MARISOL ESPINOZA CRUZ IS PERU’S FIRST FEMALE VICE PRESIDENT
By Santiago Paz Lopez, Co-Manager of Cepicafe
One day, Cepicafe’s history will be written and an important chapter will be the one written about its political positioning and how we broadened our objectives due to the realities we have had to face; and how, together with the producers, we have created new paths. At one point, we only looked at technical and productive aspects of farming, but now our perspective is complemented by also examining organizational and business aspects, and most recently, the political sphere. Fifteen years after our inception, we are proud to say that the small producers of Piura have made it to the Vice Presidency of Peru.
In 1991, having recently graduated from the National University of Piura, we wanted to improve the quality of life for producers and help them to earn a dignified wage. So we returned to the mountains of Piura in order to improve the productivity of coffee crops. The producers told us that production was not their main problem. “The problem is the market,” they told us. In order to create a relationship with the market, in 1995 we founded Cepicafe. We began to export fair trade in 1997. Today the Piurna Coffee Growers’ Association (CEPICAFE) is northern Peru’s most important producer organization.
We have understood the importance of the media and that is how, from the beginning, we came into contact with Marisol Espinoza, a journalist and writer for El Tiempo, Piura’s most prestigious newspaper. Through CEPICAFE, she started to learn about the producers and publish information. In looking for additional material for her work, she visited our operations and talked with people to understand their vision and their aspirations; this is how she earned the trust of the producers. Marisol’s roots are in the mountains of Piura; her mother is from Santo Domingo, Morropon. This made it easy for her to understand us—the fact that she knew the culture of the mountains allowed her to quickly develop a relationship with the producers.
From the beginning, a lack of resources lead us to knock on the doors of the local government and ask for technical and material support for productive projects. As we gained prestige and economic importance, some of our grassroots leaders were elected as town councilors and mayors. We became more and more visible and the municipal budgets began to include funds for productive projects. As we grew stronger, so did our aspirations. Why should we settle for the mayor’s office when we had enough votes to get to Congress? Why not create a party of coffee growers, as had the narco-traffickers and those who support mining projects?
Everyone was in agreement but we did not know who to propose—who should we support? The associations were wise enough to separate themselves from the eternal and traditional leaders who had been around forever who would become their representatives and then never left their positions.
In June 2005, after receiving an invitation from Commander Ollanta Humala, Marisol Espinoza asked Cepicafe for its support and, upon receiving it, she entered the political race. This support was ratified at the General Assembly of Delegates in March 2006. Having consulted with the grassroots about its support for Marisol Espinoza’s candidacy, Mr. Segundo Guerrero Mondragon presided over this historic assembly. The first person to speak was Mr. Artemio Jimenez, President of the Jose Gabriel Condorcanqui Cooperative in Coyona. He said, “I have done my military service, I am a nationalist. We know that we must defend our country, land, water, and life. Our people are with Olla. We support the candidacy of Mrs. Marisol Espinoza.” Eighty other delegates shared similar sentiments.
The support was made public; some people raised questions but we all continued forward. It was time to have someone in Congress. On April 9, 2006 with the majority vote of Cepicafe’s constituents, Marisol Espinoza was elected to Congress.
During the past five years, Marisol has worked among the ranks of nationalism to oppose the government of the right. APRA’s work has focused on defending land and the highlands and the intangibility of our natural resources. Its work in Congress has earned the trust of our President-Elect, Ollanta Humala, who chose the first female Vice President to run on the Gana Peru ticket.
Cepicafe has been clear and firm, even during the second round when some of the militant party members began to lose faith when a million dollar campaign was waged against us, supported by almost all written and radio media outlets. The time was right for a gesture of support and so, on May 24, we invited Ollanta Humala to our processing plant and our now President-Elect, after receiving unanimous support, laid the first stone in a project to expand our agro-industrial plant, a US $1 million investment.
On June 5, the farmers from the mountains of Piura translated their commitment into votes. In the Ayabaca province, we won 73.40% of the votes; in Huancabamba, 56.31%. In the Morropan mountain districts of Santo Domingo, Chalaco, Yamango, and Santa Catalina de Mossa, this triumph has stained the electoral map red and marked it with joy.
Having been elected Vice President, Marisol Espinoza’s agenda has broadened. She will work together with small producers so that both men and women in the countryside will be able to own property and so that uncultivated land can be habilitated, thereby creating a larger agricultural area; she will also work on large development projects, especially hydropower, which will help to consolidate small-scale property ownership and production so that the producer organizations can access additional markets and organic markets. This will help to elevate Peru’s reputation. Who has benefitted from the mountainous export of canola?
The new government must support farmers in their effort to develop a local market. Peru should wake up and enjoy its coffee, its potatoes, and the infinite variety of food products sustained by small and micro agriculture.
Fifteen years after the formation of Cepicafe one of our people is the country’s first female Vice President. The outgoing Vice President enjoyed the support of the Peruvian War Marines, but Marisol Espinoza has full support from the Piura small producers and their organization, Cepicafe.