The following letter (translated from its original Spanish) was sent to us earlier this week from Miguel Paz, Export Manager for CECOVASA, long-time friend and business partner of Equal Exchange. Click here to read more about a past visit to CECOVASA.
I’m sending you a few comments from Peru.
Politically, the situation is very interesting. Up until a week ago, the government was taking an offensive position, trying to privatize and sell everything and award the best conditions possible to large national capital interests (planting large areas for agro export and agro industry) because the small farmers and the indigenous that live in these areas “don’t know how to develop them”. As President Alan Garcia said, these “second-class citizens” are like the “farmer’s dog who doesn’t eat or let anyone else eat.”
Using their control over the media and money that they must have received from transnational companies, they have been running a disinformation campaign, telling people that this is good for Peru, that mining investment will result in development, that this is a requirement in order to sign a free trade agreement with the United States. And they have been making progress, to the point that the Awajun-Wampis indigenous population rose up in northeast Bagua.
The government’s initial strategy was to ignore the demands, try to wait them out, then let the tenant farmers in the jungle (including coffee growers) turn against the indigenous population because they wouldn’t allow them to enter with food supplies or leave with production. After two months, the police unblocked the highways. It has been confirmed that 24 police officers and 10 indigenous have been killed and almost 150 people have been disappeared. There have been so many police officers killed because they were sent to be killed and the indigenous have military training and a long tradition of struggle. The tenant farmers helped them when the forced evacuation occurred. The government took a risk and criminalized the protest and then united the country against the “savages that kill the poor police officers.” Subsequently, in other areas where protests occurred, more radical methods were used and the protests moved to other parts of the country, including Lima (for the first time in many years, students went to the streets to march against the government). Eventually the government had to retract some of the controversial laws, but others have been left intact and this means that there is room for the problems to continue.
The situation has now calmed down, but it could become very complicated if there is not an adequate response. The farmer is very scared of the dogs.
In Peru, incredible things happen. A week ago, the government joined with the right and with Fujimori supporters to approve the “Law of the jungle”. Now it is trying to get these same people to repeal the law. The minister that said that these laws were necessary in order to be a part of the free trade agreement, now says that there is no risk in losing the agreement.
In the month of March, the Ministry of Education took a poll in which .1% approved and now they say that in another poll, 75% was approved. Additionally the daughter of ex-President Fujimori is leading the electoral polls.
Another important topic is that the government, by way of SUNAT (the national revenue service), intervened with the Panamericana television station because it wanted to collect on a debt of more than 100 million Peruvian sols. After 48 hours it had been determined that the situation would be handled by another agency due to insolvency. Then the judicial system made a resolution turning the station over to a former administrator who had received US$10 million from the Fujimori government.
The coffee situation is, in part, complicated by prices that continue to drop and by the fact that some clients are waiting to buy, hoping that they will drop even further. There are few remaining buyers from Colombia in Northeastern Peru (Jaen, Bagua, Amazonas). The differentials for conventional coffee (22 defects) from Peru are between +2 and +15. A separate issue is a drop in production. Cecovasa could see a reduction of as much as 50%. Very little coffee is being brought to the collection centers.
A final note: On June 5th, Cecovasa won a national BioTrade competition in the category for businesses. This happened on the same day that police officers and indigenous people were killed in Bagua. We went to the Palace to receive the award and we circulated a press release a week later.
We will continue to be in touch.