Every week, or most weeks, I make the drive from the finca to the capital for meetings. I get through the two hour drive by passing certain landmarks along the way. The Esso station where I fill up and get a latte and pan dulce, the River Lempa, Zacatecaluca, the big Western Union sign hanging from the overpass, the camel-back volcano off to my right, the Texaco station for a quick pit-stop, the recycled glass factory, and finally the last bend in the road when the capital reveals itself.
The River Lempa divided the country during the civil war, with the Eastern side occupied by the Guerrillas. I've been told, it was their goal divide the country in two permanently. The finca would have belonged to East El Salvador. What a thought. The country is small enough as it is.
A bridge was built before the war spanning the river which spills out to the Pacific Ocean. The bridge was an exact replica of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, right down to the orange paint. It was blown up during the conflict and a new bridge was built, but not a replica. The only memory of the miniature Golden Gate is a torn chunk of metal with traces of orange paint at the base of the northern end.
I was late yesterday and rushing to my meeting. I knew the Lempa was coming up in a few minutes, checking it off my mental list of being one-fifth of the way to the capital. Arriving at the small town before the bridge, the traffic was at a halt. I immediately assumed an accident. No one seemed to know what the trouble was until a bus driver went to investigate. When he returned, he told me is was a political disturbance. A few minutes later, several police trucks showed up. I couldn't see a thing as the cars, trucks, cows, and oxen were blocking my view. Forty minutes later, we started moving. When I finally crossed the bridge, I found several hundred people standing peacefully in protest carrying signs and sheet banners. One young man threw a handout in my car as the police whistled at him to get out of the way.
The paper said something about Cabanas and had photos of people that looked like they had been killed. I stuffed it away thinking I would try to see if anyone knew what it was about. I remember feeling very annoyed at the delay, but after seeing all those faces in quiet protest, I wished them luck.
Throughout the day, I showed the paper to people. I found it a little odd that no one took much interest and had very little to say about it. Well, those people on the bridge certainly had something on their minds, I thought.
This afternoon, I did a little research and did not like what I found. Cabanas refers to one of the fourteen departments (or states) in this country. It is in the northern region and suffers from extreme poverty. There is no tourism or industry. In fact, when looking for hotels or restaurants to promote for my website, Gateway El Salvador, Cabanas drew a big blank. A good friend said they are in the process of building a new highway that will run parallel to the other two highways in the northern region in an attempt to bring life to this part of the country. Someone else mentioned they were only building the road to give access to the gold mine.
I was vaguely aware that there is a gold mine here in El Salvador (El Dorado). Only last week an acquaintance in the U.S. asked for my help as he has stocks with The Pacific Rim Mining Company, that is trying to go forth with operations. After a few inquiries, I was told to tell my friend to sell his stocks. Apparently the mine is a hot subject that might never get off the ground. The process of extracting the gold destroys the environment for at least two hundred years and contaminates the water table by cyanide leaching.
The local citizens concerned about their environment and drinking water have banded together in protest. They are regularly threatened and only last week, a very vocal individual was found shot and dumped in the bottom of a well. The crimes are attributed by officials as gang squabbles and unrelated to the mine.
The prior administration who initially was banking on a lucrative arrangement, suddenly backed away from issuing the needed permits just prior to the presidential election. Pacific Rim who has lost millions of dollars in exploration costs, has filed a 77$ million dollar arbitration claim in the CAFTA courts against El Salvador. The new administration reportedly has little to say so far on the subject, but they have only been in office a few months.
It was a troubling discovery that I would never had known about had these people not took a stand on the Lempa bridge yesterday. It was not comforting to know that only an hour away, people are being attacked, threatened, and shot, with very little being done about it. I make it a rule to stay away from politics as there are so many sides to a story, but just one death is one too many in a country that has already suffered such losses.
Not to be dismissive, but it was a strange sight today to see the boys come back this afternoon with ripe coffee. They picked about 50lbs. in cherry and Beto warned it will be like this from here on out. Don Mario was sitting on the ground rolling a short piece of wide bamboo over the cherries like a rolling pin. Back and forth, back and forth as the beans separated themselves from the fruit. Vigil, never one to over exert himself, put his cherries in a large wide bucket and walked on them just like stomping on grapes. It was amusing at first, but I could see that these laborious methods will never do with my limited staff.
I am meeting with the new beneficio tomorrow morning to see what arrangements can be made for getting the beans washed. A beneficio will normally wash and dry your beans for a set price. I only want to wash and then bring our beans and the pulp back to the finca, so it will require a little haggling to come up with a price both sides can agree on.
Funny, I used to dream about things like a remodeled kitchen, a new computer, those designer shoes I saw in the window, a new sofa, or a dress. Now...I just think about things like coffee mill machines, a small earth mover, a paved road, and water, water, water.