The Trail from Veracruz
Mexico: Coffee Crisis and Death on the Border

Revolutionary Worker #1117, September 2, 2001, posted at

"What kind of system has its very foundations built on slavery and forced labor of indigenous populations? What kind of system thrives on the misery and poverty of the very people who produce the crops? What kind of system results in such suffering and crises when too much of that crop is produced? These are some questions to consider when you're drinking that next cup of coffee...."

From "Profit Addicts Brewing Misery,"
RW #1110

"Coffee is getting eight cents a kilo and the cutters charge us a peso (10 cents) to harvest it. Oranges are even worse, for that we get less than one cent a kilo. The truth is, it is cheaper to throw it out.... There's no other choice...the truth is that although the trip is risky a lot of us are going to take it, at least we have a chance of making a few cents, whereas here there's no chance."

Coffee farmer

Maybe right now, you hold in your hand a cup of coffee, tainted with blood. The blood of 14 people who died of dehydration in the Arizona desert. Fourteen coffee farmers, from a coffee- and citrus-growing region in the southern coastal state of Veracruz, Mexico. Fourteen who saw the possibilities of a better life disappear with the crisis in coffee prices and the ruination of agriculture in Mexico.

The coffee farmers walked on a path called "Camino del Diablo" for 71 miles into the desert until they could go no further.

These were coldly calculated murders, designed in boardrooms in Washington, DC, and at the offices of the IMF and World Bank. The livelihood of millions has been ruined by NAFTA and World Bank/IMF "structural reforms" imposed on Mexico-designed to improve the profits of huge transnational corporations. And the U.S. border policy, "Operation Gatekeeper," has forced people trying to cross the border into the U.S., to choose between death by starvation or dehydration in the desert or drowning in a river. As a result of the brutal "structural reforms" on Mexican agriculture and after five years of "free trade" under the NAFTA treaty, 70% of Mexican peasants, or 15 million people, can no longer survive by working in agriculture.

Death on the Border

"To die by dehydration is one of the most horrible deaths. The body drains the liquid from the eyes, the nose, the is practically impossible to carry enough water to survive the distance that they wanted to walk."

Former Border Patrol agent

It was Saturday, May 19, when the group of men from Veracruz first entered the Arizona desert from the Mexican state of Sonora. It was from here that Raymundo Barreda Maruri, who was travelling with his 15 year-old-son also named Raymundo, last called his family in El Equimite, Veracruz, an impoverished region near the border of Oaxaca and Puebla.

The men thought they were within walking distance of the main road. On Monday, when U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft met with his Mexican counterpart and said, "The border is a line that unites us, not a line that separates us...," the group of men had already been walking for two days in temperatures well over 100 degrees.

On Wednesday, only four men in the group were still alive when the Border Patrol found them.

On Friday, May 25, news of the horrible deaths hit the front pages of newspapers in Mexico-along with the release of a joint statement between the U.S. and Mexican governments which blamed the deaths on the coyotes who guide immigrants over the border to the U.S. John Ashcroft even condemned the coyotes for "putting profits before people"!

The wake for Raymundo and his son was held in his unfinished house in Mexico. His mother said, "He wanted to finish his house, put in a bathroom, a kitchen, the floor. But there was no way to get the money. That's why he left."

Hundreds gathered in the small pueblo, located in the county of Atzalan, Veracruz to pay their respects to Raymundo Barrera and his son. Raymundo died on his second journey to the U.S. With the money he earned on his first trip he installed the only telephone in the area and opened a little pharmacy. His truck served as an ambulance for the town. A neighbor woman remembered, "People would come at midnight with their sick. If they couldn't pay for medicine he would give it to them free."

Raymundo's father leaned on the truck that Raymundo had brought back from El Norte and said, "I have not slept, just thinking how they would have struggled dying in such a painful way, such a sacrifice." His family and friends gathered around the truck and talked about the situation they faced. "Going to the U.S. is dangerous, but even so people decide they can't stay here. The other choice is to die of hunger. You can see for yourself. There's nothing for the young people to do here. That's why you only see old people like me, who can't make the trip, but if I could I would have left too.... The ones that died in the desert weren't the first to immigrate. For a long time people have been leaving so as not to die of hunger."

Misery in Veracruz

"Yo le canto con amor a mi tierra tropical, que bonito es Veracruz, nunca lo podrķa olvidar..."


"I sing to my tropical land with love, how beautiful is Veracruz, I could never forget it..."

-Song from Veracruz

"In my community, El Progreso, just this year 100 youths left, and there are a whole bunch more who want to leave."

Veracruz resident

Veracruz is a southern coastal state, rich in natural resources and agriculture, known for production of coffee, citrus fruits, sugar refineries, and music. It used to be a state with low immigration. But in the last five years, 10% of the population of Veracruz, or 800,000 people, have left. The region has been devastated by IMF/World Bank "structural reforms" of agriculture and goods flooding the markets because of NAFTA.

The sugar refineries were privatized and squandered by the big Mexican capitalists who bought them. The NAFTA treaty gave preference to U.S. importation of sugar at the beginning of the '90s - cutting into the export of Mexican sugar. Now the Mexican sugar industry is bankrupt and a government bail-out of the debts of the owners has been organized. But the sugar-cane growers have not been paid and millions of dollars are owed to them. The ripples from this crisis affect three million people in seven southern states.

As the economy of the area fell into crisis, many from this region began to migrate to the neighboring state of Puebla to work in the maquiladoras (assembly plants), sewing jeans for firms such as Guess and Tommy Hilfiger. Two buses a week leave this region of Veracruz for the maquiladoras of Puebla. But many plants have been shut down in the last six months due to the "deceleration" in the U.S. economy, and hundreds have lost their jobs. More people are immigrating to maquiladoras at the border now.

"Potrero Nuevo Veracruz Travel offers transportation to the border with guaranteed employment, beginning upon arrival, good wages, loans, guaranteed lodgings, included is a bed so you don't have to sleep on the floor, a blanket and a burner to heat up your food."

These flyers are distributed by the thousands in plazas and in bus stations. It is common to see a mother huddle with her son and husband as the bus driver loads the bags onto the waiting bus going north. As they board, she gives them a last hug and a brave smile. As the bus pulls out, her smile becomes a grimace of pain. The world weighs heavy and she feels numb as she makes her way back home.

Horror on the Rio Grande

"From 1994 up to today more men and women have died in deserts, canals and rivers at the border than all those fallen at the Berlin Wall in all its years of existence or than those condemned to death and executed by the U.S. in the last 10 years."

La Jornada newspaper, 7-22-01

Last year, another horrifying image of death at the border was replayed over and over on Mexican TV and Spanish-language stations in the U.S. Two young men were shown drowning in the Rio Grande River that separates Mexico from Texas, as the Mexican police on one side and the U.S. Border Patrol on the other stood by and watched.

One of the young men who drowned was Antonio Ramirez Martinez from Tierra Blanca, Veracruz, in the same region as the county of Atzalan. There was no work in the area. He wanted to send money from the U.S. so that his aged father could retire, and to help with educating his niece. His brother said of his death, "He is one more victim of the American Dream."

Recent news from further south tells another horrifying story about coffee and deadly border policies. The drop in world coffee prices has combined with the seasonal drought, the effects of the devastation of Hurricane Mitch and the earthquakes in El Salvador to produce famine in Central America. In Nicaragua, coffee was the principal export, and the drop in world prices has caused thousands to lose their jobs and roam the land searching for food.

According to Mexican newspapers, Mexico has made an agreement with the United States: in exchange for more labor contracts and a loosening of immigration restrictions for Mexicans, Mexico will control the southern border.

Elite forces of the Federal Preventive Police have been stationed on the border with Guatemala. As famine spreads and death by starvation is occurring in Central America the southern border is closed, prohibiting millions from trying to escape these hellish conditions.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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