movement" of teachers with the poor peasants.
SOCAMA originated from the Maoist teachers' movement Línea Proletaria (LP) back in the 1970s. At that time they acquired control of the Chiapas section of the corrupt governmental teachers' union SNTE through "democratic rank-and-file meetings". The indisputable head ("líder") was from the very beginning the teacher Manuel Hernández Gmez, who was elected Secreatry General of the Chiapas SNTE (14) and later National Secretary General of the teachers' organization CNTE. (15) This is when the real power of these Línea Proletaria functionaries began, since as union bosses they have massive financial resources and decision-making power over the personnel at their disposal. (16)
The Rise of SOCAMA
In Chiapas in 1985 there were the first united actions of teachers and corn farmers of the Fraylesca. The confrontation with government forces led to several fatalities. Cooperation between Manuel Hernández Gómez and German Jiménez Gómez, a leader of the "old school" of the national peasant federation CNC belonging to the PRI dates back to this time. Both figures were arrested during road-blockades and imprisoned in the infamous Cerro Hueco jail. They left it together with their collaborators two years later. The government of the new federal president Salinas is seeking a new policy and has found the right men for this in Chiapas: the Maoist teachers' functionaries. Now, at last, they're doing "people's politics" and getting paid for it!
Looking back, the list of Hernández Gómez and his fellow prisoners reads like a "Who's Who" of the PRI VIPs of the Chiapas to come( 17):
In 1988 Carlos Salinas of PRI won the elections for presidency by massive fraud disguised as a computer breakdown. Given the existence of a strong opposition a new political strategy was required: shortly after taking office, in 1989 Salinas proposed the foundation of a "program against poverty" called PRONASOL (Programa Nacional de Solidaridad). But most of the PRONASOL money is used for fighting the opposition, buying out and splitting up social movements, or changing them into pro-government organizations. This is done with surprising speed and efficiency.
Solidaridad Campesino Magisterial A.C. (SOCAMA) was founded by Manuel Hernández Gómez in 1988 immediately after his surprise release from prison. According to their own accounts more than 200,000 people are organized in it. They have a bank of their own, the SOCAEM - farmers' employees' solidarity - and are building a network of different cooperatives and production communities. Ecological production was found to be a worthwhile business, guaranteeing higher prices and conforming to both government support programs and counter-guerilla activities ... Organic means big turnover!
"So we are well off!" says Manuel Hernández Gómez. No wonder, given the international support his operations have been receiving all the time. In addition to funds from the World Bank financial aid continuously flows into SOCAMA projects from Mexican sources as well.
Schools of violence and the teachers of terror
Early in 1995 the first paramilitary groups were formed as a reaction to the Zapatista insurrection and the loss of influence threatening the regional PRI kaciques. They were supported financially by PRI members of parliament and others, and covered up by the state attorney's office and the military. Founders and instructors are among others members and teachers of the SOCAMA including the PRI parliamentarian and head of SOCAMA Sánchez Sánchez. His death squad "Desarollo, Paz y Justica" is used both for repressing the civil community and also for offering new opportunities to the "angry young technocrats" of SOCAMA within the PRI who are opposed to the troglodytes of the Chiapas PRI oligarchy. As we have seen, they have done quite well.
The government of Ferro signed a treaty for "support and improvement of agricultural productivity" with the death squad (Desarollo), PAZ Y JUSTICIA, just a few day before the elections in Chiapas in December of 1997. (18)
The main item of this treaty is the funding of the paramilitaries with SEDESOL money with an anual fee of 4.6 million pesos (approx. US$500.000). This is just for one year, but there is an option for annual renewal! (19)
"Development, peace, and justice"
Members of this murderous bunch called "Desarollo, PAZ y JUSTICIA" are equipped with automatic rifles of type AK-47 and have a communication structure of their own (radio installations). They can feel safe since they have been guaranteed immunity from prosecution. They don't meet any difficulties robbing the crops of other coffee cooperatives by the wagonload. They loot and destroy competing coffee plantations, expel coffee farmers and sell their crops to resellers, the so-called coyotes.
For example, in 1997 the paramilitaries launched a full-scale attack on the Unión de Ejidos y Comunidades (Ejido and communal community) Majomut in the county of Chenalhó because it brings together farmers close to the PRI, politically-neutral people of the group "Las Abejas" and pro-Zapatista farmers. Unión Majomut is also certified by TRANSFAIR and sells to the German trading organization Gepa. A group of US Christian employers visited the Unión Majomut shortly after the Acteal massacre: violence is not new to this place. In spring of 1997 paramilitaries robbed and destroyed the coffee crop, causing a loss of US$250.000 to the cooperative.(20) Due to this destruction several important export contracts could not be fulfilled (see La Jornada of 2.2.1998). In addition, about 250 members might lose their Naturland certification (see communiqu of 21.5.1998). The struggle for control of the production and marketing of organic coffee has now erupted in blood. It is the reason for much of the violent conflicts. (21)
The founder and leader of "Desarrollo, PAZ Y JUSTICIA" is Samuel Sánchez Sánchez, a leader of SOCAMA, who is a member of the state parliament for PRI: "I am a member of 'Paz y Justicia' because I am an Indio, I'm a Chol", he boasts in an interview. He works a teacher and is headmaster of an elementary school, and in addition to this, most naturally, is a multiple office-bearer of Section VII of the SNTE (e.g. head of the section committee of group 93 of Tila), and an old pal of Manuel Hernández Gómez.
Eyewitnesses claim that SOCAMA teachers train children as paramilitaries, e.g. in the school of Navil. (22)
"After the PRI had won all the seats in the regional elections in the Chol region up until 1994, in 1995 they only got a minority of the votes in the counties of Tumbal , Tila, Salto de Agua and Sabanilla in the northern parts of Chiapas. As a reaction to this the paramilitary group Paz y Justicia was formed to bully the people. They kidnap members of the political opposition, conduct arbitrary arrests, defame the diocese of San Cristóbal, practice expulsions and commit murders. The head of this group is the member of the Chiapas parliament and leader of Solidaridad Campesino Magisterial (SOCAMA), Samuel Sánchez Sánchez, who tries to sell a political conflict as a religious one. Paz y Justicia was formed in the counties of Tila and Salto de Agua in northern Chiapas." (23)
"As of March 1995 Paz y Justicia has continuously attacked supporters of the PRD in the northern region. Their aim is to destroy opposition communities and expel the political opposition from those few villages where the PRI still holds a majority. It is part of their strategy to attack the employees of the diocese of San Cristóbal, whom they accuse - without justification - of supporting the opposition and the Zapatistas. Paz y Justicia is financed by the cattle oligarchs of Playas de Catazaj , Palenque and Salto de Agua, as well as by their business partners in Tabasco and Campeche. They are covered up and instructed from Tuxtla Gutirrez by the PRI parliamentary Samuel Sánchez Sánchez. The most vicious attacks took place in August / September 1995 and between June and September 1996. 300 people were kille d in these attacks. Paz y Justicia controls the main roads of Tila and Sabanilla. The governmental security forces and the federal army allow th is state of affairs." (24)
Since its formation in April 1995 PAZ y JUSTICIA has covered all of the northern region of Chiapas with a web of terror. In the months June to September 1996 alone human rights organizations estimate the number of victims to be over 300. Thousands of farmers and peasants were expelled and maltreated by PAZ y JUSTICIA, their possessions were taken from them and distributed among death squad supporters. PAZ y JUSTICIA is acts openly as a "state within the state". It maintains roadblocks of its own on many of the important country roads. Its members sometimes use police uniforms and take part in raids of the governmental repression forces. The terror campaign of this well-organized and amply-financed group is mainly aimed at all those they suspect of being Zapatists, members of the opposition party PRD, or catechists (lay preachers) of the diocese of San Cristobal (of the bishop Samuel Ruiz).
Protection from above - neither law nor punishment
This network of brutal violence was covered up by e.g. Jorge Enrique Hernández Aguilar, who in 1994 rose to become Attorney General and now is the secretary of the security committee of the state government of Chiapas. He is considered responsible for the formation of paramilitary groups as well as the execution of the imprisoned campesino Reyes Penagos Martínez. He is also thought to be one of those behind the Acteal massacre of 22 December 1997. National and governmental human rights organizations (CEDH and CNDH) have brought more then 190 accusations against him! (25)
Before he began prosecuting the political opposition he was a journalist and one of the founders of SOCAMA. The Chair of the(OCEZ-) Casa del Pueblo (peasant organization Emiliano Zapata - House of the People) of Venustiano Caranza, José María Hernández, declared in an interview with the Mexican weekly PROCESO that Hern ndez Aguilar has been "one of the bloodiest district attorneys in the recent past". Two campesino leaders, Caralampio Gómez Ortega (OPEZ - Proletarian Organization Emiliano Zapata) and Arturo Luna Luján (CIOAC - Independent Center of Peasants and Small Farmers) claim that Aguilar was originally a police spy smuggled into the social movements. (26)
What we claim
After the El Acteal massacre of December 1997, when 45 men, women and children were brutally murdered by paramilitaries under the very eyes of government security forces, there was a short outcry from the world public. Under public pressure nearly 200 government officers, PRI mayors, members of SOCAMA, and protestant missionaries, who are alleged to have been party to the massacre, were imprisoned in the following months. But now the storm has calmed down, and the inquiries are in danger of coming to nothing - as usual.
Meanwhile the web of terror is widening and SOCAMA is strengthening its position with support from both governmental and multinational loans as well as the profits from exporting products of their cooperatives.
Part of these profits are made in Germany, as we have already shown.
The companies involved therefore profit - at least indirectly - from the counter-insurgency policies of the Mexican government. We will not stand for this any more.
We demand that TRANSFAIR/TRANS FAIR LABELING ORGANIZSATION INTERNATIONAL and Naturland immediately cut all ties to SOCAMA cooperatives and institutions and withdraw the certification of UDEPOM coffee.
We also demand that TRANSFAIR/TRANS FAIR LABELING ORGANIZSATION INTERNATIONAL and Naturland take measures of their own to ensure that there are no other SOCAMA products on the market using their labels, e.g. honey, cashew nuts and agave syrup.
With a view to future practice we demand that certification by TRANSFAIR/TRANS FAIR LABELING ORGANIZSATION INTERNATIONAL be possible only for companies that give concrete details on the exact origin of their coffee and prove that it is from independent cooperatives. Regarding Mexico, in future TRANSFAIR/TRANS FAIR LABELING ORGANIZSATION INTERNATIONAL must make the effort of taking a personal look at candidates for certification and looking very closely at their internal structures and possible political connections. Therefore it is indispensable that the certification reports be made open to the public. It is not feasible for consumers to have to check the circumstances of production of TRANSFAIR-certified products themselves - as has recently been proposed repeatedly by TRANSFAIR/TRANS FAIR LABELING ORGANIZSATION INTERNATIONAL. In this context we also demand that independent Mexican organizations be involved in the control of marketing criteria.
Chiapas Coffee Campaign,
Münster/Germany, 21th of December 1998
Rebels Run into Crossfire:
The deadly flight of "Las Abejas" of Acteal
The sad example of "Las Abejas", the bees, shows us what can happen to an indigenous society if it leaves SOCAMA. These 22 communities from Chenalhó, being Christian Indios, left SOCAMA in 1992, complaining that the organization had only taken advantage of them.27 "Las Abejas" see themselves as a civil society, unlike the armed EZLN. They wanted to form a coffee-growing cooperative of their own, without the líders of the SOCAMA.
On 22 December 1997 45 men, women and children were brutally murdered by the death squad "M scara Roja" in a massacre lasting several hours, while police and military stood on indifferently nearby. Just a few days before this PAZ Y JUSTICIA had received massive funding from the government. Just a coincidence?
After the massacre in Acteal the district attorney's office at once stated that the inquiries had not yet come to an end and that they were investigating against the following "armed groups possibly operating with in the state: CAIZ, ABU-XUC, Arriera Nocturna, Paz y Justicia, Tomás Münzer, MIRA, Alianza San Bartolom de las Llamas, Chinchulines, Máscara Roja, SOCAMA, Degolladores and APAZ" (press release, 22.12.1997). A leader of PAZ Y JUSTICIA, Marcos Albino Torres, was later identified as one of the perpetrators - being the eldest councilor of Tila (PROCESO 1104, 28.12.97).
The state pays a lot of money for extremely endangered teachers...
"So it is understandable that a high percentage of the victims murdered in this war in Chenalhó are teachers. Facing this crisis the state reacts fast and tries to solve it with money. In fact, the teachers organized in SOCAMA, having enjoyed a lot of advantages in the past, get even more money. In Chenalh˘ you can see the presence of SOCAMA in the person of the teacher Luis Aguilar and his teachers' organization ORPODEC." The "Abejas" were member of this 'people's organization for the defense of cultures' (ORPODEC), being part of SOCAMA up until 1992.(28)
"The participation of women in the political arena, and the creation of new spaces for them to organize in has come to symbolize the threat that the "traditional power structures" must face if the Zapatista struggle advances. In many communities women's meetings are perceived as "synonymo us to Zapatista" and for this reason have been the object of har assment by local power-holders. The immediate response to the founding of the Abejas was the riot in December 1992 and the rape of the three wives of the founders of the group. From then on there has been constant aggression against women. In 1997 several women were kidnapped and forced to cook for the paramilitary groups. They were threatened that their children would be killed if they refused to comply or if they tried to escape. During the Acteal killing the murderers yelled "Kill the seed!" - by killing the women, they are trying to destroy the symbol of resistance." (29)
1 UDEPOM-Webpage and Cuarto Poder, 20.12.1995
2 The famous and well-known anthroposophic farm is 'MEX MO' in the identification list means "Demeter Association, Finca Irlanda" while 'MD MEX' identifies the Demeter-Bund in Germany
3 CIACH - Centro de Informaci˘n y An lisis de Chiapas A.C
5 El Universal, Diario de Chiapas, 6.4.98
6 Letter from CIACH, July 1998
8 Interview in La Republica de Chiapas, 8 July 1996: The coordinator for special programs of the Chiapas government, Jaime Dario Mantecon Alvares, says about his policies: "Lo que hicimos en Otilio Monta¤o fue hacer otro fideicomiso con un brocker internacional de caf y un banco privado. (...) Lo bueno fue que tambin SOCAMA tiene otro brocker, o sea dos competidores en el mercado internacional del caf, uno lo asociamos con una organización y a otra lo asociamos con otra ... (...) Estos esquemas no existen en otras partes del paĦs, se est n implemenando por primera vez en Chiapas, nosotros somos el laboratorio; las ideas de todo esto, est n saliendo de la propia sociedad."
9 On 12 June 1998 in Las Margaritas and after the hurricane "Mitch" disaster of 12 September 1998 in Motozintla at the of UDEPOM
10 Letter from CIACH, July 1998
11 SEDESOL bulletin no. 119/98: "Mejorar condiciones de vida de los campesinos de Chiapas, prioridad de Sedesol y SOCAMA", 6 July 1998
12 see FONAES-Register
13 Letter from CIACH, July 1998
14 Popular Mobilization in Mexico. The Teachers' Movement 1977-87. Joe Foweraker, Cambridge 1993
15 CNTE - founded 1979 in Tuxtla Gutirrez
16 "The SNTE is also big business, and finance is one key to the political control of the organization. (...) The SNTE is bigger and controls more resources than any federal ministry, and yet the Ministry of Education pays all its telephone bills and also pays the wages of about 1,000 SNTE 'commissioners', who carry out the political and economic business of the National Committee" (Foweraker).
17 Interview with the "LĦder de SOCAMA", Professor Manuel Hern ndez G˘mez,
La Republica de Chiapas, 22.7.96
18 Comisi˘n Civil Internacional, 1998
19 "Ruiz Ferro y los paramilitares. Relaciones al desnudo", La Jornada, 21.12.1997
20 "Cooperativas indigenas, las mas afectadas por la violencia en Chiapas", PROCESO 1112, 22.2.1998
21 La Jornada, 2. 2.1998 the assesor of the Union Majomut says: "El problema mas serio que ha provocado la violencia es el cultivo del cafe organico".
22 "How did you dare to go alone? At that school children receive training to go on to become paramilitaries! Don't you know that the children from here can't go to that school because their friends threaten to kill them for being Zapatistas?" ("The Mini-SOA", Nuevo Amanecer Press, 27.6.1998)
23 INFORME SOBRE LA DISCRIMINACION RACIAL EN MXICO. 3 al 21 de marzo 1998
24 Informe Ni paz ni justicia, Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Bartolom de las Casas, octubre de 1996
25 PROCESO 1131, 5 July 1998
27 La Vuelta de Las Abajas. Oncimo Hidalgo in Masiosare/La Jornada,28.12.1997
29 Analysis of the History Behind the Situation in Chiapas, 25.1.98, Nuevo Amanecer Press