Posted on Fri, Jul. 22, 2005
Contra Café stirs critics on the left
A New Hampshire company selling coffee grown by Nicaragua's former contra fighters has found that the political terrain is rattling its marketing efforts.
BY JIM WYSS
Tom Kilroy knew breaking into the U.S. market with organic Nicaraguan coffee would be a struggle. But ever since the 27-year-old Dartmouth graduate launched Contra Café -- Wake up with Freedom Fighters!, he's been taking his coffee with flack.
The beans are grown in the highlands of Nicaragua by former contra guerrillas -- the U.S.-backed fighters who tried to topple the country's Marxist Sandinista government in the 1980s.
While the contras were a cause célbre for many during the Reagan era, their legacy is tainted by the Iran-contra scandal and accusations of human rights abuses.
''When we first launched [in April], word spread more on liberal blogs,'' Kilroy said. ``I've gotten a fair amount of unhappy e-mail . . . to the effect that this is a really bad idea.''
So far, Kilroy's Hanover, N.H., company is struggling, averaging sales of just 15 pounds a week.
Retailing for $10 a pound on its website www.contracafe.com, the company pays the farmers $1.50 a pound -- more than market rates and more than what's known as fair-trade, or socially responsible, prices.
In addition, Contra Café gives 50 percent of its profits back to the farmers.
Mixing coffee and causes isn't new, but in Nicaragua the cause has usually been on the other side of the political spectrum. During the height of the Sandinista-contra civil war -- which eventually killed between 30,000 and 50,000 people -- American and European volunteers formed coffee-picking brigades to help the Sandinista government bring in its harvest.
Even today, some of the country's best-known coffee cooperatives are run by former Sandinistas.
''Fair-trade coffee [in Nicaragua] has always been in the hands of the left,'' said José Adán López, the president of the farming cooperative that supplies Contra Café. ``We decided why not try to sell to those on the right? In Miami, there are a lot of former contra [supporters] that can help us by buying this coffee.''
I am sick of the propaganda hangover from the 80's - which even mainstream media perpetrates to this day about the anti-Sandinista rebels. Yes, they were supported by Reagan, but the bottom line is that more than 15,000 Nicaraguans were so enraged as Sandinista stupidity that they took up arms against them. Nicaragua had tens of thousands of small holdings, due to the relatively large amount of land available relative to the population. And it was mostly these small farmers and peasants in the North of the country, who could not stand the Sandinista government.
Do any of the Benjamin Linder wannabees, really know, the kind of crap that many of these small farmers went through at Sandinista hands? The government killed the small coffee owners cooperatives leader Jorge Salazar early on. They ruined the areas economy breaking the long-standing distribution networks of rural areas beholding small farmers to the central government, at the insistence of their Cuban economic advisors. Eventually they confiscated small holdings To make matters worse they also tried spreading their ideological stupidity, which was anathema to many highly devout Catholic and Protestant farmers. All this interference with their livelihoods and private life sparked massive resistance in the highly independent inhabitants of the North.
So just who are these coffee farmers?
For Kilroy, Contra Café is more about the people than the politics. After visiting Nicaragua in 2003 as a volunteer with TechnoServe, a U.S. nonprofit group, he was moved by the economic plight of the coffee farmers in the northern province of Jinotega and decided to help.
The farmers hope to use the profits from Contra Café to build houses and provide healthcare for some of their 250 members.
Bottom line, the folks fighting against the Sandinistas were poor rural people - the type the left claims to fight for. These coffee growers did what they thought was right. When the small stakeholders in El Chapare in Bolivia do it, it is right, when the enemy is Marxist Leninist it is wrong. Now these poor folks in Nicaragua want a fair wage so they can build houses and get health care.
Those 1980s' era Sandalistas in the U.S. should be FORCED to buy this coffee, since they were intellectual collaborators and enablers of Sandinista STUPIDITY!! Supporting Marxist-Leninists in the Cold War was STUPID AND CRIMINAL! Stupid because even then it was obvious that the nonesense didn't work, criminal because supporting evil Marxist-Leninists during the Cold War was plain wrong. How anyone could wish this upon the Nicaraguan peasantry was inexcusable. How can these people even try to perpetuate these lies???
My advice to the Contra Cafe people: Get rid of the Ollie North crap - he is a liar, but keep on selling it. Oh, by the way, all those Republicans who ever made noise about supporting the Contras - the types who forgot what Nicaragua even was for the past 15 years. -You know who you are- You better buckle up and buy this coffee NOW!!! If you can pay for guns, you can pay for poor folks coffee.