Coffee Rust Worse Problem for Border and Coffee Drinkers than Reported

10293579_812218472164492_6052867961713463478_oNew Orleans        Sometimes you know it’s bad, but you still haven’t wrapped your mind around the full ripple effects of how bad it might be. Focusing on the immigration crisis for children and families at the Mexico-United States border, I have concentrated on the problems we knew were coming from communities organized by ACORN International, especially in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa, which have been among the leading areas that children are fleeing. ACORN Honduras members – and mothers – demonstrated in both cities recently both at the American Embassy in Tegucigalpa and at the First Lady’s office in San Pedro Sula, demanding more security from gangs and violence to protect their children.

There’s no question that narco-war and gang violence in Central America is driving an exodus. Another factor, less reported, but arguably significant is not in the cities, but in the economic devastation that is now hitting the rural areas where coffee growing farmers and their cooperatives grow some of the finest Arabica coffee beans in the world. Preparing to interview someone recently returned from the region, a statistic in the Wall Street Journal woke me up to the severity of the crisis when they estimated the economic damage in the region this year as likely $500 million in lost sales and 350,000 jobs lost in the countryside.

Stanley Kuehn is a fellow who hasn’t shaken the natural Texas twang from being raised in Rio Grande City, a poor community along the border where I’ve stopped more than once, and when you ask him where he works there’s an alphabet soup that spills out. The simplest part of it is that he is the regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean. The longer spiel is that he represents the National Cooperative Business Association and the Cooperative League USA and is also tied into something else called VEGA, the Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance. Whew! Trust me though, after interviewing him during Wade’s World on KABF/FM. if you can make it through the alphabet there, the message is vital.

Stanley says that the devastation to the coffee crop is huge. Honduras may be the lightest hit with 25% losses, but Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua are all either moving towards 50% losses or already up to 60%. Losing this much of this cash crop will decimate some communities.

The cause? Stanley says it is climate change more than anything else. Coffee plants have gotten weaker with rising temperatures, less shade, abandoned plots without proper pruning, hotter summers and cooler winters, all of which have combined into something unstoppable. The roya fungus originated in Ethiopia some years ago, but has accelerated now. The fix isn’t simple. There are organic pesticides and better pruning methods that can save some trees and will make a difference in the future, but where they have to be cut down and replanted it will mean five or six years until good beans can be replaced. Coffee drinkers will get their fix by paying some higher prices for the good stuff or drinking robusta from Brazil on the cheap end, but many of the farmers and their cooperatives will be decimated in the meantime.

We’re going to have to talk to Stanley more. He’s relocating to Salvador this coming January to go hands-on one-hundred percent. He needs help from farmers or anyone who wants to put their back to the job.

We’re going to see more families from Central America forced to become economic refugees. This will be a bitter brew for years in the region.

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Saving Money, Lives, and Mexico by Raising the White Flag in the Drug War

March in Mexico of individuals who had family members who were murdered or disappeared in the drug war

New Orleans    Sitting in the jury pool in Orleans Parish Criminal Court and watching each case tainted by a touch with drugs and the huge waste of police and court resources and being force to think for hours at a time about exactly what I thought about the huge divisions and lack of security in the community over public safety and its agents, it was hard not to feel that locally the 30-year War on Drugs had been our worse defeat since Vietnam and much more deadly.  Visiting Mexico for the ACORN International leadership and staff meeting, the impact of the drug violence was everywhere and dominated the political discussion that culminated in what seems to be the return of the PRI to power after a dozen years in no small measure due to the loss of 50,000 lives to drug violence in the failing militarization of the drug war conducted by the now departing President Calderon of the conservative PAN party.  A recent shooting of police by either other police or narcotrafficos dressed as police happened in one of the International terminals where we had gathered to meet our organizers from Honduras and Canada.

Eduardo Porter, a financial columnist for the New York Times, made a devastating argument economic argument on this score including these key facts:

  • Retail price of one gram of cocaine now is $177.26 according to the DEA.  The price represents a 74% decrease over 30 years, meaning in class economic supply-demand terms that the supply has increased.
  • A gram of cocaine can be purchased on the streets for 16% less today than 10 years ago despite an expenditure of 20-25 billion a year by the United States alone to “fight” the drug war.
  • Early experimental drug use for high school seniors has risen from 30% 20 years ago to roughly 40% now.  Seems they it’s “just say yes” to drugs now.
  • Porter cites several polls to buttress his argument that the real purpose of the expenditure is political, and that is the only way the billions are providing a return, since less than one-third of the American people even care to think the drug problem is that important (where are the other 2/3rds living?!?) and only 31% think we are “winning” and they may actually be on drugs.
  • 1.64 million people were arrested in the USA in 2010 for drug violations.  80% of the arrests were simply for possession.  Almost 50% were for “often-tiny” amounts of marijuana.  20% of the inmates in state prisons are in for drugs and 50% in federal prisons are doing drug time.  In NYC each arrest alone costs close to $2000 to process and they arrest 85,000 people per year.

This is all crazy expensive and has made minority and lower income urban communities (and some meth crazed rural areas) mini-war zones as well.  Add the 55,000 Mexican dead over the last 6 years, tens of thousands claimed by drug violence in Central America, and the murder rate for minority youth which has claimed a generation of young men and the body count is devastating.

from the National Post

The drug war has produced a river of blood that no amount of money can continue to conceal, and the money.  The money is not spent in the USA on rehab, needle exchanges, and other acknowledgments of reality which also means higher health care costs, higher HIV rates, and more devastation in families and communities.

Porter cites a economist at Harvard named Jeffrey Miron who estimates that legalization could save $65 billion per year.  A RAND Corporation study suggests that legalization of only marijuana in only California would take away 20% of the $6.5 billion income Mexican cartels strip from the USA.   Presidents of Latin American countries, including many where ACORN International organizes, have asked the USA to consider “market solutions” to the drug crisis, which is a euphemism for legalization, particularly of marijuana.

Porter tries to find someone to make the case for a continued pursuit of the failed “war on drugs” strategy and can only muster one generalized position from one professor who is “worried” that legalization could lead to more usage and health care costs.  Hell, we’re all worried, but that doesn’t justify continuing to pursue a ruinous strategy that is killing our cities in the USA and the whole economies of many of our Latin American neighbors.

When you are worried, you do something to relieve your concern.  We could make that list pretty quickly.  There seems to be no excuse other than political cowardice for continuing to throw good money after bad and fill our jails and city streets with the blood and bodies that are the victims of this war.  We’re all losing now.  Why not choose a winning strategy or at least a different strategy?

 

 

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