#potd – Cafe Ayacuchano is great, so what’s so wrong with the mannequin?

Well it’s obviously sexist innit? Yes it is, certainly to our westernised eyes, although one should emphasise it is dressed solely in organic coffee beans, which may make it acceptable to some. But that’s not the real problem – take a look at the female mannequin’s colour, white yes? Not even a bit spanish/latin looking no? And what is the skin colour of the people who grow & produce this coffee – definitely not euro-white, but dark-skinned and indigenous. We’ve yet to see a dark-skinned indigenous looking mannequin in Peru. Indeed if you looked at the ‘public’ image or face of Peru – its politicans, business & church leaders, tv presenters & other celebrities, tv ads, it’s public faces – they are virtually all white, or at best spanish-white. The manequin is racist, just like Peru remains a very racist country. It’s a classist country too, but above all it’s racist. But that’s just a part of the backstory to Cafe Ayacuchano, which is a mighty fine coffee.

Where we found the coffee…
We first came across Cafe Ayacuchano by accident (see video about the coffee!), after visiting a couple of museums some 1-2km north of the Plaza de Armas in the city of Ayacucho. They had a small stand outside a large artesianal market (where you buy indigenous style clothing, souvenirs etc), and both the market & the coffee stand were located inside a part of what was once Ayacucho’s main prison. As was our mannequin coffee advertiser. Rather ironically, on March 3 1981 this prison had been stormed by members of Shining Path, the heavily maoist influenced communists in Peru, as a part of their Armed War against the Peruvian state and capital that commenced in 1980. Around 300 prisoners escaped.

Where’s the coffee from?
Cafe Ayacuchano is produced in an area known as the VRAE (the valleys of the rivers Ene & Apurimac), also known as VRAEM (by adding the river Mantaro to the north) – see basic info in spanish or english. These rivers are found pretty much on the borders of the Ayacucho region & several other regions. Cafe Ayacuchano is grown in the vicinity of the community of San Francisco, in the Anya district, located on the river Apurimac.

It is one of a number of economic initiatives (some with ‘dubious’ foreign aid backing ie USAid), to wrest control of the VRAEM back from Peru’s drug traffickers, who have turned the area into Peru’s largest producer of cocaine – around 70% of the country’s largest (illegal) export, by encouraging local indigenous crop growers to switch from coca leaf to coffee production.

Coffee good, coca (or cocaine) bad?
This is an incredibly complicated issue and region. Not only is the use of the coca leaf part of the traditional way of life for local indigenous people – as a food item, medicinal item, and as part of ‘religious’ ceremonies & festivities – but it is also their main cash crop, with upto 4 harvests per year. Switching to another crop is therefore fraught with financial complications amongst others. (see this good video & article by an investigative journalist on the aljazeera website). The Peruvian Govt of course, with massive backing & pressure from the US & international bodies, has run for numerous years a coca-eradication programme (not very successfully), using large military force. This is also tied up to the Peruvian state’s attempts to finally destroy the last remnants of the Shining Path group, who have for decades now had bases in the area, along with a heavy involvement in the drug trafficking trade. (see series of articles here on the drugs trade and S/Path)

But even this part of the issue is complicated. Whilst Shining Path originally commenced their operations in the Andean highlands of the Ayacucho region in 1980, as their suppport from campesinos decreased in line with S/Path’s authoritarian brutality, so S/Path retreated to the more jungle-like areas of the VRAE/M. And there they once again treated those they claimed to be trying to liberate with the utmost brutality & contempt, killing thousands. Which led to many local communitys & groups within the VRAE/M to launch their own organised armed defense groups to take on S/Path, efforts that remained largely independent of the Peruvian army’s military campaign – not least because the state regarded every indigenous person as a potential S/Path supporter, and also killed thousands of them! (excellent article here from UpsideDownWorld).

So not only is there local opposition to S/Path, there’s also mass local opposition to the coca-eradication programme, at least in the absence of any real policy that actually takes the well-being of the local peoples as its primary concern. As those with any understanding of post-Spanish invasion history of Peru will know, the well being of the indigenous peoples comes pretty much at the bottom of any list of state concerns.
NB: these two articles – here and here – on the Ashaninka people of this region give an idea of the struggles local people have experienced for centuries.

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#potd – Huanchaco for sunsets, surf and pre-Inca cultures

#Huanchaco, a coastal town some 10km north-west of the large northern Peru city of #Trujillo, was unknown to us until we arrived there for a week, and a pretty decent place it turned out to be. In fact it was famous for several things – it’s sunsets and surf; the ancient fishing craft ‘caballitos de totora‘ on the beach; the second oldest catholic church in Peru built by the Spanish, as ever sitting on high ground and threatening the town & people below (nice views up there, didn’t go in of course); and its links to pre-Inca cultures in the region going back 2000+ years – Chan Chan the one time capital of the Chimu culture is located between Huanchaco and Trujillo.

We’d been a bit nervous coming up here to north Peru because of the devastating rains, flash floods & mudslides that had struck the region in mid-March. Across Peru over 200 died and hundreds of thousands were displaced. The centre of Trujillo was flooded at least six times, a working class district (or shanty town) El Porvenir was almost washed away, and bridges across rivers on roads heading south were destroyed leaving the north coast cut off from Lima and the south – which wasn’t sorted until late April. We certainly didn’t want to be disaster tourists and nor did we want to get in the way! However research indicated things had improved, but just in case we opted to stay initially outside Trujillo in Huanchaco. Which turned out to be fine, whilst in Trujillo the most obvious hangover from the floods in the central area was the dried mud/dust and some remaining sandbags. Continue reading

Back to Peru for some hummus, roll-ups and ancient fishing boats

In early May we got out of Chile, and came back to Peru to check out some more pre-Inca history up on the north coast near Trujillo & Huanchaco – the Moche & Chimu cultures, and some sea going reed fishing boats, or rafts, called ‘caballitos de totora’ (or ‘de mar’), constructed using ancient craft skills dating back several thousand years and known only to a few. These boats are clearly linked to the Moche & Chimu cultures, and possibly earlier.

However they’ve moved with the times as you can see in the fotos, and now use polystyrene blocks to help float the boats, not something available in these parts two thousand years ago. Although the paddle or oar remains very basic, just a long bamboo pole cut in half lengthways. It looks hard work on the hands…but it seems to do the trick though as they negotiate their way out to sea through decent sized waves, and eventually back in again. The sea here looks and is cold, but the weather isn’t, even now in the autumn – a good 25 degrees minimum most days, and too hot on other days to even sit in the sun for long. Continue reading

#potd – Seals ahoy in the port of #Valparaiso

A major surprise to be found whilst checking out the entire port/seafront area of #Valparaiso in Chile, is a colony of seals that hang around near to and on an old concrete structure near the port’s passenger terminal (map). This is close to the metro station Baron, at the bottom of Cerro Baron (Baron hill). You can while away a good few hours hanging out on the harbour wall watching the seals jumping out of the sea onto the structure with varying degrees of success, and their cranky grumpy behaviour when a new arrival makes it up onto the platform and waddles his/her way through looking for a spot to lie down. Those seals can be very grumpy & loud, no doubt they have their own ranking system or hierarchy!. Continue reading

The Ascensores (funicular railways) of #Valparaiso sure test your vertigo!

Artilleria – view from top

The ‘ascensores’ of #Valparaiso, #Chile (funicular railways, but literally translated meaning ‘escalators’) are these days more of a tourist attraction, but when first built their function was largely to move the workers up and down from Valparaiso’s main port & business area faster. Today those that remain provide a test of one’s vertigo, and nerve, and some stunning views of the city, and they are cheap too costing 100 to 300 pesos (12p to 35p) each way.

On our ‘Tours for Tips‘ excellent walking tour, we’re sure they said the first acsensor was built in 1868, and that there were once 33 of them, however other sources give figures such as 25 or less in total and the first built was in 1883 (Ascensores Concepcion – now back in operation). What is clear is that only 8 appear to remain in operation today, and some of them are regularly closed for maintenance. This website (in spanish, and not updated since 2013) gives some info on the individual ascensors – Ascensores de Valparaiso. Continue reading

#MayDay2017 #Santiago El Dia Internacional de Los y Las Trabajadores

#MayDay greetings on #primerodemayo #IWD2017 to one and all from Santiago in Chile, where we’ll be out and about to join one or more of the local events commemorating the struggles of workers worldwide – both before and after the Haymarket events in Chicago back in 1886. Good to see that Anarchists in Santiago (info here) and Valparaiso, the direct descendants of the ideology that so motivated the Haymarket Martyrs, have various activities planned for the day, both on the streets and more socially later. (see history of Haymarket Martyrs and this article on Lucy Parsons).

It seems here in Santiago they take the concept of May Day as a day off work (or public holiday) a bit more seriously than back in the UK, and that most workplaces will be shut (except public transport and a number of clearly identified exceptions we think). Indeed visiting a few areas of Santiago the last couple of days, including the centre, we’ve found the majority of shops & other commercial premises already closed for a long weekender. The actual ‘law’ relating the May Day & not working is given in both some media outlets and by the main official trade union organisation the CUT (Central Unitaria de Trabajadores – see info in spanish). Continue reading

Street Art in #Chile no.3 – #Valparaiso social murals and agitprop

Gallery

This gallery contains 18 photos.

The historic port city of #Valparaiso on Chile’s central coast is called by some the ‘la ciudad pintada’ or ‘la ciudad de murales’ (painted city or city of murals), and for good reason – never before had we seen such … Continue reading