Paulino Agustín and Sinael Altamirano prepare ground in the mountains of Chiapas state, a prime coffee growing region in Mexico. They are digging before planting coffee trees which typically don't produce coffee beans for three years after planting. (Lorne Matalon)
CACAHOATAN, Chiapas — The lives of thousands of small-scale coffee growers in Latin America and Mexico are better off because of fair trade. But the system is fraying at the seams in one of the world’s most important coffee-growing regions because of a perfect storm defined by low prices, a damaging fungus and unscrupulous middlemen.
Central America and southern Mexico are major parts of the fair trade coffee mosaic and 80 percent of the world’s fair trade coffee comes from Latin America.
“They pay well,” said coffee grower Pedro Pacheco in Spanish in Chajul, Guatemala referring to the foreigners who buy his fair trade coffee beans. He is a member of a fair trade coffee co-op in which coffee growers sell their beans together sharing risk and reward. He said his co-op works well because its foreign buyers pay a fair price that is locked in and doesn’t change even if market conditions do.
César Ulises Roblero (R) and Carlos Galves Hernandez (L) sell beans they acquire from growers from this small processing plant near the Tacaná volcano, a source of rich soil that imparts a distinct aromatic taste to coffee produced near here. (photo: Lorne Matalon)
A tugboat advances toward the Miraflores Locks near the Panama Canal’s Pacific entrance. A vessel that can pass through the locks is classified as a Panamax, for the maximum size that can fir though the canal’s existing locks. (Lorne Matalon)
“Time now is money, and a lot of money,” said Panama Canal tug captain Luis Estribi as sunlight danced on the water near the Panama Canal’s Pacific entrance at Ciudad de Panamá.
Estribi was guiding a vessel from China, the Tai Prosperity, through the canal’s Pedro Miguel locks to the Port of New Orleans. The Tai Prosperity, a carrier of bulk commodities such as grain, is classified as a Panamax ship.
Panamax is a worldwide maritime shipping measurement that refers to the maximum-sized vessel that can pass through this canal.
But today, Panamax is passé. Now, it’s all about post-Panamax, vessels that can carry up to three times the cargo as Panamax vessels. But post-Panamax vessels are too wide for the existing Panama Canal.
This sign in Marfa, Texas is one of several seen in west Texas since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers halted construction on the Dakota Access crude oil pipeline in North Dakota. Both it and the Trans Pecos Pipeline in Texas are being built by a consortium of companies led by Energy Transfer Partners of Dallas. Mexico is paying for the Texas pipeline. (photo: Lorne Matalon)
MARFA, Texas — Six landowners in west Texas have won a series of awards totaling in the millions of dollars against a company building a controversial natural gas pipeline. A seventh case was adjudicated in favor of the company. The landowners are part of a group of approximately 40 people or landholding entities that are contesting compensation offers from Trans Pecos Pipeline, LLC, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners of Dallas.
The pipeline has been designated by state regulators as a “common carrier,” meaning it will transport, in this case natural gas, for any natural gas producer willing to pay for the service.
With “common carrier” status comes the notion that a given project is in the public interest. With that designation comes legal power of eminent domain, the power to seize private land. Companies that exercise that power are obligated to pay compensation to affected landowners in recognition, in this instance, of the change to their lands that construction and installation of a 143-mile pipeline implies.