Coffee production
Guatemala is one of the world’s leading producers of a commodity deeply tied to the Seattle economy: coffee. Yet the high-quality arabica beans that find their way into lattes and macchiatos are often produced under deeply exploitative conditions. In Guatemala, conditions for many of the landless peasants who work on the country’s large plantations became particularly difficult as a result of the “coffee crisis” in 2001, when the prices of coffee plunged on the world market and many farm owners reduced wages or denied payment altogether to workers.
In this class, we visit coffee plantations where workers are struggling to defend their rights and talk to the families affected by the coffee crisis. We also examine some alternatives to the harsh extremes of the plantation system -- visiting both a farm that produces for Starbucks under more socially responsible conditions, and a fair trade cooperative owned and managed by peasant farmers themselves.
Above, students from the 2006 seminar at Finca Las Delicias. The meeting is taking place inside a galera, one of the crude shelters erected as housing for seasonal plantation workers. There is no running water or electricity; the floors are made of dirt and plastic tarps provide the only privacy. Below, students in 2005, in a community meeting at Finca San Jerónimo. Behind them are the galeras. At both of these plantations, workers have lived on the land for generations, but were illegally dismissed in 2001.
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Above, Julio Archila, founder of the Movement of Peasant Workers (MTC), explains coffee production in San Marcos. To learn more about the MTC, visit their web site.
At left, students on a hike at Comunidad Nueva Alianza, a fair trade cooperative in El Palmar, Quetzaltenango. Workers at Nueva Alianza were also fired when the coffee crisis hit, but were successful in resisting landowner pressures and obtained their own land. To learn more about Comunidad Nueva Alianza, visit