Most importantly, the coffee conference is scheduled fot Tapachula,
located about as far southwest as you can get in Chiapas. the
rebellion seems to have been largely in the Tzeltal country east of
San Cristobal. Tapachula is several hours drive on a good road, and
one large mountain range (on a *bad* road) away from the rebellion
area. The common thread is that coffee is grown in both areas.
The reasons for *any* rebellion are complex and deep seated. What
incites one person to turn to violence, while another does not, given
equal stimulus, is a fascinating aspect of human psychology, and one
that we had better learn to understand.
Much of what sparked this rebellion probably has its roots in four
and a half centuries of conflict and struggle between the Maya and
the "Spanish." My guess, however, is that the more specific triggers
have been a tendency of "white" (and even mixed-blood) Mexicans to
look down on indios and rip them off at every opportunity.
"Que cosa indiada." (what an indian-like thing) is a not-uncommon
expression for something stupid. As a very gringo-looking mixed blood
it offends and hurts *me* -- how must it feel to a full-blood.
More directly, I offer one incident of which I have personal
knowledge as an example of what people in the area have had to endure
in recent years. A European concern agreed to purchase several
containers (17,500 kg each) of certified organic coffee from the
Tzeltal producers east of San Cristobal. The coffee was sold at a
very nice premium into some of the "ethical trade" channels of
Holland and Germany. The Europeans willingly paid a price (about
$40,000 per container) that they and the Tzeltal felt was a fair
return on the effort of growing the coffee. The only problem was
that the Mexican who inserted himself into the deal as a
"coordinator" absconded with every cent.
This stuff goes on all the time. I don't blame them for their anger
and frustration. But Chiapas has long since seen more than its share
of tears and blood.
San Cristobal is (was?) a beautiful city. I hope you all get to
visit it someday. If you do, go to the zocalo (central square) by
the church and look at all the wonderful shirts made and sold by the
Tzeltal women. If you look hard and are lucky you may find a few with
a beautiful corn motif that they wear themselves.
At worst this rebellion will settle into a protracted, low-grade
guerrilla action. It is unlikely that Tapachula (site of the coffee
conference) will be involved. I have worked in guerrilla-controlled
coffee producing territory of Colombia and have found it to be quite
manageable. I'd rather be dealing with Latin American guerrillas than
US street maggots any day of the week, but that's another story.
If you are willing to visit Washington or Philadelphia or Milwaukee,
and you want to go to the coffee conference in Tapachula, by all
means GO. Chiapas and its people are wonderful.
As an end note, I give full marks to Tom Harding (the first
non-European president of IFOAM and a long time worker with organic
coffee) for arranging to have the conference in an area where the
academics and bureaucrats and merchants will be forced to come in
contact with the people who actually grow the coffee. The other
organic coffee conferences have been far removed from the fincas.
It should be a very special conference. Many of my coffee friends
from the Americas will be there. I'm hoping to get there. And I
hope that some of *you* will go.
There is a story behind every bean.