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Conquistador Coffee

When coffee is ripe the small round fruits turn red, not brown: a fact unknown to me until this Dragons program in Central America. Through my ISP (Independent Study Project) I have been learning a lot about the history of this little red plant and its effects on the history of Guatemala. A century ago the descendants of the conquistadors transformed the entire landscape of the isthmus, splattering red across the green facade of the mountains. The foreign land owners took up so much land there was not enough for Native Guatemalans to even grow their own food, so most Guatemalans’ only option was to work for these plantations. The men went out everyday to the fields to harvest a that took over their land, barely making enough money to feed their families and not coming close to being able to afford the very crop that caused them so much hardship. Coffee was not being grown by the people, for the people, but rather by the labor of the people, for far away consumers.

Coffee is a huge symbol in Guatemala. Murals painted on many of the walls in the cities are covered with people picking the red fruit, roasting the seeds and enjoying a smooth black cup of coffee; These painted figures are finally able to enjoy the fruits of their labor. But looking around my homestay house in San Juan La Laguna I find a different reality: Instant coffee. My family sits and drinks a prepackaged, pre ground version of the natural plant visible from their kitchen window, the irony is hard to miss. 500 years later and Guatemala is still the same country I am learning about in my ISP. Columbus may be long dead and the United Fruit Company may now be called Chiquita Banana, but the imperialist, capitalist powers that have plagued this country since its introduction to the western still exist.