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Death by coffee in Nicaragua

Death by coffee in Nicaragua

Trade Aid Campaigns Manager Simon Gerathy today called on the New Zealand government to take concrete action to support fair trade coffee. “We have received reports of deaths during a coffee workers’ march in Nicaragua. The coffee crisis is something the government as a major purchaser can influence through the simple act of legislating the purchase of certified fair trade coffee as the U.S. House of Representatives and European Parliament have done. It would send a signal of support to the people of Nicaragua and New Zealand citizens that it is prepared to put its money where its mouth is in regard to fair trade. Fair trade ensures producers receive a living wage that puts people and planet before corporate greed. If this government is serious about its Latin America Strategy it will take action on the coffee crisis. It can start by ensuring all government departments are drinking fair trade coffee. It would also put the coffee corporates on notice that this is an issue about which they are moving far too slowly.”

Yesterday The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported that a 40-day-old child died on Thursday among 3,000 coffee workers who marched on the Nicaraguan capital to demand land, work and food.

In another report The Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights, CENIDH, said that 14 people, including the mother, father and two children from one single family, had already died on the coffee workers' march from Matagalpa to Managua. Such a journey on foot, a total of about one hundred miles under Nicaragua's ferocious sun, would tax the strongest and fittest; the five thousand unemployed coffee workers on the march left their homes already weak with hunger, and they carry with them their elderly, their sick, their children. In the mountains there is nothing left to eat. With every step, they call silently for food ... and for justice.

The workers claim the government has completely failed to honour the "Las Tunas Accords," hammered out last September, when the coffee pickers agreed to return to their homes in exchange for promises of work, seeds and land. >From young mothers carrying infants to elders scarcely able to stand, each one bears a burning anger for the Bolanos government. "We've grown old in this work," said Domingo Sosa (68). "I never thought that at my time of life I'd be out marching on Managua. The work has never failed us before. With this government, we have no work; we help the coffee growers and they have no financing." Marlyn, a young woman of twenty-two, carrying her infant of just 16 months, wept as she explained, "There is no work and the children are dying of hunger. There aren't even any bananas left. No matter what the risks, we have to go on to the end until the government listens to us." Some workers were carrying crosses symbolising mercy.

CENIDH representative Edmundo Gutierrez warned that more deaths were likely. "At least six more people have been hospitalised in Sebaco," he said. "They're desperately undernourished, they simply can't go on." La Dalia mayor Raúl López Dávila claimed that "the government bears the sole responsibility for all this. The people were given letters supposedly guaranteeing them land which was under government control; a while later, these same lands went up for auction. We have to get this situation resolved with President Bolaños himself. Not with his ministers; not with his vice-ministers, with him himself." Many leaders who signed the original accords made special representation to the Catholic Church, calling in particular on Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo to intercede with the government. "This is not a political problem. It is real," said Margarita Lopez Blandon of the Association of Country Workers (ATC). "Hunger is real; malnourishment is real. We want no more deaths."

Gerathy summarised, "Any coffee not certifed fair trade has contributed to this tragedy. I saw the devastation the crisis has caused in Nicaragua earlier this year, and it is staggering to see how a simple act - purchasing fair trade coffee - does make a difference.”

More information on the coffee crisis can be found in the current issue of Vital, Trade Aid’s magazette and also in issue #4. Both are available to download from the website:

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