Starbucks “Carbon-Neutral” Coffee
by Dawn Paley | Watershed Sentinel
The afternoon scene at the Jaime Sabinas sports complex in Jaltenango, a town in southern Mexico, is about the farthest thing imaginable from a bustling Seattle coffee shop. I’ve come to this mountainous region, hours by gravel road off the tourist track, to get a first hand look at what life is like for the people who grow the coffee we’re told is fair trade. After a drive through Jaltenango, a medium-sized, coffee growing town with prominent coffee warehouses decorated with Starbucks logos, I arrived at the stadium to meet a group of people displaced from their homes and plantations in September.
Over 100 people have been living in these close, cramped quarters since December. Most of the community left their lands after heavy rains caused mudslides in September, and now they sleep side by side on mats on the floor in a concrete auditorium. They’ve lived through an epidemic of lice, an outbreak of skin disease, and a series of respiratory infections.
The parking lot is the makeshift central park in this temporary village, which resembles a refugee camp. White, plastic roofed tents with blankets for walls serve as school and the kitchen. “It’s a disaster,” said one woman, one of the few who agreed to talk on the condition of anonymity. “In that damn stadium we have to sleep all squished together.”
The people living in the sports stadium seemed afraid of speaking to foreign journalists, as if the entire future of this community, known as Nuevo Colombia, depended on the kindness of the state government. They were promised permanent houses in a model village style housing block known as the Sustainable Rural City of Jaltenango. This new village, one of five of its kind in Chiapas, was supposed to be ready in February, but by July, not a single house had been constructed.
Most mornings, the men return to their small plots of land to care for their coffee plants. They sell their beans to a variety of organizations, including Mexico’s largest coffee buyer and exporter, United Agroindustrialists of Mexico (AMSA). Day to day life is precarious. Before long, I was escorted off the gated premises of the sports complex by police and private security. My first taste of what life is like for coffee growers displaced by an extreme climate event was about as pleasant as a day old cuppa joe. And it was just the beginning. →