Thursday, December 27, 2007

Nicaraguan Coffee: The Irony

This past Christmas day, my brother's family gave me some coffee which was nice. I like coffee. I also liked that it was Nicaraguan coffee and free trade coffee, at that. As I looked at the two bags of coffee sitting on the table it brought back some memories......

I thought back to a time about 20 years ago. Reagan and the US government were funding the Contra "rebels" to overthrow the democratically elected Sandinista government which had overthrown the Somoza dictatorship, which had been supported by the US for many, many years. Not only did Reagan help the Contras (they were terrorists,by the way), but he imposed a trade embargo.

I was a member of a group called Trade for Peace which was importing Nicaraguan goods as an act of civil disobedience to the trade embargo. We brought in stamps, some artwork and--------------coffee. A sympathetic local coffee merchant roasted the coffee beans for us in secret. We imported perhaps $3,000 worth of goods.

One day, US Customs made a raid on one of the members in our group. They searched his house from top to bottom. We're talking dressers, the underwear drawer, etc. They confiscated all those evil postage stamps, the coffee, some oil paintings.

We faced some serious charges. It was scary. It was scary that the government could search our homes. It was absolutely bizarre that they spent much more than $3,000 to "apprehend" us. I called the media. We made the "news". Local columnists called the raid ridiculous, which it was.

Eventually, we came to agreement with the government that the charges would be dropped if we promised not to continue our civil disobedience. A bitter irony was that several members of our group had to meet with the US Customs officer who led the "operation", in his Milwaukee office. There, on the wall, was one of the Nicaraguan paintings he and his agents had confiscated in the raid. Irony.

So, there on the table are the two pounds of coffee. Irony. The times, they are a changin'.................


Anonymous said...

Hi Chuck,

I was thinking about your coffee and the fact that the beverage comes from the bean, a seed! Maybe your civil disobedience actions 20 years ago in part sowed the seeds that allowed you to receive Nicaraguan free-trade coffee as a gift this Christmas.

In regards to the painting, art has power. I hope that the piece that the customs officer stole has influenced his life in a way that can bring more a bit more creativity and peace into his, and thus our, world.



gartenfische said...

Very scary. And things have only gone downhill since then.

Enjoy your coffee!

poodledoc said...

Thanks, John for your thoughts! It's easy to get stuck in past events. I get stuck a lot. But we don't know how these things will play out. Occasionally, we do find out, but usually it's a mystery.

Suzy said...

I don't know a lot about this part of your life. Crazy times. I am glad for the availability of fair trade coffee and other goods, but I worry that, like "organic" it is getting watered down and may eventually become less meaningful.

I agree with John, you never know what seeds you are sowing. (You have clearly sown some in you family ...) Continue to live mindfully, my friend.

Jackie said...

Hi Chuck,

This is Julia's friend Jackie. I'm visiting your blog to get to know you a little because I will most probably miss your MLK weekend visit. I am delighted to see your connection to Fair Trade, which Julia may have told you is a pursuit of mine (My blog is for more on that.

Thanks for your long-standing commitment to justice and I look forward to meeting you in person!