By: Luis Hernández Navarro
Wine consumption in Mexico has increased in the last 10 years. Its consumers have increased significantly. Wine has stopped being a beverage for executives with high acquisitive power, and more women and young people ingest it all the time.
But behind some of the glasses of wine that are tasted in the country there is a bitter history of dispossession. Around 30 percent of the national production comes from Baja California. And there, LA Cetto winery, one of the country’s most important, dispossessed and invaded lands belonging to the Kiliwa people and seeks to appropriate national lands that are not theirs.
The Kiliwas are one of the five original peoples of what is now Baja California. The LA Cetto Company seeks to be awarded national lands in possession of the indigenous. The winegrowers count on the complicity of the Agrarian Prosecutor’s office, which on two occasions has lost the records that give rights to the Native residents.
According to what the Kiliwa chief Elías Espinoza Álvarez denounced, “it’s the agrarian authorities that exercise pressure on the indigenous to give in to the impresarios and accept unjust and inequitable conditions in contracts.”
As if that were not enough, the National Water Commission (Conagua) offers that company preferential treatment, because it granted authorization to perforate a well of water for human consumption, while it denied authorization to the indigenous. Even more, LA Cetto closed the right of way that residents have always used.
Something similar happens with fruits and vegetables for export cultivated with indigenous manual labor in Michoacán, Sinaloa and Baja California. A long memorial of offenses is hidden behind the strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, arugula, radicchio, escarole and endive, as well as the different varieties of tomato that are used as ingredients for elaborating succulent plates.
The names of the companies and impresarios that harvest the wealth from those delicacies are well known. That is the case of the Secretary of Rural Development of Guanajuato (until a little while ago), Javier Usabiaga, nicknamed the Garlic King (Rey del ajo). It’s also the case with the transnational Driscolls, intermittently in check because of the boycotts that are called against it.
The indigenous day laborers that plant these gastronomic riches suffer a kindred exploitation to what their ancestors experienced in the Porfiriato. Starvation wages and interminable workdays are the rule. They lack paid vacations, social security and days of rest. Instead of going to school, their little children work the fields with them. They are usually housed in barracks or in modest houses that lack basic services. Safe drinking water is a luxury.
But the savage exploitation that those Indians suffer passes unnoticed in Mexican society. It’s normal. Occasionally, as happened with the strike of the San Quintín agricultural workers, the world enters their existence. From time to time it is announced that the Rarámuris or the Mixtecos live in conditions of slavery on ranches of Jalisco, Colima or Ensenada. Nevertheless, they are usually as imperceptible as Garabombo, the famous Manuel Escorza character.
Just as happens with the wine or with the blackberries, it’s not unusual that behind a cup of coffee is found a history of dispossession against the original peoples. Seventy percent of coffee growers in Mexico are indigenous, the majority of which have small pieces of land no more than two hectares (about 5 acres). Coffee growing is their way of life and the spinal column of their subsistence. But the transnational companies, colluded with the government, want these producers to abandon their activity or plant very low-quality varieties of coffee.
Recently, Cirilo Elotlán and Fernando Celis, of the National Coordinator of Coffee Growing Organizations, denounced that besides little support to the coffee growers, the government and the corporations want the producers to become discouraged and to stop growing, with the intention that the companies monopolize all of the production and market.
“We have had –they advised– an infinity of threats from the big traders, because what they demand first now is to increase production, sacrificing the labor of the producers, ours fields and biodiversity, at the expense of the interests of transnational corporations.”
The combined action of blight and corporate voracity are leveling the old coffee fields. Until a short time ago coffee plantations were protected by the shade of chalahuites and citrus trees, ixpepeles and banana trees, gourds and jinicuiles. Today, they are barely ghosts of what they were.
Among others, those big companies are basically two: Nestlé and Coca-Cola. More that coffee, Nestlé sells artificial flavorings and it promotes the substitution of Arabica with robust, a low quality variety that it needs for its mixes. Coca-Cola, through the brand name Andatti that it sells in 10,000 Oxxo stores, has flooded the market with junk coffee.
In the 3rd Forum of the original peoples of the Sierra Tarahumara in defense of their territories, Rarámuris and Odamis recognized that their basic problems are the dispossession of their territories, the exploitation of their natural reserves and the intervention of local and transnational companies. They agreed that it’s necessary “to all fly together (all the indigenous peoples) to have greater strength.” Their conclusions are similar to those the Kiliwas have reached, or the agricultural workers, or the small coffee producers or hundreds of communities throughout the country.
Made invisible by the power, the organized original peoples with the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) and the EZLN now discuss whether they will promote the candidacy of an indigenous woman for the Presidency in 2018; a candidacy that obliges Mexican society to turn around to look at them; a candidacy that will talk not only about poverty and inequality, but also about exploitation, dispossession and discrimination; and a candidacy that permits them to all fly together in order to have more power.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Tuesday, November 1, 2016
Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee