08 January 2013

United States Intervenes

Uncommon Grounds by Mark Pendergrast, 1999, Excerpts

The Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, together with leftist guerilla movements in el Salvador and Guatemala, heightened fears that communism would triumph in the troubled coffee countries of Latin America. With Brazilian production recovering and world consumption stagnant, another coffee glut loomed.

Fearful that all of Central America would fall to Communist influence [as had Nicaragua], the United States supported the repressive governments of El Salvador and Guatemala with helicopters and anti-insurgency training while trying to nudge them toward mile reforms. 

Disaffected expatriates formed the Contra movement and supported by the US government made incursions from bases just across the Honduran border. The Contras stepped up raids to disrupt the coffee harvest, killing not only Sandinistas but lowly harvesters, including women and children. Both sides committed their share of atrocities.

Having ceded power to the military years ago in order to maintain repressive order, the coffee oligarchy found that it had created a monster over which it had insufficient control. The coffee elite were now divided. None wanted major agrarian reform, of course, and all deplored the guerillas.

Simmering Peace

Early in 1992, the twelve-year civil war that had killed eighty thousand people and sent over a million into exile finally ended. As part of the settlement, about 20 percent of El Salvador’s coffee lands were given to compesinos in areas already controlled by the guerillas anyway, providing at least a modicum of hope and reform.

The violence, social inequities, and land distribution problems of Central America were far from over, but at least for the time being, the worst of the atrocities had stopped. Coffee growers now could worry about such mundane matters as producing quality beans and securing a decent price for them.

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