Thursday, May 8, 2008

Zapatistas End Successful Cafe La Selva Boycott

Less than a year after it began, the Zapatistas and the Other Campaign suspended their campaign against the Jungle Ejido Union (UES in its Spanish initials) and its partner and distributor Cafe La Selva. The Zapatista Good Government Council in La Realidad decided to end the boycott and protests against the coffee companies after UES members withdrew from 24 de Diciembre, the Zapatista community it terrorized for one year and nine months.

The conflict began on February 9, 1995, when the Mexican army staged a massive military offensive against Zapatista territory, creating an overwhelming refugee crisis. Residents of the Nuevo Momón community fled the air and land attack, seeking refuge in other communities. Peasant organizations allied with the Mexican government, including UES coffee producers, took advantage of the enormous displacement and claimed Zapatista land as their own, making themselves the legal owners.

When Zapatista bases of support returned to their homes in Nuevo Momón on December 24, 2006, they found that their land legally belonged to UES members. Not dissuaded, the Zapatistas retook part of their land and named it 24 de Diciembre.

In an attempt to force the Zapatistas to flee once again, UES members from the "Gracias a Dios" ejido have, on various occasions, visited homes in 24 de Diciembre armed with machetes to threaten Zapatista families with forceful eviction.

In response to the repeated threats against Zapatista bases of support, the Chiapas-based Center for Political Analysis and Social and Economic Investigations (CAPISE in its Spanish initials), Regeneracion Radio, and other adherents to the Zapatistas' Other Campaign initiated a boycott and protest campaign against Cafe La Selva and UES. As part of the campaign, they also pressured Fair Trade Labeling Organizations International (FLO) to revoke UES' fair trade certification because conflict coffee isn't “fair.” International adherents soon joined the campaign, leading the boycotts, protests, and other actions against Cafe La Selva and the FLO across the Americas and Europe.

At the same time, the Zapatista Good Government Council in La Realidad organized a Zapatista camp in 24 de Diciembre to protect the community from further threats. At any given time between 50 and 100 Zapatistas from La Realidad municipalities camped out in 24 de Diciembre.

In response to the campaign, Chiapas governor Juan Sabines offered UES members financial compensation if they left 24 de Diciembre. They agreed to the deal and left the community's land on April 1, 2008. The Good Government Council in La Realidad reported that the UES's departure was "peaceful and definitive," and that since then Zapatistas in 24 de Diciembre have been able "to live and work with dignity and without any problem at all."

The Good Government Council credited the victory to the intense local and international campaign: "After one year and eight months of threats and provocations...and after nine months of a protest encampment...and seeing the good results we and our compas from 24 de Diciembre have had, we've decided to suspend the boycott against Cafe la Selva.... We can say this thanks to the participation of many men and women and national and international collectives and social organizations."

CAPISE, however, was quick to point out that 24 de Diciembre's problems are far from over: the Mexican Federal Army still occupies the only water source within 24 de Diciembre.

For more information about how the Zapatistas are defending their land and territory, see my article in the upcoming issue of Left Turn magazine, due out in June 2008.


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