Last Updated: November 2015
Café Rebelde from Chiapas
Café Rebelde supports the Zapatista communities in the Chiapas region of Mexico. Jaspa Beese from Essential Trading Co-operative in Bristol discusses how Café Rebelde came to the UK.
The Zapatistas came to world attention in 1994 with their uprising against hundreds of years of poverty, discrimination and repression of indigenous communities. The uprising coincided with the launch of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Zapatista spokesman Marcos proclaimed a “death certificate” for indigenous farmers.
The Zapatista emphasis on autonomous organisation, rather than seizing power over others, has inspired movements around the world. Twenty years on and they still self-govern their communities across five regions of Chiapas. According to an Al Jazeera article on the 20th anniversary of the uprising, the Zapatistas had a strong influence on the Occupy movement, as well as the Spanish ‘indignados’ and Greece’s ‘Direct Democracy Now!’
How did Essential come to be a distributor of Zapatista coffee?
It started in 1999. Bristol has a sports and social club called the Easton Cowboys, and one of their football teams went to play a tournament in Chiapas. We knew some peace observers working there who suggested it. So we took about 30 people for a three week tour of the autonomous zones.
When we got back we started Kiptik, a voluntary organisation to fundraise for water and other projects in Chiapas. Kiptik had someone in Mexico coordinating the work on the ground who said ‘have you thought of bringing coffee over?’
So we met the Cafe Libertad Kollectiv in Hamburg who were already importing it to Europe. Now we’ve been distributing it for eight or nine years, and for every kilo of Zapatista coffee sold by Essential, we donate €0.45 to Kiptik, which works out about £350 per month.
How does this initiative fit with the ethos of your co-operative?
Essential Trading is a workers’ co-op and has a policy to do business with other co-ops. The way the Zapatistas are organised reflects the way we are organised with working groups for different areas which send delegates to meetings of the whole organisation.
Photo Credit: Essential Trading
What is the situation for the coffee growers in Chiapas?
When we first visited, we were surprised to see that although 40% of the communities had no electricity or clean water, they all had a concrete basketball court. Then we found out that that was where they laid the coffee beans out to dry.
I did do a day picking coffee, one of the hardest days’ work of my life… It’s grown under shade and so you’re crouching down all day, and only picking the ripe berries. They’re carrying 50 kg sacks halfway up a mountain….
Previously they would sell to ‘coyotes’, middlemen who sometimes didn’t pay up, or who gave them a bad deal because they were desperate. Now they get paid 50% upfront by Cafe Libertad, and it’s a price above fair trade.
Unfortunately they are facing a serious problem with ‘coffee rust’. Part of the reason is global warming. Because the coffee is grown organically they can’t treat it with chemicals, and they are now having to move the plants up the mountain. But then it can take 2-3 years for them to fruit properly again.
So now the Zapatista coffee is mixed 50/50 with coffee from the Juan Tama women’s coop in Colombia, to try to stretch out the supply.
So how else do you support the work in Chiapas?
Kiptik does other fundraising too, for example a Day of the Dead (a traditional Mexican celebration) in LUSH shops. We are also about to release the 2016 Kiptik calendar, which will be available from our online retail outlet, Ethically Essential.