CUBA NO ERA UN PARAISO NI UNA EXCEPCIÓN

 

Por Manuel E. Yepe

 

Hace más de medio siglo que, en Miami, ciertos sectores de la inmigración cubana -cada vez más reducidos respecto al conjunto de

ésta- hablan de su país natal como de un “paraíso perdido”.

La propaganda contra la revolución cubana presenta la quinta década del pasado siglo como un período de gran prosperidad para “demostrar”

las ventajas del capitalismo para la Isla.

Aunque entre los llamados “líderes del exilio cubano” (algunos  de los cuales devenidos congresistas en Washington) haya unos pocos extremistas que llegan hasta el elogio de la contribución de Batista al desarrollo económico y social de Cuba, la mayor parte de los economistas de origen cubano radicados en Estados Unidos presentan a la década de 1950 como un período de prosperidad para Cuba, lamentablemente afectado por los desmanes de la sangrienta tiranía impuesta mediante el golpe de Estado de 1952.

Para ellos, lo deseable habría sido suprimir esa execrable dictadura y restablecer el orden constitucional y la democracia representativa, sin que fueran necesarios más cambios en la vida política, la economía y la sociedad.

Para argumentar esa supuesta prosperidad, estos economistas comparan algunos indicadores económicos de Cuba en aquellos tiempos que son superiores a los de otros países de América Latina y el Caribe y excluyen de la comparación a otros indicadores que demuestran lo contrario.

Esa homologación estadística manipulada, en una región caracterizada por las mayores desigualdades económicas y sociales del planeta, les permite inferir que la Isla tenía un notable progreso económico y social, cuando ello debía servir como denuncia de la dolorosa situación por la que atravesaban las naciones de América Latina, con indicadores de desarrollo peores aún que los pésimos de Cuba.

Algunos de los indicadores estadísticos superiores que exhibía Cuba entonces no eran sinónimos de desarrollo, sino de la mayor dependencia de un país considerado de gran importancia para la seguridad nacional de Estados Unidos que constituía, por ello, escenario privilegiado para determinadas inversiones por la garantía que derivaba de su alto grado de subordinación al imperio.

A mediados de la década de 1950, Cuba se convirtió en uno de los principales mercados y rutas del tráfico de estupefacientes hacia Estados Unidos con la consiguiente inyección de considerables cantidades de dinero en proceso de lavado.

Bajo la conducción de líderes de la mafia estadounidense como Meyer Lansky y Santos Traficantti, estrechamente relacionados con en el dictador Batista, La Habana vivió un proceso de conversión de la ciudad en Las Vegas de América Latina. Ello trajo un notable incremento del turismo y de la vida nocturna: los ricos, las cúpulas militares y los políticos corruptos integrados con la dictadura vivían bien, pero la inmensa mayoría de la población no disfrutaba ese bienestar.

La imagen idílica de Cuba en los cincuenta la conformaban nuevos hoteles, casinos, cabarets, tiendas departamentales y grandes y lujosos edificios de apartamentos que cambiaron la fachada de la capital cubana a base del dinero lavado por la mafia y la malversación de los fondos públicos que creció a extremos mayores aún que en los de los igualmente corruptos gobiernos anteriores a la tiranía de Batista.

Pero lo cierto es que el telón de fondo que tenían los crímenes de la tiranía y la lucha armada insurreccional contra ella, era bien distinta de esa imagen idílica que le han pretendido adjudicar, a la distancia de los años, a la Cuba de los 50: Oleadas de niños en busca de su sustento en la mendicidad, limpiando parabrisas de autos, lustrando zapatos o vendiendo periódicos, tanto en calles y plazas de ciudades como en los campos, donde la miseria era extrema; ancianos y discapacitados viviendo de la caridad pública; largas filas de hombres en busca de trabajo y extendida angustia de miles de mujeres gestionando empleo como sirvientas, o como prostitutas en burdeles o ambulantes. Proliferaban bares y garitos con juegos de apuestas para pobres que se encargaban de extraer de la población humilde hasta el último centavo, abusando de su desesperanza ante las realidades cotidianas.

Cuba no era en la época inmediata anterior a la victoria sobre la tiranía batistiana, ni un paraíso ni una excepción respecto a los demás países de América Latina.

Hoy sí es una excepción por sus asombrosos resultados en el ejercicio de la independencia plena y la práctica de justicia social, objetivos que el bloqueo y la hostilidad permanente del imperio no han podido impedir, aunque hayan entorpecido y retrasado el logro de otros propósitos irrenunciables del proyecto revolucionario como un mayor desarrollo económico y una democracia más plena.

 

Octubre de 2011.

Book Review: Fair Trade: A Human Journey

St-Pierre, Éric with Emerson da Silva, Mathieu Lamarre, & Barbara Sandlands.   Fair Trade: A Human Journey. 2009. Les Éditions de l’homme. Montreal, Canada

Review by Theresa Wolfwood with photos from the book

“Today neoliberalism and its Holy Trinity – deregulation, innovation and globalization – are facing a crisis, and we are finding out that the trendy notion of ‘sustainable development’ is… an oxymoron. The time is ripe to rethink our way of doing things and fight the spread of individualism and consumerism… Fair trade proposes an alternative based on the ideas of social justice, product quality and respect for the environment…Its aim is to encourage involvement and solidarity…This book is a sign of hope that another world is possible.” From the preface by D’Francisco Van der Hoff Boersma, an early founder of fair trade.

This beautiful publication is more than a coffee table book; it is all about the coffee we put on that table –  and 11 other major agricultural products available in Canada that are sold as ‘fair trade.’  It also includes handicrafts and soccer balls in its stories. Every product is highlighted by its history and means of product, personal stories of farmers who grow fair trade and statistics giving the conventional and fair trade  production, prices and importers; all illustrated by wonderful and vivid images of workers and their lives. My only regret about this very comprehensive and well presented book is that fair trade Palestinian olive oil and the role of conflict in agriculture were only mentioned in passing. Maybe in the next edition of this impressive work.

 

For every product there is good news of increasing fair trade and stories of community benefits, schools, clinics, adult literacy programs and improved environment and health. I was pleased to learn that in Switzerland 50% of imported cut flowers is fair trade. Coffee continues to a global success story which is close to home in Victoria. Here the Central America Support Committee bags and markets freshly roasted coffee from Nicaragua. We work with a larger non-profit group that pays producers a premium price, recently raised, and with surplus funds it sponsors community projects in Nicaragua and Guatemala. Several Victoria activists have visited the Ometepe coffee producers and made personal links.

Bananas are, by weight, the largest fair trade product. The major exporter of this fruit is Ecuador – where only 4% of the proceeds from conventional trade stay in the country. The story of the El Guabo association is fascinating. The group does not use herbicides or nematicides – a major health bonus for workers who receive a premium price for fair trade and an extra premium for organic. They have worked through the complexities of production, marketing and transport to become a highly successful association of small farmers.

Fair Trade is a long term commitment and there is much room for growth. One community in Pakistan – Siakolt – produces 70% of the world’s soccer balls. It was not mentioned during the media frenzy about the World Cup that the balls used were made by children in slave-like conditions. Only 3.7% of soccer balls are made in fair trade conditions. Maybe some of those millionaire players could devote some time, money and energy to fair trade and end this exploitation.

Victor Hugo is quoted as saying, “Today’s Utopia is tomorrow’s reality”. In a few decades fair trade has become a reality for many: 6,000 certified products, 125,000 sales outlets and 5$ billion in sales. There are fair trade schools and universities and 650 cities, villages, and regions that endorse fair trade. This success is based on the dreams and hard work of many workers and organizers.

St-Pierre writes, “…fair trade must not be measured only in terms of numbers. You have to be very clever indeed to quantify hope, pride and dignity.” He closes with the hope that we will see in the faces in this book, “the aspirations for happiness and freedom that are common to us all and that identify us as brothers and sisters in the great human family.”

Book Review: Tina Modotti: Photographer and Revolutionary

Hooks, Margaret. Tina Modotti: Photographer and Revolutionary 1993. Pandora, HarperCollins Publications, London UK

Review by Theresa Wolfwood

Tina Modotti came from a poor family in Italy to the USA: her beauty and strong character lead her into a modelling and acting career. She became a model, mistress and assistant of USA photographer, Edward Weston. Together they went to Mexico; she fell in love with that country and stayed after he went home and became an amazing photographer in her own right – first with photos of flowers but soon her political convictions moved her to social documentary photography.

Cover Image
Cover photo of Tina by Edward Weston

 

She was a friend and colleague to many of the art and left community in Mexico from Frida Kahlo to the famous male muralists. She posed for her lover Diego Rivera and her image can be found in his murals “the Abundant Earth“, “the Enslaved“, “Germination” and “Virgin Earth” and “In the Arsenal“, at the Secretaría de Educación Pública Building, Mexico City, 1928. Later she was commissioned by several muralists to take documentary photos of the works.

Another one of her many lovers, Julio Antonio Mella, exiled Cuban revolutionary, was assassinated as they walked in Mexico City; he died in her arms. Although she knew the famous and notorious, she never forgot her family and friends; she was a loyal and loving person. Her home was open to exiles and the needy. Although politically very committed, it is her compassion that comes through as a driving force in her life. For many years she fund-raised and helped refugees from fascist Italy.

One of Tina’s photos of a Mexican woman

Her work as a photographer (a total of only 400 photographs) is now being recognized for its own value and she has emerged to be considered independently from her teacher, Edward Weston. . The largest exhibition of her work opened at Kunst Haus Wien in Vienna on June 30, 2010. It presents 250 photos, many never shown before. The exhibition is based on the collections of Galerie Bilderwelt, Berlin and Spencer Throckmorton, NYC, curated by Reinhard Schultz. (Information about exhibitions from online Wikipedia.)

When Mexico’s political climate changed she was exiled to Europe. The Italian government agents attempted to capture her in Holland but she was helped to safety, first in Germany, then Russia. From there she went to the Spanish Civil War as an aid and medical worker where she met Norman Bethune.

Many adventures and dangerous assignments later, she returned to Mexico and died in a taxi of heart failure in 1942. Her tombstone in the Panteón de Dolores in Mexico City has a lovely relief portrait of Modotti by engraver Leopoldo Méndez. Her friend, Pablo Neruda, wrote a poem for her funeral, part of which is on also on her tombstone:

Pure your gentle name, pure your fragile life,
bees, shadows, fire, snow, silence and foam,
combined with steel and wire and pollen
to make up your firm and delicate being.

Breaking the blockade in the Gaza Ghetto

Report from the Freedom Gaza Fleet by Kevin Neish [page 1]

Report and Analysis CANPAL NET by Mordecai Breimberg [page 2]

Return to Palestine by Theresa Wolfwood [page 3]

 

 

from     K Neish
date     Wed, May 26, 2010 at 12:48 PM
subject   Bye for now

Hello Friends,

My ship the Challenger II leaves tomorrow morning at 7am so…………this will be the last email until I get set up in Gaza.  We should arrive at the Gaza water border mid day Friday (10 hours earlier for you folks).
You can supposedly watch everything unfold in real time video at witnessgaza.com.  I’m told the freegaza.org website has crashed due to heavy use.

At this late date I think it’s fairly safe to let you know I’ve been tasked with defending a crew of journalists on the top deck of our cruiser.  Since the Israeli military always trys to seize the media first to destroy evidence, my job is to non violently get in the way of the Israeli commandos in a narrow passageway for about 30 seconds so the journalists can up load their reports.  It should be interesting to say the least.  I guess all my young years spent playing rugby and football are going to come in handy, IE: being able take a hard hit and keep standing and not lose my temper, but this time there’s no referees.

I don’t think the Israeli’s are going to attack us as the bad press coming from this would be enormous, but everyone is ready for them.
Retired US Army Col. Ann Wright is on our ship, so I can’t imagine what the Israelis are going to do with her.  There are also retired US ambassadors and European government officials and various VIPs on all the boats.

Well as usual I need my beauty sleep so goodnight for now.  If the camera is on me I’ll try to wave.
Kevin

If on earth there breathes a slave, are ye truly free and brave?

 

 

STRONG WOMEN OF LATIN AMERICA

Stories and photos by Theresa Wolfwood
I have been fortunate to meet and hear three strong Latin American women speak about their struggles; of course, they mean not their individual problems, but the struggles of women and everyone working for justice in their region. Behind every successful social and political transformation are hundreds of determined women, connected and committed to their work. And if there is anywhere in the world we can look for inspiration and example for our much needed social change, it is Latin America.

Esperanza Luzbet, Cuba

“TENTS NOT GUNS”
On March 8, International Women’s Day, Esperanza Luzbert of Cuba was in Victoria to speak about the role of women in Haiti after the earthquake.  Haitian women, angered because they wanted shelter for their families, not the military takeover of their neighbourhoods, marched on Feb, 7 to the UN headquarters (formerly Haiti’s only medical school during the Aristide government.) Although many foreigners were entering, 500 Haitian women were not allowed in with their signs, “Tents, not Guns”.
The UN only deals with governments and worldwide it is frightened of popular movements and will not recognize them – even when as in the case of Haiti, they were the main structure of self-government.  The women demonstrated again on March 8 and called for self-determination for Haiti as well and were driven back by police. Women are the backbone of the Haitian economy; 80% of the informal market is run by women, they are the leaders in most community organizations and when camps were set up for the homeless after the earthquake, women formed the organizing committees.
Meanwhile as international agencies scrambled for a piece of the action, Cuban medical teams were already working in Haiti with 400 doctors, mainly women, and other medical personnel along with Haitian doctors who had been trained in Cuba. Very quickly field hospitals were set up and thousands of injured Haitians were treated in the first 72 hours after the quake. But Esperanza said that Cuban medical aid, accepted and appreciated by Haitians, was not a short term effort. She spoke about Cuban medical assistance in the treatment and prevention of infectious diseases and much needed help in sanitation. Cuba also has a special emergency medical brigade – ready to go on short notice that augmented the teams already present in Haiti. Cuba has developed special mosquito and rat control procedures (they offered them and emergency aid to the USA after New Orleans flooded, but were refused).  Cuban medical teams will work on long term effects, particularly on traumatized children and Esperanza said Cuba was setting up programmes for rehabilitation for children and others emotionally damaged by the earthquake’s effect on family and community life.
Cuba women are not only prominent in medical professions with 55% of doctors being women. Cuba has an infant mortality rate of 4.7 per 1000 live births. Women have total freedom of choice, abortion is free and family planning is universally available for women and men. Women comprise more than half of university students and professors.  43% of Members of Parliament are women; there are 7 women cabinet ministers (28%of total). Enjoying the free, universal access to education offered in Cuba, Esperanza studied English at university and has worked in the Cuba embassy in Ottawa.
She called on us to pressure the USA to free the Cuban 5. These Cuban men were in the USA and infiltrated an extreme rightwing anti-Cuban terrorist group. They were incarcerated and given long and harsh sentences.  Known murderers and criminals who bombed a Havana hotel and killed a Canadian are walking free in Miami.
Esperanza ended her talk with a quote from Jose Marti, the Cuban independence hero: No policy is successful without the participation of women.

AGRICULTURE AND FOOD SECURITY IN EL SALVADOR
FMLN Member of Parliament, Lourdes Palacio, was a combatant who took advantage of the opportunity to go to university at end of El Salvador’s civil war in 1992. She studied economics and joined a local NGO, working on development projects in rural areas.
Agriculture is her passion; food security is her goal. Lourdes says that, even in a small densely populated country, there is much good land which is not being used and that El Salvador imports much of its food.
That a Canadian mining company has drained the water table and caused major drought and toxicity problems for farmers during its exploratory drilling is an important issue close to Lourdes’ heart and her political work as a member of the Salvadorian parliament’s Commissions on health & natural resources and on agriculture & economics.
On its corporate website this company says, “Pacific Rim is an environmentally and socially responsible exploration company focused exclusively on high grade, environmentally clean gold deposits in the Americas. Pacific Rim’s primary asset and focus of its growth strategy is the high grade, vein-hosted El Dorado gold project in El Salvador… “.  But that is not the whole story; the present water scarcity and pollution, the eventual release of poisonous arsenic from the ore, and the prospect of cyanide use in processing if the mine does go into operation and the very real possibility of contaminating the drinking water of two million people mean even greater environmental danger; the lack of acknowledgement of these problems is hardly ’environmentally and socially responsible’.
Local community groups organized to oppose Pacific Rim’s permit when they learned of the potential danger of gold mining even though there was no community consultation about the mining exploration; as a result the Government of El Salvador cancelled this permit. Pacific Rim is now suing the Salvadorian government under CAFTA through its USA subsidiary for more than $80 million. Since Pacific Rim started its exploration in Cabañas violence and fear have spread terror in this small farming region.  Radio stations and priests voicing concern about the mining have been threatened and community activists have been murdered, the latest, in December 2009, was a pregnant woman.
A private member’s bill about responsibility of Canadian companies abroad may still be heard in parliament; write to Liberal MP Bob Rae to show your support for Bill C-300. We are asked to contact Pacific Rim and ask it to cease its Salvadorian operation and its CAFTA case: Catherine McLeod-Seltzer, Chair, and Thomas C. Shrake, President & CEO, Pacific Rim Mining Corp, 410 – 625 Howe St. Vancouver, V6C 2T6, BC. Lourdes also asks Canadians to call on the Salvadorian Attorney-General, Romeo Benjamin Barahona Melendez, to initiate a full public enquiry into the deaths of community leaders and threats against others who oppose Pacific Rim’s activities. For addresses call the El Salvador embassy in Ottawa at 613 238-2939.
Lourdes encouraged Canadians to support anti-mining community organizations in Cabañas with letters, donations and other actions. Contact: fmlnvictoria(at)yahoo.com for addresses and details.
Pacific Rim’s property is one of many that foreign companies are eyeing greedily a gold belt that extends through El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Honduras. The USA has built a new highway across El Salvador, providing access to this gold belt. Canadian mining companies are active in the whole region; many observers believe that Canada’s foreign poli
cy in Latin America is dictated by mining companies. Canada did nothing to restore democracy and the overthrown President in Honduras – Canadian companies are busy there. The present price of gold is about $1150/troy ounce; the production cost, particularly in the majority world is less than one-half that price; no wonder our government serves our lucrative corporate interests.
Lourdes believes the first priority of her government is to reactivate the agricultural sector and to restore food security to her country. Small farmers have benefitted from some land distribution and are now getting assistance for seeds, tools etc. Unfortunately the last government changed the Seed Act an allowed GMO seeds to be used; this government is trying to reverse that and is working on a long term plan for agricultural development
Lourdes is one of many women who participate in public life in El Salvador; the mayor of Apopa (a large city outside San Salvador) is a young doctor and the last mayor of San Salvador was a combatant who became a physician; both turned to politics to work for healthcare for Salvadorians. Women are prominent in professions and definitely conspicuous in small business and the informal economy. So many men were killed in the civil war or have left for economic reasons, that many women are sole heads of families as well.
A quiet, determined woman with a mission to protect the health and environment of Salvadorians and to secure food and water for all, Lourdes reminds me of the poem by Blanca Mirna Benavides, “…you devour distances/carrying the future/on your back.”

FREE LILIANY OBANDO
Liliany Obando visited Victoria in 2004 and 2006 to meet with activists and trade unions about human rights violations in Colombia where activists and peasant leaders disappear at an alarming rate. Sometimes tortured bodies appear; other times the disappearance is permanent. She knew her name was on the list because her work involved investigating these crimes against peasant leaders of FENESGRO, the largest Colombian farmers’ union.
In August 2008 she was arrested and jailed in a high security prison for women political activists. After a year she was charged with ‘Rebellion’ and ‘Raising funds for terrorism’. While she was in Canada; she was collecting funds for her union’s work. The trial drags on with little evidence being produced.
Victorian Kevin Neish has been to Colombia several times as an observer for her trial that finally began in December 2009 and as a protective witness for her children and mother.
He writes about Liliany as“a young child in Pasto, she once came upon a policeman rousting a peasant women selling fruit, off the sidewalk.  Liliany ran into the street to collect and return the women’s fruit, which the policeman simply threw back out.  Then, to the horror of her mother and sister, Liliany gathered up the fruit and pelted the policeman with them!  The little girl was roughly “arrested” and taken to the station where she was scolded, threatened and eventually released, in the hope of teaching her a lesson.  The “lesson” little Liliany appeared to have learned that day was that the road to justice was through struggle”. 

Kevin also says,” Liliany is just one of 7200 political prisoners held in horrendous prisons all across Colombia, many without charges.  When I first met Liliany in Buen Pastor Prison in September 09, I immediately expressed my sadness at her situation.  She rebuked me.  “Kevin this is just another front in the struggle.” … Liliany has organized the prisoners to communally resist the oppression of the prison.  Funds donated to her from Canada turn into food, cosmetics, craft supplies and clothing for other prisoners.  Fiestas are organized for International Women’s day and other political celebrations.  During my visits with her, other prisoners would regularly interrupt us to ask Liliany questions and take her away to impromptu meetings.  It turns out she is treated as a sort of mediator among the prisoners.  Like so many countries, Colombian prisoners have legal rights, but only on paper, but Liliany and her fellow prisoners have been forcing the authorities to actually respect these prisoners’ “paper” rights.”

Liliany has a copy of the Criminal Code of Colombia and uses it to educate all the prisoners in Buen Pastor about their legal rights. She receives many international visitors because of her work with FENESGRO and makes sure that they learn the situation of all the women in prison with her.

Because of her committed activism in the jail Kevin reports that,” the prison authorities have deemed Liliany a “problem prisoner” and want to transfer her to the notorious “La Tramacua” prison in the extremely hot dry North, beyond the reach of her family and visiting foreigners, and this is regardless of the fact that she has yet to be convicted of anything.”

As are many Canadians, I am concerned that Canada wants to sign a Free Trade Agreement with Colombia and our politicians actually say this will improve the lack of human rights in Colombia. Canada signed a Free Trade Agreement with Israel in 1997; human rights there have worsened not improved; there is no evidence anywhere that Free Trade improves Human Rights. Colombia has the world’s high rate of assassination and disappearance of human rights & labour activists and of investigative journalists.

Liliany and her companions need our support: check: www.freeliliany.net for ideas. Locally more information is available at: www.victoriacasc.org with video interviews and news reports on her trial.  Liliany speaks English, she can receive short phone calls and mail: contact Kevin: neish@victoria.tc(dot)ca for details. For more information see bbcf.ca homepage as well.

Write and demand Liliany Patricia Obando Villota be released, have all charges withdrawn, and be treated as a democratic citizen, to:  His Excellency Jaime Giron Duarte, Ambassador of Colombia to Canada, 1002 – 360 Albert St. Ottawa, ON, K1R 7X7.  Liliany is steadfast on her dangerous journey on the road for justice; there is no danger for us in solidarity work to support freedom for Liliany and human rights for all Colombians. La lucha continua!

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50 reasons to buy Fair Trade Coffee

Miles Litvinoff and John Madeley. 50 Reasons to Buy Fair Trade 2007 Pluto Press. UK

The mainstream trading system is failing the poor. Fair Trade offers partnership in place of exploitation.”

Theresa Wolfwood

Beyond the general response when people ask why one should support fair trade – something that I usually sum up as a better life for producers and an opportunity for consumers to challenge the bottom line mentality of ruthless global corporations, this useful volume offers some very specific reasons and specific details of more general reasons.

Fair Trade has been growing spectacularly in both quantity and variety of goods available. Coffee is always the first product that comes to mind – it is the success story that inspires more products and producers to go Fair Trade. Yet even that has its doubters & when big multinational start saying ‘part’ of their sales will be Fair Trade, we need to doubt (and not buy their products for many other reasons as well).

A friend of mine credited in this book who works in a solidarity organization had her doubts, even though the organization runs a Fair Trade shop; then she was invited to Nicaragua to see a community producing fair trade coffee. It was about 8 years ago when world coffee prices took a drastic dive. She saw the community flourishing on their guaranteed sales and enjoying the facilities that part of the sales funds – schools, clinics, water access etc. She saw that people had time and resources to grow their own food crops as well. On the road from Managua to the Fair Trade community she also saw hundreds of desperate workers, laid off & evicted from coffee plantations, trying to get into Managua to find work and some way to feed their families. The contrast convinced her and she returned to the UK a strong supporter of Fair Trade.

Fair Trade coffee producers of Nicaragua are proud of their product and the respect it garners them. For them to convert to organic was easier because they are offered training and, because of the premium price, they can practice environmental conservation. One coffee producer is quoted in the book as saying when she was asked about Fair Trade, “Buy our coffee because it is the best quality, not because we are poor farmers.” I agree. For 20 years I have been drinking Fair Trade coffee from Omotepe Island in Lake Nicaragua, now marketed as Cafe Simpatico by Victoria’s Central America Support Committee. Simply the best.

Now widely available in Canada, even in supermarkets, are Camino cocoa products; cocoa powder, hot chocolate mix, chocolate chips for baking and an amazing variety of chocolate bars. The bars are cleverly wrapped so that the story of the cooperative in the Dominican Republic where the cocoa trees grow is on the inside of every bar. If you need more persuasion, read the story (BITTER CHOCOLATE: Investigating the dark side of the world’s most seductive sweet by Carol Off) of the child slave trade and worker exploitation on plantations in West Africa which provides most of the world’s cocoa.

“Chemical pesticides poison 20,000 people a year and have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.”

Fair Trade encourages organic production and helps farmers reduce and stop the use of dangerous chemical herbicides and pesticides. The workers on plantations know their health hazards and even asked one journalist, “Aren’t you afraid to eat our cocoa? Workers and consumers both benefit from organic production.

Products sold as ‘Organic’ in our stores may have health advantages, but there is no guarantee that the workers producing the goods are paid or treated fairly. Only ‘Fair Trade’ ensures that.

This book also documents products we seldom think about – such as cotton and carpets. Yet cotton production uses more pesticides than any other crop. Cotton’s fluctuating prices (helped by subsidized crops from the EU) and increasing expenses drive many Indian cotton farmers to suicide every year. Fair Trade guarantees a fixed price and support on many levels so small farmers don’t feel isolated and powerless. Think of that when you buy your next cheap T-shirt.

In Germany in 1990 the campaign for fairly produced carpets gave birth to Rugmark. This certification ensures – through unannounced inspections and checks- that rugs are made by fairly paid adults or families whose children may work an hour or two after school. Part of the sale price returns to fund education and other community projects.

The fifty reasons are too many to list here – read the book and be inspired to help Fair Trade develop in your community. At the same time you will be helping save the environment, improving the health of many workers and consumers, protecting diversity and serving notice to big corporations that there is a powerful alternative to bottom line economics. We can all be an active part of a positive and successful transformation that is sweeping the world: Fair Trade.

 

Theresa Wolfwood's Book Review

Theresa Wolfwood [top left], is the director of The Barnard-Boecker Centre Foundation.. To read more book reviews and articles see. www.bbcf.ca

Off, Carol. BITTER CHOCOLATE: Investigating the dark side of the world’s most seductive sweet. 2006. Random House. Canada.

Review by Theresa Wolfwood

  “…wafers of warm bliss give moments of ecstatic oblivion to all who tastebut this pleasure has no history …” from a poem by T. Wolfwood

  Carol Off, a Canadian journalist, sets off into the jungle of West Africa in search of the truth about Cote d”Ivoire’s most precious commodity, cocoa. She reached a poor remote village where the tired and weary people have no school, no clinic, no electricity or phones. She says they grow “the food of the gods”, but live a long way from paradise.  They grow cocoa, sell it to buyers, but have no concept of what happens to it or where it goes when the raw product leaves their community. When chocolate bars are explained to the children of the village they do not grasp the idea that children here eat chocolate bars frequently.

She writes, “…the children who struggle to produce the small delights of life in the world I come from have never known such pleasure, and most likely, never will. It’s a measure of the separation in our worlds, a distance now so staggeringly vast…the distance between the hand that picks the cocoa and the hand that reaches for the chocolate bar.”

The misery and slavery –yes, slavery – of today’s cocoa producers, including thousands of children, is the present result of centuries of injustice. Off describes in Bitter Chocolate the horrific history of the production of cocoa and its sweet offspring, chocolate, that our privileged world loves so much. 

 

When Cortes invaded what is now Mexico he found the elite of Montezuma court   and army drinking a miraculous liquid that nourished and strengthened leaders and soldiers. He took it cocoa, a commodity so precious that it was used in the conquered lands as currency, to Spain from where is spread in popularity across Europe. Thus began our society’s participation in the more than 500 years of exploitation, colonialism and slavery that continues to this day so that millions of the privileged can enjoy chocolate in all its forms. From the plantations of indigenous people the trade expanded so that slaves were imported from Africa to the new colonies  Cortes started the cocoa rush            to produce both sugar and cocoa.  Meanwhile improvements and additives made the popularity of the new drink spread throughout Europe – from the royalty down to any who could afford it. Cocoa became a beverage imbued with health, sexual and sensuous pleasures.  By the 1700s Van Houten, a Dutch inventor, had created cocoa powder and the Fry enterprise in England invented the modern chocolate bar. 

The Fry’s were Quakers and soon other Quakers, Cadbury’s and Rowntree’s, were in the chocolate business (a nice alternative to the arms trade) and they all had sense of social responsibility to their workers. They pioneered social benefits, housing and good working conditions for their English employees (as did Hershey later in the USA); but their morality did not extend to the workers who produced the cocoa who “had hardly any control over their destinies and lived and died as slaves”. By then cocoa production had been established in Africa with a ready source of labour in European colonies. Journalists began to track the story, a task which continues to the present as chocolate grown with slave and child labour is still promoted as a symbol of love, luxury, religion and even health. New empires were created on cocoa by Hershey, Nestles and Mars. It just keeps growing (and so do profits) to fill our endless desire for this pleasure.

 It seem like such a cosy and warm feeling thing to do – give a lover a box of chocolates, make a cup of cocoa for a sick a child, take chocolate chip cookies to a party. But as Susan Hawthorne says in Wild Politics, Disconnection is critical for a system based on profit.  And profit is what contemporary trade and food production is all about.  We enjoy these small luxuries (and expensive ones, like diamonds) without any connection to the workers who make our pleasure possible.  Off makes the connections for us without mercy for our sensitivities, driven by her experiences in West Africa where she followed other journalists who were murdered because they sought the truth. Organizations dedicated to human rights and relief also feel the pressure, many pack up and leave countries when their work and workers are threatened.

  Today the Ivory Coast still produces more cocoa than any ot
her country but no nation controls the production or price of the raw cocoa it exports. Slave child labour is still used, no supposed agreements and commitments to end this practice has worked, because there is not proper monitoring and as Off learned, trying to reveal the truth is dangerous. We are talking big business here; marketing is controlled by the notorious Cargill and the lesser known Archer Daniels Midland – both secretive and powerful in many agricultural commodities. Cocoa, like diamonds, is a useful currency for the arms that the minority world industry and governments are happy to peddle in the majority world to dictators who have no desire to upset this trade by creating justice for peasants and labourers.
 
 

 

Several issues  become very clear as one reads Bitter Chocolate; issues that stay with the reader, issues firmly based in the documentation Off provides. First of all, we in the minority world seem to believe we have a divine right to cheap food and other commodities, but especially food. We rarely connect the price of food to the conditions of farms, including the rapidly disappearing Canadian family farm. Another issue is the much         Photo: the temptations at every cashier in Canada 

touted “free trade” we are supposed to enjoy. The powerful nations, corporations and institutions like the IMF, which inflict trade liberalization on small, poor, countries that produce raw materials, all support the subsidies and protection that big farmers in the USA and European Union enjoy (and then there is British Columbia, a global exporter of raw logs and always being manipulated by USA softwood lumber interests).

This book does a good job of explaining the advantages and problems of Fair Trade using a project in Belize as an example. Here Mayan farmers have gone back to traditional varieties of cocoa trees that do not need chemical inputs. The farmers get a guaranteed price for their production; they and their communities prosper. In order to assure European consumers of the trustworthiness of fair trade, the cost and administrative work is very high for farmers. A Canadian manager tells us that the bureaucratic demands will be difficult to sustain, these costs present real problems, particularly for small producers who want to have the security of fair trade. The need of veracity and the limited capacity of small farmers have to be addressed and reconciled if we want to support community based Fair Trade.

 One company that Off does not mention is Camino, the cocoa brand that I use; it is widely available in supermarkets as well as specialty shops. Based in Ontario, Camino products come from La Siembra growers in the Dominican Republic. Since 1999, La Siembra has increased its sales as the first organization to import, manufacture and distribute fair trade certified organic cocoa products in North America. La Siembra’s Cocoa Camino products include cocoa, chocolate bars and chocolate chips. See: www.lasiembra.com   It is a sobering incentive to buy Fair Trade when we know that the producer of coca gets barely 5% of the profit of this finished retail product.

 So it is possible to enjoy cocoa products that mean better lives, health and working environment for whole communities. So far only a few thousands of the 14 million cocoa works worldwide enjoy this opportunity, in Belize and Dominican Republic as well as those on cooperatives in Ghana, but the Fair Trade of cocoa products is growing rapidly and cocoa sales are approaching those of Fair trade coffee.  .

Fair Trade is the immediate answer for privileged consumers but we also need to work on the dismantling of unfair trade regulations and the appalling power of corporate buyers who can make or break producers, whole countries, at will. We have to respect food and be willing to pay those who produce it. Bitter Chocolate is a real eye-opener and expose of a filthy oppressive trade system. I recommend we follow up Off’s references and incorporate the issues she illustrates with action.

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 Canadians involved in the Co-op movement can initiate action here like this: the UK Co-operative 2,400 supermarket chain sources all cocoa for its own brand of chocolate bars from the Ghanaian Kuapa Kokoo farmers.

 The words and faces of cocoa producers that benefit from Fair Trade will melt your heart faster than chocolate in your mouth and will convince anyone to use Fair Trade.

 A good book to read as a companion to this book is The Bittersweet World of Chocolate by Troth Wells & Nikki van der Gaag of the New Internationalist Publications. It has wonderful recipes interspersed with interesting information about cocoa and Fair trade as well as references and action data.

 

Fair Trade Coffee

 We roast Cafe Simpatico as it is ordered to maintain the utmost freshness possible.

PHONE ORDERS:Gerd Weih (250) 595-7519, [250] 477-0941 Or E-mail: barbara_hay@shaw.ca

The site http://www.coop-cdc.com features the coffee co-op on Ometepe Island, its production, and a profile of its thriving hostelling industry, ~ follow the links to the photo section!!

A LITTLE HISTORY
In 1988 when the World Bank was dictating to Nicaragua how they should comply, the coffee co-operatives had much difficulty getting loans to keep them operational.
A visit to a coffee co-operative on Ometepe Island, in the centre of Lake Nicaragua, started the best friendship possible.

A donation was given at that time and a commitment made by O.G.I.F.A. and B.O.I.S.A.  http://www.boisa.org to buy their harvest annualy. Since that time, raw coffee beans have been shipped north in massive containers to satisfy the cravings of North American coffee drinkers. CASC joined Bainbridge and OGIFA, to partner widening the market and increase Solidarity with this struggling country.
Besides buying directly from the local growers at a fair price, this money flows back into Nicaragua to assist them in many projects to improve the quality of life for the people there.

This organic arabica coffee is grown on Ometepe Island on Lake Nicaragua In Central America.
Home to over 30,000 people, The Island covers about 100 square miles and joins two volcanoes at their base by a narrow isthmus. < http://www.coop-cdc.com >

Thirty families are supported by this cooperative.

Many thanks to our supplier , Ometepe Gulf Islands Friendship Association. It is a charitable, non-profit, non-political, non- religious association run solely by volunteers.

Serious Coffee Roasters in Duncan store and roast the green beans as they are ordered to ensure the freshest possible product.  Our thanks and appreciation to them < http://www.seriouscoffee.com >We also thanks our friends at HOST VICTORIA http://host-victoria.org/hostsite/index.php for their continuos support and friendliness