Tuesday, May 02, 2006


Chock Full O' Gringos

What a strange relationship we've always had with Latin America. From the Monroe Doctrine (in which the nominal doctrine-maker told Europe to keep its mitts off Latin America; if anyone was going to screw it up, it would be the U.S., thank you) to the current fuss about illegal immigration, we've gotten it wrong for a very long time.

I was reminded of this last weekend when I attended an indie film festival and saw a documentary, Coffee and Bird Song: a Wake-Up Call, ostensibly on the relationship between birds and shade-grown coffee, but ended up being more about the difficulty that Latin American coffee growers had getting a fair price from the large corporations (as in about any household name: Maxwell House, Folgers, Yuban, Chock Full O'Nuts, etc.). It was a short hop from there to the link between fair trade coffee, sustainable agriculture, and maintaining the shady habitats that serve humans and their feathered song makers in sacred symbiosis.

Since I didn't need to make any fresh resolutions about buying fair traded coffee, (we've enjoyed it for several years), I was left to contemplate once again the miserable relationship between farmers trying to make an honest living --in their own countries-- and our corporations' determination to drive their livelihoods into the ground. Several fincas (coffee plantations) had to close down when the prices offered by the big companies hadn't been enough to pay them for the year's hard labors. Farmers who'd had to use their children as part of the work force (thereby depriving them of educational opportunities) teetered on the edge of unemployment. The film focused on a farmers' cooperative that had connected with a UC Santa Cruz environmental science program to help them find new markets in the U.S., and then to promote their products.

It was a satisfying film. The farmers thrived. The pretty indigo buntings found habitats. I love win-win solutions. Alas, such efforts only count for about 20 per cent of the crops in Costa Rica.

Film makers Anne Macksoud and John Ankele have made several eye-opening documentaries on this theme: the determination of the big corporations to eliminate even the smallest attempts at sustainability in the developing world by creating markets that crush such "competition." The Global Banquet: the Politics of Food highlights the glutting of the market with the fruits of agribusiness at the expense of home grown, sustainable crops. Arms for the Poor features the marketing of arms by our manufacturers who can't afford to buy our cast-off high tech weapons when the people desperately need food, medicine, and education instead.

If you wonder why you haven't seen Macksoud's films on public TV, it's because PBS is afraid of offending its corporate underwriters, some of whose nasty practices are featured in these films. Macksoud, for all her efforts, is effectively excluded from some key venues. It's more than sad; it's outrageous that we are kept from the important truths she and Ankele have worked hard to share.

Do something for the planet. Go to their site and order a couple of her very reasonably priced documentaries. Have a house party and show the films with some tasty snacks and fair traded coffee. Then pass the films on to good friends in other communities whom you trust to do the same, or donate them to your public library.

We can't have a true debate on immigration without understanding the forces that drive hard working, enterprising people from their native lands. And our tentacle-like governmental and corporate presence around the world has everything to do with why we have the problems we do.

Well said..beautiful piece m'dear. So..is Starbucks full of shit when they tell 60 minutes that they pay OVER market price for their beans? There was bascially a long commercial for them on 60 minutes this past sunday.

I looked at the fair trade list and didn't see ol Starbucks there..so that is why I asked.
I drink Ruta Maya organic whole bean coffee that's distributed from an outfit in Austin.
The beans are shade grown from a cooperative of 1,500 farmers in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico.
I buy it by the kilo at CostCo.
Am I bad?
Am I bad?

I must be. Last night, as I was asking you the same question, a loud clap of thunder and a bolt of lightning caused the electricity on my entire block to go down.
Yow! I hope you're bad! It's a basic requirement of mine for friendship.
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