Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Migration, Trade and Brutality STOP ONE: The Coffee Mountains of Oaxaca

Downtown Coatzóspam

-David Schmidt, Guest Contributor

San Juan Coatzóspam is a beautiful town. Located on the edge of the highest mountain around, it affords visitors a spectacular view. You can see the surrounding valleys, villages and settlements for miles around. An enormous river snakes through the valleys below, a day’s hike downhill from Coatzóspam. The town is so high up the mountain that the clouds rise up to meet it, caressing the cheeks of the town’s residents.

San Juan Coatzóspam is a fertile town. It is nestled amidst lush mountain forests, enormous trees hanging with Spanish moss, wilderness that threatens to overtake the small plot of land occupied by the town and reclaim it for Nature.

San Juan Coatzóspam is one of the few places on earth that have the right climate for growing coffee. Just high enough to sustain the fickle plants that produce the high-quality “Arabica” beans. Cool enough for the shade-grown coffee plants to survive and be productive.

San Juan Coatzóspam is far from the concerns of modern urban life. For most of its existence, this rural village has been separated from the dangers of city life—drug addiction, street crime, gangs, alcoholism, family violence, divorce, homelessness, poverty—by a thick veil of mountains and jungle. For most of its existence, Coatzóspam has been a self-sustaining community.

San Juan Coatzóspam is even insulated from mainstream Mexican culture. Many people in Coatzóspam, to this day, do not even speak the Spanish language. The community is inhabited by Mixtec indigenous people. The Mixtecs have lived on this American continent for thousands of years. They have their own language, their own culture, their own traditions, their own way of perceiving the world, the heavens, society, the economy, the natural world around them. The Mixtec way of life predates the Hispanic and Anglo cosmologies by millennia.

And San Juan Coatzóspam is a ghost town.

Ever since 1994 when the North American Free Trade Agreement—NAFTA—was signed, the Mixtec indigenous community of San Juan Coatzóspam saw a sudden evacuation of its people. This is a town where, just a generation ago, people stuck together to farm each others’ gardens and coffee fields.

Now, most people leave and go work somewhere else.

Why would anyone leave such a beautiful place? The answer lies in global neoliberal economics. The answer lies in worldwide economic policies that have drained Coatzóspam, and thousands of towns like it across Mexico, of their lifeblood.

The answer lies in the same policies that create migration all across the continent, that force people to leave their home communities and look for their livelihood elsewhere. The same policies, the same global forces that push people to leave beautiful communities like Coatzóspam, are also the policies that have created violence and brutality in other places.

In Coatzóspam, as in the rest of this continent of Las Américas, migration, trade and brutality go hand in hand. 

This article is part of a series, “Migration, Trade and Brutality: A Journey through Mexico and Central America”, written by David Schmidt regarding his travels in Summer 2012. David is a volunteer with World Relief Garden Grove serving all of Southern California.

David Schmidt is a freelance writer and multi-lingual translator in San Diego, CA. He is a proponent of immigrants' rights and fair trade, and works with worker-owned coops in Mexico to help them develop alternative, fair sources of income. He can be contacted at

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