Fair Trade Coffee in Peru: An Economist's Notebook

Travelogue of a social scientist studying Fair Trade on a Fulbright in Peru. Personal anecdotes and interviews with coffee growers, importers, and exporters, as well as Andean cultural leaders, Limeña intellectuals, business people, professors, writers, and anyone else I meet on the journey. Fair Trade as both an alternative to the dominant model of globalization and as a way of life that is practiced by an increasing number of people who testify to its great benefits.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

First Week's Fruits: Music, Food, New Contacts, and Encounter with Uncle Sam

Officially one week since I arrived here - so much new to see and experience, and recount.

Saturday was nothing but pure fun - two BIG thank yous: first, thank you Frederique for encouraging me to bring my saxophone! Second, thank you Fernando for introducing me to your awesome friends! Marco picked me up around 3 PM and we went for a tour of the city, ending up at his place jamming with his band, drinking pisco and Peruvian wine, and talking history and politics late into the night.

Sunday night I discovered a wonderful restaurant around the corner from my hostel - absolutely delicious food, amazing ambience, and run entirely by people in their 20´s. Great people, extremely smart, hip Limeños and Limeñas. It´s not every day that I sit down to a delicious dinner of steak and mushroom risotto and chicha morada (that´s the local beverage made from a deep purple maize, boiled with sugar - it´s delicious) - only to have the chef walk out of the kitchen and start chatting with me! Angel was his name, a guy maybe my age, just out of cooking school; his sister Katy, an interior designer who did the décor, and his girl friend Cynthia behind the cash register. Very, very cool people, all. The restaurant is called "Porque Sí" which translates to "Just Because." Don´t let me forget to write Lonely Planet and tell them about this.

Yesterday was university day - met with UMass alum and Econ department chair José "Pepe" Távara at the Universidad Católica. Pepe (as he is known at UMass at least) has done some great work on competition and public service regulation. It´s also not an everyday occurrence for me to sit down to lunch with the former president of Peru´s Central Bank! Oscar Dancourt, a very smart man, a fan of Bernanke´s and an inflation targeter (no comment). The Peruvian economy is growing fairly quickly, exports are up and credit´s doing well. We agreed about Barry Eichengreen and Paul Davidson (thumbs up on the first, thumbs down on the second, sorry Jimsky). He said some other things but that´s all I remember.

Anyway, thanks Pepe for offering me Católica library access... the JNC will thank you too.

Spent the afternoon in the office of agribusiness economist Oscar Malca from Universidad del Pacífico, a school for business administration and economics - very, very smart and helpful! We had a great discussion and he set me up with contacts and data. A big thank you to Oscar and to Luz Díaz from Head-Royce for making the connection.

Today was my U.S. Embassy security briefing, which was mandatory for Fulbrighters. This is one experience I have to describe to you in detail. The Embassy is about ten miles outside the center of town (but still in town - Lima is huge), an enormous building surrounded by a security wall with one ingress, where Peruvians line up by the hundreds to get their visas, and gringos like me walk right in the other door. The building is an enormous block about ten stories tall with tiny little windows, and now there is a USAID annex part of the same compound, a darker color but similar design. (That´s right, it takes big guns to help poor people, right?) I walked up to Security Checkpoint 1, where they checked my cell phone, flash drive, and pocket translator, and put my bag through a metal detector. Then across an empty stone patio the size of a football field, and on through 14-foot-tall steel doors guarded by a sentry with a machine gun, to Security Checkpoint 2, with another metal detector. After that, I spoke to reception, and an escort came down to escort me past the Marine sentry guard (checkpoint 3?) upstairs and into a windowless office block. There I was met by a guy named Murphy (unfortunately, that was his actual name) who described crime and terrorist scenes in detail for an hour and a half to a group of about 15 of us. He told us not to go anywhere in the center of the country. (Note: the regions I plan on visiting lie to the east of the regions he showed, if anyone is concerned.) A bit troubling is the fact that some Senderistas are getting out of prison pretty soon, but who knows whether these are the main instigators or just peons who got seduced by the Maoism. At any rate, the information would have been a lot better received (by me, at least) if it hadn´t been delivered in an overall atmosphere of borderline-clinical paranoia. If I learned anything in Chiapas, it is that the best way to stay safe in an unstable zone is to stay close within a social network, of which I have quite a good one here in the JNC.

So that was my experience with Uncle Sam in Peru ... it didn´t seem like much of an embassy to me, more like a fort. I want to believe that this is a holdover from the days of the late ´80s and early ´90s when the Shining Path really did threaten a lot of people, or perhaps the Cold War, but I don´t, actually. I think the war on drugs keeps this mentality alive and kicking. I sensed a real reticence to engage with Peruvians by the U.S. government and their representatives. Murphy said some contemptuous things about Peruvians during the talk, and the overall atmosphere was one of distrust for the local people and a desire to wall oneself off from the society at large. He did say one nice thing about the Peruvian police at the end of the talk, but I felt it was too little, too late.

I am writing to you from an Internet station on a busy street in an ordinary part of Lima. The station is full of students of all ages, middle-aged and elderly women and men. It opens onto the street. I go to work every day in an ordinary Lima neighborhood - not the poorest, but not the richest, either. It feels comfortable, not such that I don´t have to be alert, but not menacing, either. Lima is a big city, and certainly full of social ills, poverty and petty crime. But as most seasoned travelers know, the most important things are to keep your wits about you, take basic precautions, and listen to the travel advisories and local people you trust.

The effort to build durable and mutually beneficial transnational networks of trust and co-operation is one of the main things that draws me to Fair Trade. The embassy experience just made me realize how important that aspect of the work really is.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Noah,
Good to hear that you're going to be out of harms way. And I really liked the last thing you said about international relations--unfortunately the U.S. government doesn't seem to care about how it is perceived by the international community. I hope you and the people who you're working with are able to show some people that sometimes representatives aren't the best examples of those they represent.
Hope you update again soon,

4:06 PM  
Blogger chrisverite said...

With such chauvenist "officials," it sounds to me like your are the perfect "anti-ambassador." Keep the good will, and good music, flowing!

3:07 PM  

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