Protest of Campaign of Violence Against Coffee Cooperative Mut Vitz

Kerry Appel, The Human Bean Company, Denver, Colorado October 1, 2000

To:Governor Elect of Chiapas Pablo Salazar
President Elect of Mexico Vicente Fox
Human Rights Organizations
Human Rights Activists
The Media
United States Congress and Senate
United States Departments of Commerce and International Trade

The coffee cooperative Sociedad de Solidarid Social Mut Vitz (Society of Social Solidarity Mut Vitz) is a cooperative of indigenous Mayan small coffee producers from six municipalities in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico which was organized and legally registered in 1998. My name is Kerry Appel and I am the director of The Human Bean Company, a fair trade coffee company located in Denver, Colorado. I have been buying coffee from indigenous coffee cooperatives in Chiapas since 1996. ?I met the directors of Mut Vitz in 1998 and became the first to buy coffee from these coffee producers under fair trade terms. Until this purchase of coffee the producers who make up the coffee cooperative have historically had to sell their coffee to local coffee buyers, referred to as "coyotes", people who pay the coffee producers a fraction of the world market coffee price. The formation of the coffee coop was an attempt by the coffee producers to escape this system of economic exploitation, to raise themselves from the poverty that they have endured as a result of this system, and to begin the process of the self-development of the infrastructure of their communities. ?Even though the coffee coop members live in the midst of military occupation by the Mexican Federal army and the paramilitary groups associated with the army and the state Public Service police, they managed to succeed in finding direct markets for their coffee in the United States and in Europe. The economic picture began to improve. In 1999 the future looked good for Mut Vitz.

The very first hours of the New Year of 2000 begin to change this view. At 5:00am on January 1sst, 2000, I was detained at an army roadblock while leaving an indigenous New Year's cultural celebration and then expelled from Mexico and banned from returning. This was on top of having previously been denied a renewal of my business visa. This does not stop me from continuing my work on behalf of fair trade and human rights but it certainly makes it more difficult. ?On January 13th there began a series of murders and assaults and a campaign of dubious arrests of members of the Mut Vitz cooperative. Including the January expulsion of myself, here is a chronology of the campaign against Mut Vitz.

  • January 1st, Kerry Appel, buyer of Mut Vitz coffee,detained
  • January 3rd, Kerry Appel, expelled
  • January 13th, Martin Sanchez Hernandez, from Chavajebal, killed.
  • February 1st,
    • Martin Gomez Jimenez, Chavajebal, killed (widow, Rosa Sanchez Perez, 2 children)
    • Lorenzo Perez Hernandez, Chavajebal, killed(widow, Rosa Sanchez Nunez, 1 child)
    • Rodolfo Gomez Ruiz, Chavajebal, killed (widow, Petrona Gomez Sanchez, 8 children)
    • Mateo Jimenez Nunez, gravely wounded by gunfire (wife, Maria Gomez Sanchez, 1 child)
  • - February 16th, Manuel Nunez Gomez, Bochil, La Lagunita,----- killed
  • - July, Kerry Appel, Mexican courts overturn expulsion, free to travel again
  • - July 26th, Salvador Lopez Gonzalez, arrested
  • - July 27th, Pascual Sanchez Gomez, Chavajebal, killed (widow, Magdalena Hernandez Gomez, 5 children)
  • - August 2nd, Lucio Gonzalez, President of Mut Vitz,arrested
  • - August, Kerry Appel, Mexican Immigration issues another expulsion order and ban
  • - September 9th, Marcos Ruiz Gomez, San Antonio el Brillante,killed

Note: I have been informed by Mut Vitz that Marcos Ruiz Gomez had previously been a member of the coffee coop but had left the coop some time previous to his murder.

In August I was given a letter written by Mut Vitz. The original text in Spanish is below followed by my English interpretation.

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Mut Vitz, Sociedad de Solidaridad Social Avenida Ignacio Allende #4, Centro Historico San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico Tel. 00-52-961-25095, 00-52-967-82104

R.F.C. MVI-980813-DA5, Registro de Exportar 2335

Chiapas, Mexico a 20 de Agosto

Presente:

?Por este medio les daremos a saber por parte de la Sociedad Mut Vitz S: de S.S. denuncia a los medios de comunicacion y a derechos humanos, a la sociedad civil nacional y internacional y a los negociantes de comercio justo y al Gobierno de Mexico y Estados Unidos de America lo que ha estado pasando en estos meses. ?En enero mataro un socio de Chavajeval, municipio de San Juan de la Libertad, en febrero murio otros 3 en el camino de la misma comunidad, en junio otro uno, en julio llevaron a la carcel 2 de Union Progresso, agosto llevaron a carcel el presidente de la Sociedad Mut Vitz. Esto esta pasando en las comunidades en resistencia. ?Esto es parte de guerra sucia de Gobierno de oprimir a las indigenas que luchan por democracia, justicia y libertad para todos.

English translation:

?By this medium we inform you, on the part of the Society of Mut Vitz: S.S., of the denouncement to the mediums of communication and to human rights groups, to the national and international civil society and to fair trade businesspersons and to the Mexican and United States governments, of that which has been happening in these months. ?In January an associate was killed from Chavajeval, municipality of San Juan de la Libertad, in February 3 others died in the road of the same community, in June another (was killed), in July 2 people from Union Progresso were taken to jail, in August they jailed the president of the Society of Mut Vitz. This is happening in the communities in resistance. ?This is part of the dirty war of the government to oppress the indigenous communities, which are struggling for democracy, justice and liberty for everyone.

(end of letter)

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?It is obvious that these expulsions, arrests and murders are part of an intentional campaign against the communities in resistance in general and specifically against members of the coffee cooperative Mut Vitz. For one thing, all of these murders are happening to members of the autonomous communities in resistance and none are happening to the members of the pro-government (PRI) communities. The level of violence is also far higher than what statisticians might call a "normal" level of violence. Another indication that this is an intentional campaign of violence is that these murders are happening in the midst of a massive military occupation. There are several paramilitary groups operating in Chiapas who have direct ties to the army, police and the government of Chiapas. There is one paramilitary group right in the midst of the area where these murders are taking place called "Los Platanos". I have stood with members of Mut Vitz on more than one occasion while they pointed out to me the paramilitary training taking place with the state Public Security police on the hill across the valley. As proof that the Mexican army and the paramilitaries might collaborate in murder, all one has to do is recall June of 1998 when the army and the paramilitaries invaded Chavajebal and Union Progresso. They killed three members of the autonomous communities outright and then killed five more after they arrested them. It is also very worrisome to note that there are also many similarities between the events occurring now in the communities of the Mut Vitz members and those that preceded the massacre of 46 indigenous persons at Acteal in December of 1997.

The Human Bean Company, citizens of the cities of Denver and Boulder, Colorado, members of Businesses for Human Rights and Equitable Trade in Chiapas (BETHRIC), and even fair trade groups in Europe have been participating with the members of the coffee cooperative Mut Vitz in many projects. These projects range from chicken coops to hog pens, from reforestation to bathrooms, from health clinics to ovens for baking bread. And for the efforts of Mut Vitz and of all of their friends and allies who are working together toward fair trade that respects the rights of indigenous peoples what we get in return is expulsions, arrests and murder.

We call on the President elect of Mexico Vicente Fox and on the new governor of Chiapas Pablo Salazar to recognize San Andres Accords and the COCOPA Initiative on Indigenous Rights and Culture, to disarm the paramilitary groups and to withdraw the army to their barracks. And we call upon them to stop the murder of the members of Mut Vitz. And we call upon the citizens and the media and the governments of other countries to pressure the Mexican government to end this campaign of violence.

With all of the talking that Vicente Fox and Pablo Salazar are doing right now about the benefits of trade and investment and the supposed democratization of Mexico and the alleged improvements in the human rights record of Mexico, we have to ask, "Do not these benefits extend to indigenous peoples and to fair trade businesspersons as well?"

Kerry Appel

The Human Bean Company

Note:

The statements included in the above document are not without extensive documentation. I have video documentation, police reports, newspaper articles, testimonies, personal observation and reports by the thousands (literally) to confirm all of the allegations made.

READ MORE ABOUT IT
Conflict in Chiapas: Understanding the Modern Mayan World
by Worth H. Weller, Ben Weller (Photographer), Julia Weller (Photographer)
$16.95, Paperback, March 1, 2000
Rebellion in Chiapas : An Historical Reader
by John Womack (Editor)
$14.36, Paperback , March 1999
Voices from Exile : Violence and Survival in Modern Maya History
by Victor Montejo
$18.17, Hardcover, October 1999
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