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Exiled Guatemalan Political Activist to Speak

Provider of Just Us! coffee says he's being targeted for his social justice work

by Ben Sichel

Guatemalan coffee farmer Leocadio Juracan says the attacks against him are political acts.  Photo: mimundo.org
Guatemalan coffee farmer Leocadio Juracan says the attacks against him are political acts. Photo: mimundo.org

They call him “the Hurricane.”

Guatemalan coffee farmer Leocadio Juracan (his family name is close to the Spanish word for hurricance) has had a special relationship with many Nova Scotians for many years – though most don’t even know it.

His coffee-farming cooperative – part of the CCDA (Comite Campesino Del Altiplano in Spanish, or Highland Peasant Farmers’ Committee), has been delighting local palates with its fair-trade, shade-grown organic coffee for close to 9 years, through a partnership with Just Us! Coffee roasters in Wolfville.

When Juracan speaks to audiences in Wolfville, Halifax and Tatamagouche this, however, the agenda will include more than just light vs. dark roasts.

According to Kathryn Anderson, Maritimes Coordinator of the Maritimes Guatemala Breaking the Silence (BTS) Solidarity Network, a long-time partner of the CCDA, the organization currently faces “perhaps the greatest threat to its existence since its founding” in 1982.

In May of 2008, Juracan explains, after signing an agreement with Guatemalan president Alvaro Colom on a framework for rural development, the CCDA’s car was shot at six times while driving down a rural road. The car’s passengers narrowly escaped injury.

"CCDA coffee is about more than fair trade prices for local producers,” says Jackie McVicar, Coordinator of BTS Guatemala and former Intern with CCDA.  McVicar believes CCDA’s vehicle was targeted.  “CCDA coffee implies political advocacy and ongoing work in the struggle for labour justice and access to land for thousands of Guatemalan peasants. This work is happening at both the grassroots and national level.”

Authorities chalked up the shooting to “common crime,” however, an assessment that may seem reasonable in a country with one of the highest violent crime rates in Latin America. But since then, the organization has suffered through 2 robberies in which a total of $40,000 worth of coffee was stolen; its leaders have received threats of murder and violence by letter and by phone; and there is generally a “climate of terror” surrounding the CCDA, says Juracan.

“The robbery and threats the CCDA received reflect an attempt to destabilize the organization and delegitimize the work they are doing,” says McVicar.  “CCDA coffee isn't just about better wages, it's about changing structures of oppression."

In February, when the threats started to target Juracan’s children, he decided it was time to leave, at least for a while. With the help of some Canadian allies, he and his family discreetly left the country and found their way to Vancouver.

“If (the threats) had been just toward me,” Juracan says, “I would have kept on.”

A history of intimidation

The coffee grown by the CCDA – known as “Café Justicia” and sold to different roasters around the world – provides important capital for development projects, along with a fair wage for the farmers who tend it, says Juracan.

He lists home construction, a rural hospital, health promotion, training for midwives, teacher pay supplements, and educational scholarships as some of the CCDA’s ongoing projects.

But these “alternative” ways of doing things are threatening to some, explains Juracan.  “Guatemala is not a poor country,” he says. “There is a sector of society that is extremely rich, that has appropriated the wealth of the country and excluded the majority of the population.”

This “oligarchy” has a vested interest in business as usual, says Juracan. He dismisses the theory that threats and attacks against the CCDA are the work of common criminals, noting that they always take place immediately after the group takes any sort of public political stance – criticizing the government for lack of action on land reform, for example, an issue for which resolution is decades overdue; or condemning the murder of unionists. “We connect [the attacks against us] to political acts.”

Residual violence from Guatemala’s 36-year civil war may also be a factor. The conflict, which divided communities and killed over 250,000 (mostly victims of the military and government-backed paramilitary groups), left a legacy of violence that has been hard for the country to shake. It is perfectly plausible, according to Juracan, that his attackers would have connections to wartime paramilitary groups.

Biding time

Juracan and his family aimed to return to Guatemala after 2 or 3 months, hoping that their security situation would improve. In the few weeks since they arrived in Canada, however, “there is no encouraging news,” says the campesino. “There is more news of harassment and intimidation, hooded men roaming the community, gunshots at night.”

During his time in Canada, Juracan says he would like to “generate conditions for a return” to his home country. Many CCDA member continue to work hard in Guatemala for political change, and he plans to “strengthen solidarity” between his group and concerned Canadians. Consuming Café Justicia – available as Just Us! Coffee’s Breaking the Silence Blend in Nova Scotia – makes possible the CCDA’s ongoing social justice work, he adds.

Still, says Juracan, he would rather his stay be as short as possible. Being forced out of his country for doing the work he lives for was “quite difficult.”

“There’s no way to express how you feel."

On March 19 at 7:30pm, Jurican will be speaking at Just Us! Cafe on Spring Garden Rd.

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Tags: Guatemala
845 words



When and where did the attack take place? It sounds weird.

A former president, several top police officials, and a couple of ministers of interior have been put in jail in recent weeks. I haven't seen anything about "Juracan" (the name sounds made for TV) in Guatemala, where the press is alive and against corruption and oppression.

It would be good to have some basic details. The UN Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala is doing a tremendous job in going after systemic abuse. The international community, which is why the UN commission exists, takes targeted violence against advocates of social justice very seriously. But here, in Juracan's case, we have no information whatsoever. Just attitude that smells reheated.

Guatemala produces top quality, shade-grown highland coffees that command top premiums in the market. So do El Salvador and Honduras. Many others "push" their crops with less shade, more fertilizer, and more marketing. Organic is relative: Costa Rica is the poster person of "organic" marketing first, facts later.

If CCDA has not been able to get around some obstacle between itself and the rest of the world market, this should be conceptually simple: someone or some company is causing them a problem locally. I'ts not a national problem or conspiracy in a country striving to build a brand for the excellence its coffee deserves. The private national coffee association, ANACAFE, has thousands of members, and it's technical assistance, supported by Canadian, European and US programs, reaches tens of thousands. There are dozens of ways for CCDA to get its coffee to market, and dozens of ways to alert Guatemalan and international authorities, if someone is illegally threatening that commerce. An activist in Canada is not an obvious beginning.

Juracan wants to "generate" conditions for his return? Give me a break. "Exiled"? Probably only by himself. An "activist" in Canada, spouting ideological tracts against oligarchs, seems, at best, a little retro-cute. Whatever his real name, he can return. The oligarchy, to the extent that anybody can agree on who belongs, isn't killing or paying attention to reformers here. However, organized crime is killing anybody who gets in its way -- drugs, extortion, kidnapping, human trafficking, and so on, but that's different. Organized crime, the noveau riche, comes from former military intellgence, guerrilla organizations, and from lowland emulators of Mexican bad-ass cattle folk (the new drug lords), not from the old coffee barons, or oligarchs. So unless Juracan has a current issue with organized crime, or an old (non-coffee) issue with the nasty former military guys who run organized crime, it's all a red herring.

There are less than a half dozen real former revolusionist leaders in the Congress. It's not that they didn't try or had to flee, it's that the former guerrillas are not generally popular and cannot win elections. To their credit, those who have managed to be elected are constructive. The widow of a disappeared revolutionist, leader of a congressional delegation of one, is now the most prominent and respected congressperson in the country, demanding accountabilty of a corrupt government that calls itelf socialist. She (Nineth Montenegro) belongs in the world's pantheon of democratic reformers. Meanwhile, the guy who calls himself hurricane, and poses as something he obviously isn't, is totally irrelevant to Guatemala and, probably, should remain, irrelevantly, in Canada.

response from Jackie McVicar

For more information about when and where these attacks took place, please feel free to check out:


CICIG, PDH and the Attorney General are all aware of this case and are treating it as an attack against a human rights defender.


For your information, Juracan is an Indigenous Maya Kaqchikel name.

Guatemalan activists and political violence

"Halifax Anonymous": You simply cannot disregard politically-motivated violence in postwar Guatemala.  You seem to be making the point that the only way that political activists are threatened today is if they either cross organized crime or have outstanding scores to be settled reaching back to the armed conflict, but the sad truth is that community leaders and national-level organizers are murdered on a regular basis for their work and for crossing economic interests. 

The reason you haven't heard of Leocadio Juracan or the current threats against him and the CCDA is that--despite the excellent work of the CICIG in beginning to dismantle some high-level areas of organized crime (often tied to political violence as well, according to the CICIG itself)--this is just one among dozens and dozens of cases each and every year.  110 human rights defenders were murdered in Guatemala between 2000-2009, according to the human rights monitoring group UDEFEGUA (http://www.udefegua.org/index.php/informes/62-anual-2009); 353 attacks against activists of different sorts in 2009 alone. 

42 unionists were murdered in Guatemala during 2008 and 2009, and we didn't hear of those cases in Canada.  But the CCDA forms part of the union umbrella organization (MSCIG) that denouced these deaths in a recent report, and the current threats against the CCDA began exactly one week after the report was released.

I would argue that the main reason the CCDA faces constant threats--the current ones being the most serious since a 2008 shooting attempt on Leocadio's life--is precisely because they are *not* simply a coffee organization trying to find a better market for their products, as you suggest.  Their coffee program is instead their demonstrative project of how they would like to see the country changed: land redistribution (the coffee is grown on collectively-owned fincas donated to or purchased by campesinos), producing crops that bring higher prices and social serivice benefits to the producers (CCDA coffee funds go to training, education, and housing, among other areas), within a political program that aims at social justice state reforms. 

The unrelenting dedication of the CCDA and Leocadio Juracan to change the Guatemalan government and the country's agrarian structure in a way that benefit the Indigenous-campesino majority make the organization vulnerable to threats that range from phone harrassment to theft to clear threats against activists and their families.  And it is the continuing work from so many other organizations and communities that sadly lead to so many deaths, given their opposition to Guatemala's violent, entrenched, and still very much intact powerful economic groups.

Latin American Violence

My business partner and I have travelled extensively throughout Latin America (he in fact is in Honduras as I write this). Left wing violence has been diminishing leaving those with the ability to take all that they can. If that means disrupting labour to keep costs low or killing you to buy your choice piece of land, well, that is what they will do.

Leocadio is the real deal; the threats are real

Like some of other people who have commented here with their real names, I have met Leocadio Juracán on number of occasions and interpreted for him, and he is without a question a genuine leader of a peasant organization that does valuable work (agrarian reform, land access, gender equality, education, Mayan cultural independence, see www.ccda.galeon.com for more details). The International Congress Trade Union was instrumental in getting him and his family out when they came under death threats recently, precisely because the ICTU knows he is a front-line leader for a justice-seeking organization that challenges the tradition oligarchy (which still controls a whole lot of the best agricultural land).

This trip is not about marketing their coffee: the CCDA has been selling their excellent (fair-trade, organic) coffee in Canada for years. A major roaster in our community started buying their beans last year, then a couple of business people from London traveled there this winter and are now sponsoring his visit here next week. This community-to-community solidarity is based on what people know because they have been there and seen it for themselves, not relying on media reports.

But don't take my word for it: come out to the events and meet him for yourself. He is an exceptionally talented speaker.

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