Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Colombia, Part I: the Capitalism of Coffee

The more I read about Colombia, the awfuller the situation sounds. But I won't get ahead of myself.

The country has one of the most diverse geographies in Latin America, which is saying a lot. This leads to a corresponding diversity of agriculture and industry and its potential wealth is impressive.

You may have noticed in the news that coffee prices are going up, especially as Colombian coffee growers "go green." American retailers have been slow to reflect that price - for a variety of reasons. (One of which is we'd hang the bastards! You don't fuck with our coffee. It's in the Constitution.) One of those reasons is that it's still a challenge to find Fair Trade coffee in many places in America (Minneapolis is one gratifying exception!). Coffee futures are also on the rise after bad weather affected crops throughout the region. The US also imports its coffee from a variety of places. All the resources I've checked imply that of those countries which export coffee to the US, Brazil is the most notable, followed by Vietnam, Colombia, and Indonesia in some order. (Although Colombia seems to be the #1 import for "green," or raw, beans.) Perhaps the production and trade of beans and blends is too complicated to reduce in a way that draws clear lines. That's globalization for you.

But no doubt about it, corporations are interested in Colombia. (Where don't they stick their nose?) In 2006, the United States and Colombia entered into a free trade agreement, the text of which seems pretty typical of such a pro-business arrangement - even though over the last 10 years Americans have become increasingly hostile to the practice. (On a for-profit basis, "free trade" hurts workers in every country.)

"So what is this, Drez, some kind of coffee conspiracy?"

Au contrair. A conspiracy implies some kind of secret shared by insiders. Injustices in the coffee production system are often a result of haphazard business practices and a lack of developed alternatives. But we all know the military intervenes in the affairs of sovereign nations to protect US business interests. So in our next installment I'll take a look at the American presence in Colombia, the role of FARC, and just what is going down in this particular corner of the world.

1 comment:

comrade x said...

The list of the allies of America's ruling class is running thin in that part of the world. They mean to hang on to Columbia, at whatever cost.