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Nicaraguan political crisis impacts coffee farmers

From the April 2019 issue.

The political crisis in Nicaragua has resulted in unforeseen consequences on the nation’s coffee industry, going beyond the suspended 2019 Cup of Excellence.

Nicaragua coffeeOn 18 April 2018, protests erupted across Nicaragua in response to President Daniel Ortega’s unpopular social security reforms that would see taxes rise and benefits fall.

Protesters bore Nicarauga’s national flag, its blue and white background contrasting with the red and black of Ortega’s Sandinista National Liberation Front party. Authorities met protesters, initially consisting of a large number of students and the elderly, with large amount of violence.

After five days, approximately 30 people were reported dead and Ortega announced the cancellation of his reforms. However, it did little to extinguish the spark that had been lit among the Nicaraguan community and protests continued.

Specialty Coffee Association of Nicaragua (ACEN) President Carlos Alberto Bendaña tells Global Coffee Report after protests began, it was two months before he could safely travel to his farms in Dipilto.

“Road blocks were put up around major cities and police would put you in jail if they saw you on the street. From April to September, it was chaos,” Bendaña says.

“The United States and European community have helped a lot, having conversations with the Nicaraguan government. But even then, I still can’t display my country’s flag. If I do, I will be put in jail.”

As of July 2018, human rights group Asociacion Nicaraguense Pro Derechos Humanos put the death count of the protests at 448. Bendaña estimates 700 people have been arrested, with half of them still detained.

In order to avoid arrest, Bendaña says protests have taken to “express protesting”.

“They protest in one area for an hour or so, then before cops come in, they take off. They go to another city or neighbourhood, do same thing for about half an hour, and run to another place,” Bendaña says.

“This new form of protesting is part of why we have been seeing lower levels of violence recently.”

While violence has de-escalated, it has already had large ramifications for the Nicaraguan coffee industry.

Only a week before protests began, the Alliance for Coffee Excellence (ACE) completed judging of the 2018 Nicaragua Cup of Excellence (COE) in Matagalpa. The following political turmoil forced the not-for-profit organisation to immediately export award-winning lots to the United States in June 2018.

ACE Executive Director Darrin Daniel says the situation put undue pressure on Nicaraguan coffee producers.

“We had to have all of the award-winning lots driven to the coast overnight because there were so many barricades put up during the days,” Daniel tells GCR. “Farmers were not paid as fast as they should have been because we had to ship the coffee to the US and then again to the rest of the world.

“The producers were very upset. I think a lot of buyers were panicked, so we didn’t experience a very strong auction that year.”

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