Wine consumption in Mexico has gone up in the last ten years. Its consumers have grown significantly. The sweet nectar has ceased to be the tipple of executives with high purchasing power and more and more women and young people are drinking it. But behind a few of the glasses of wine savoured in this country, lies a bitter tale of dispossession.
Nearly 30% of national production comes from Baja California, and there, one of the most important wine companies in the country, L.A. Cetto, dispossessed and invaded lands belonging to the Kiliwa people. It intends to claim ownership of national lands that do not belong to it.
The Kiliwa are one of the five originary peoples of what is now Baja California. The company LA Cetto intends to claim legal ownership of national lands in possession of the indigenous group. The winemakers are aided by the complicity of the Agrarian Bureau (Procuraduría Agraria), which on two occasions has “lost” the files that show that the native dwellers are in the right.
As the Kiliwa chief Elías Espinoza Álvarez denounced, the agrarian authorities themselves are the ones putting pressure on the indigenous people so that we give in to the businessmen and accept unjust and inequitable conditions in contracts. As if that weren’t bad enough, the National Water Commission (Comisión Nacional del Agua – CONAGUA) gives this company special treatment, having authorised it to dig a well for drinking water, while denying the same for the indigenous people. And on top of that, LA Cetto has blocked right of way on a route the locals have always used.
Something similar is going on with fruit and vegetables for export, cultivated thanks to indigenous labour in Michoacán, Sinaloa and Baja California. Behind the strawberries, cranberries, blackberries and raspberries, the rocket, endives and chicory, the many varieties of tomato that are used to create succulent dishes, lies a long history of grievances.
The names of the companies and businessmen who reap the riches of these feasts are well known. Until a short time ago it was the pleasure of the Secretary of Rural Development of Guanajuato, Javier Usabiaga, nicknamed The Garlic King. Or there’s the transnational Driscolls, who’ve been in and out of the dock thanks to popular boycotts.
The indigenous labourers who plant the seeds of these culinary riches suffer a level of exploitation equivalent to that suffered by their ancestors during the Porfiriato (turn of the century dictatorial regime of Porfirio Díaz). Pitiful salaries and interminable working days are the rule. They have no paid holidays, social security or days off. Instead of going to school, their small children work alongside them in the fields. They normally live packed into huts or in modest houses that lack basic amenities. Clean drinking water tends to be a luxury.
But the inhuman exploitation which the indians suffer goes unnoticed in Mexican society. It’s “normal”. From time to time, as with the strike by agricultural labourers from San Quintín, the world realises they exist. Once in a while, it is reported that Rarámuris or Mixtecos live in conditions comparable to slavery in ranches in Jalisco, Colima or Ensenada. But more often, they are as imperceptible as Garabombo, Manuel Escorza’s famous character.
As in the case of the wine or the blackberries, behind a cup of coffee it’s not unusual to find a story of dispossessed originary peoples. 70% of cultivators of the bean in Mexico are indigenous people, who generally have plots of no more than two hectares. Coffee-growing is their way of life and the backbone of their existence. But transnational companies, colluding with the government, are trying to have these coffee producers abandon their livelihoods, or plant low quality types of coffee.
Recently, Cirilo Elotlán and Fernando Celis, of the National Coordinator of Coffee-Growing Organisations, decried the fact that poor provision of agricultural support is trumped by government and businesses encouraging growers to lose heart and abandon their crops, so that the companies can monopolise production and the market. “We’ve had no end of threats from the big commercial brands”, they explain, “largely because they want production to go up, sacrificing the work of the growers, our fields and biodiversity, to the interests of transnational businesses.”
The old coffee plantations are being flattened by a combination of plagues and voracious businesses. Until recently, coffee plantations were protected by the shade offered by other plants (chalahuites, citrus trees, ixpepeles, gourds, banana plants and jinicuiles). Today they are but a shadow of their former selves.
One Andatti coffee offered to every voter during elections
Amongst others, there are two main big companies involved: Nestlé and Coca-Cola. Apart from coffee, Nestlé sells artificial flavourings and promotes the substitution of arabica for robusta, a poorer quality bean they need for their blends. Coca-Cola, through the brand Andatti, sold in their 10,000 Oxxo shops, has inundated the market with poor coffee.
In the third forum of originary peoples of the Tarahumara sierra in defence of their territories, Rarámuris and Odamis recognised that their main problems are the dispossession of their lands, the exploitation of their natural reserves and the intervention of transnational and local businesses. They agreed the need to all fly together (all the indigenous peoples), to be collectively stronger. The Kiliwas and agricultural labourers have come to similar conclusions, as have the small-scale coffee growers and hundreds of communities all over the country.
Made invisible by the powerful, the organised originary peoples together with the National Indigenous Congress (Congreso Nacional Indígena; CNI) and EZLN will today discuss whether to support the candidacy of an indigenous woman in the 2018 presidential elections. A candidacy that forces Mexican society to take a look at itself. A candidacy that speaks not only of poverty and inequality, but of exploitation, dispossession and discrimination. A candidacy that allows them all fly together, to be collectively stronger.