A “Window to Better Money”
From under the brim of a straw cowboy hat, a rebel campesino looked up at the delegation of students and teachers that had come to his community in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico, to learn about rebel autonomy. “We are in resistance,” he declared. “We were obligated to rise up for liberty, democracy, dignity for the world. But the government doesn’t want to recognize the indigenous.” I sat on a wooden bench at the back, observing and making notes. His words echoing in my ears, I flipped back to my notes from a few days prior. I had spoken with another group of campesinos/as about rebel autonomous health promotion. Discussing efforts to maintain healthy communities required a conversation about resistance. The group explained to me that the official government (called the “bad government” by rebel campesinos/as) works to destabilize their endeavors. “This is the war of five hundred years, the attack on the indigenous peoples.”
Spoken days apart, these statements capture the daily vocabulary of indigenous Maya corn and coffee producers who strive to maintain their ways of life and their livelihoods in a local, regional, and global context that delegitimizes such practices and renders them invisible. In the highlands, daily agricultural acts of cultivating corn and coffee are acts of resistance. These are people who self-identify as peasants (campesinos/as) and have been fighting for land and access to resources for centuries. Agricultural production is part of larger autonomy struggles in the highlands. In attempting to maintain their livelihoods as subsistence cultivators, they undertake a number of strategies, and many of these producers cultivate coffee under fair trade certification.
These small producers are not unique, as many peasants worldwide deploy a range of activities beyond those of subsistence. Yet, the livelihood strategies put into practice by rebel campesinos/as differ from those of their contemporaries. Peasants around the world are increasingly drawn into state processes and capitalist relations, for example, receiving subsidies or other cash payment programs from the government, selling their labor, or relying on cyclical migration and the substantial remittance economy. Rebel campesinos/as, on the other hand, mostly eschew these strategies and have renegotiated economic and state relations through cooperative production, global networking, and struggling for autonomy. While there are many sites of cooperative production, in the highlands, coffee cultivation for the fair trade marketplace represents a key site where local and global forces meet. It was this pivot point that first brought me to Chiapas, where I asked questions about how actors participating in social movements, who had declared autonomy from the state and deployed their production practices as sites of resistance, had harnessed the fair trade marketplace.
Fair Trade Rebels is a book about campesinos/as in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico, attempting to create dignified livelihoods. It is about struggle, and difference, and recognition. At the center of this story are local struggles that are interceded by connections to global networks. A core function of these networks is providing spaces of knowledge exchange and solidarity. While fair trade certification is premised on creating commodity trading relations tied to a price floor, a premium for economic improvement, and standards for sustainable production and community development, its character is changed in this place.
The title Fair Trade Rebels speaks to a specific community of people—not bound by borders—and a set of autonomous agricultural practices that facilitate resistance to state processes and capitalist relations. The very existence of this community of people rebels against narratives that seek to explain peasant–state and/or peasant–capitalist relations. Indeed, pro-economic development discourses would describe fair trade certified production as providing better access to commodity markets and fair prices, yet this explanation is limiting when trying to understand the practices of campesinos/as in the highlands. Similar to their contemporaries, they do access fair trade as a market and relate to it as a price, yet for some, fair trade provides the possibility of telling a story, not just about capitalist relations, but about community relations and the ongoing struggle of indigenous peoples in their “five-hundred-year struggle.” To better understand this struggle and where fair trade fits (or not), I am not asking if fair trade works, but instead I ask how it is understood and practiced in the context of resistance. The findings detailed in this book demonstrate that the production of coffee for the fair trade marketplace both complements and complicates the diverse practices and struggles of indigenous rebel campesinos/as. I highlight this crucial point here because this is not a struggle that pits subsistence against neoliberalism, or the so-called binary of traditional versus modern; it is a struggle to live well while making visible indigenous knowledges and practices.
Although development interventions in the twentieth century highlighted the struggles of marginalized peoples worldwide, the struggles of indigenous peoples stretch across a long history of forced assimilation, otherization, and invisibilization. Indeed, as the end of the Mayan calendar approached in 2012, many popular accounts discussed the Mayan people in past tense, despite their continued existence across the Americas. It is impossible to understand the statement made by the indigenous Mayan campesino in resistance at the opening of this book regarding the “war of five hundred years,” without establishing its basis in the encubrimiento of the Americas and the creation of “Indios.”
Prior to the arrival of the conquistadores in the Americas in 1492 and the 1500s, there were no “Indians” in Latin America (Mignolo 2002). Through the conquest, racial constructions were imposed on the indigenous population, simultaneously creating Europe’s “other” and distinguishing between the conqueror and the conquered. The creation of narratives of racialized/naturalized difference was utilized as a structure that tied people of diverse origins and belief systems to particular economic statuses that allowed for labor exploitation and dispossession (Quijano 2008). Such narratives of naturalized difference served to maintain the legitimacy of occupation and subjugation of the peoples of what became the Americas (Quijano 2008). The construction of race created new identities for these peoples—as “Indio”—and indigenous identities fell under European cultural, economic, and epistemological hegemony. The conquest also marked, not what has been long hailed as the descubrimiento (discovery) of the Americas, but the encubrimiento (covering over) or negation of the “dignity and identity of the other cultures” (Dussel 1995, 66). The elevation of the European and invisibilization of the non-European is the foundation of the five-hundred-year war on indigenous practices and ways of knowing and understanding the world.
In October 1992, the quincentennial anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the Americas was celebrated. At the same time, an indigenous-led protest against five hundred years of oppression was staged throughout Mexico (Stephen 2002, 136–41). Both events point to the underlying issue of the fundamental exclusion of indigenous identities, economies, and knowledges in Mexico and made public this long-standing exclusion and desires for recognition. These moments were climactic events that raised questions about the continued celebration of the encubrimiento of the Americas and violence against indigenous peoples and set the stage for a long-fomenting rebellion in Mexico.
On January 1, 1994, as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into force, the social movement and rebel group Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (Zapatista Army of National Liberation, EZLN) staged a public uprising in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. Armed and wearing masks, the indigenous Mayan rebels revealed themselves for the first time—on what became a world stage—through the seizure of town centers and the occupation of land in the highlands and the eastern part of the state. Most visible was their seizure of city hall in the former colonial seat of San Cristóbal de las Casas. Their declaration of war, as announced in the “First Declaration of the Lacandón Jungle” (1993), was a proclamation of the continued existence and subjugation of indigenous peoples in the Americas:
We are a product of 500 years of struggle: first against slavery, then during the War of Independence against Spain led by insurgents, then to avoid being absorbed by North American imperialism, then to promulgate our constitution and expel the French empire from our soil, and later the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz denied us the just application of the Reform laws and the people rebelled and leaders like Villa and Zapata emerged, poor men just like us. We have been denied the most elemental preparation so they can use us as cannon fodder and pillage the wealth of our country. They don’t care that we have nothing, absolutely nothing, not even a roof over our heads, no land, no work, no health care, no food nor education. Nor are we able to freely and democratically elect our political representatives, nor is there independence from foreigners, nor is there peace or justice for ourselves and our children.
But today, we say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.
On November 7, 2016, the National Indigenous Congress in Mexico together with the EZLN agreed to put forth an indigenous woman candidate for the 2018 presidential race (Zibechi 2016). In a communiqué released by the EZLN, Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano stated that the purpose of running the candidate was not to seek power but to dismantle it from below: “we make a call to construct peace and justice reweaving ourselves from below, from where we are what we are” (Zibechi 2016). Part of the ongoing struggle of indigenous social movements in Chiapas is to retain their visibility not just as rebels seeking autonomy but also as agents of change.
In the two decades that have passed since the uprising of the Zapatistas, Chiapas has changed. It has also in many ways stayed the same. For example, paved roads facilitate the transfer of goods, people, and military supplies, connecting communities in the highlands to municipal seats and the city of San Cristóbal de las Casas. At the same time, the indigenous communities that populate the landscape continue to cultivate corn and coffee and struggle from their long-standing and present position in racialized hierarchies. Although the discourses and practices of resistance take many shapes for rebel campesinos/as, they remain sedimented in communities as the struggle continues (Naylor 2017a; see also Nelson 2003). This existence is the struggle of five hundred years, the struggle of indigenous peoples to be visible and to be met where they are.
Campesinos/as in Resistance
Fair Trade Rebels focuses in on the mundane and everyday acts of the people who make up this struggle, the indigenous campesinos/as in resistance. It is not focused on the rebellion or the Zapatista movement but on the actors who embody the struggle set forth and who were propelled forward in the watershed moment of 1994 and continue today. The resistance is made up of actors who may support any number of movements, including the Zapatistas, and also solidarity movements within and beyond highland Chiapas; this group includes Zapatistas and their support base members who are adherents to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandón Jungle as well as members of Sociedad Civil Las Abejas, who are in solidarity with the Zapatistas but are a distinct pacifist group. Because my analysis focuses not on a social movement but instead on a community of people who embody the struggle, I collectively refer to these actors as “campesinos/as in resistance.” This moniker, along with “fair rebels,” allows me to discuss a heterogeneous group of people who have similar strategies but are not all part of the same mobilizations, place-based communities, or coffee cooperatives. I use the term resistance for two reasons: first and foremost because campesinos/as refer to themselves as being “in resistance,” and second, because, as Fair Trade Rebels will show, there are many ways of knowing and understanding resistance, and indigenous knowledges and practices help to shed light on this. Campesinos/as additionally refer to themselves as socios, which indicates their membership in coffee cooperatives; I use this term to refer specifically to those participants who are producing coffee. In Fair Trade Rebels, the focus is on those campesinos/as (peasants, as they self-identify) who are struggling to put autonomous resistance as well as the political and rights discourses made visible by the Zapatista rebellion into practice through maintaining agricultural production for subsistence and also shade-grown coffee for the fair trade marketplace.
Over the past century, the re-formation of peasant identities and diverse livelihoods in Mexico has taken shape alongside demands for recognition, local autonomy, and efforts to build global solidarity networks. In Chiapas State, campesinos/as have long observed economic development practices, which are concentrated on “modernizing” rural areas. However, these investments are less concerned with improving resource access for the peasantry and have more to do with capturing rural resources for a wealthy rural minority and a growing urban populace. Hydroelectric projects that disrupted water and foodways were accompanied by electrical lines that ran, not to peasant homes, but over their communities, providing services to a distant urban population. Oil exploration and drilling, deforestation, cattle grazing, oil palm cultivation, and violence (to name a few) displaced peasants from their areas of production. State reorganization around neoliberal principles changed the mechanisms available to peasants for accessing land while also reducing price supports for basic commodities, which fundamentally changed their livelihoods. In these processes and practices, the state forgot who these peasants are.
Access to land and agricultural resources is a long-standing demand of indigenous people in the region and remains a key issue that shapes contemporary political identities in highland Chiapas. Even today, land (and agricultural support) remains unevenly distributed, with the vast majority of lands owned by wealthy individuals and corporations or through the consolidation of newly titled PROCEDE (Programa de Certificación de Derechos Ejidales y Titulación de Solares; Program for the Certification of Ejido Land Rights and the Titling of Urban House Plots) lands, which I will discuss in more depth in chapter 2. Historically, the cry of Emiliano Zapata for “Land and Liberty” in the Mexican Revolution (1910–20) very much represented the landless peasant population (Stephen 2002). In 1930, 4 percent of landowners controlled 67 percent of arable land in Chiapas, and only 3 percent of land was cultivated communally; by 2000, with land reform and land redistribution, 33 percent was held privately and 57 percent was communal land holdings (with 10 percent allocated to national parks and urban areas) (Bobrow-Strain 2007, 136). Thus land reform became an important and hard-won feature of the 1917 Constitution, and although uneven, land redistribution midcentury had the effect of breaking down some large landholdings and redistributing them in Chiapas. Yet there were long delays in gaining access to land that could not be overcome by state–indigenous clientelism (see Bobrow-Strain 2004), and by the time of the Zapatista uprising in 1994, unmet land claims totaled more than one million hectares in Chiapas (Harvey 1998, 216). Indeed, the consolidation of power by the state in the post-Revolutionary period led to an estrangement between indigenous groups and the state (Rus 1994).
Another important event took place in 1992 that demonstrated the long-standing rupture of indigenous relations with the state: the decision of the government to amend Article 27 of the 1917 Constitution, ending land redistribution and calling for the titling/privatization of existing landholdings. An indigenous-led protest against Article 27 reform and the impending approval of NAFTA was held in Ocosingo, Chiapas, in January 1992. However, by the end of 1992, NAFTA was moving forward, and so was dissent in Chiapas. And here were the murmurings of resistance and rebellion that would later be shouted in January 1994.
The discourses of resistance that are embodied by campesinos/as and sedimented in communities in the highlands of Chiapas emerge from social movement foundations that can be traced back to indigenous organizing in the 1970s. Early efforts by indigenous groups were primarily focused on demanding access to government services (e.g., infrastructure, markets, controlled prices, land). The lack of government response to repeated demands led many to begin working with guerilla groups, and in 1980, the EZLN was formed (Stephen 2002, 134; on the origins and split from the FLN [Fuerzas de Liberación Nacional; National Liberation Forces], see Cedillo 2012). The organization of the EZLN and their members’ military training were clandestine. EZLN campaigns for membership in the southeast and the highlands took on the more innocuous form of health and literacy programs (Stephen 2002, 134); as a result of this focus, young people, and women in particular, were recruited for armed training outside of the highlands. These campaigns in the 1980s were critical to the early success of the group. However, the collapse of coffee prices in 1989 was perhaps the most important moment of recruitment for the EZLN (Collier and Quaratiello 2005; Martínez-Torres 2006; Stephen 2002); as communities began to feel acutely the loss of income from coffee production, more and more campesinos/as started secretly to participate in the EZLN.
In the years of formation, recruitment, and training, the EZLN had as their base the southeastern rainforest. At the same time, other groups took shape elsewhere. In the highlands, indigenous groups continued to experience political and economic injustice, insecure land tenure, and conflicts over land. In 1992, in response to the imbalance of gendered land ownership and a particular incident of violence against women seeking land, representatives from a number of communities in the official highland municipality of Chenalhó formed a coalition to defend women’s rights to land (Tavanti 2003, 4) and to protest the violence. The group called themselves Las Abejas, and they quickly merged with Sociedad Civil, a pacifist group established as part of the Catholic dioceses’ peace process. Together, they adopted a nonviolent approach to supporting the Zapatista rebellion and took the name Sociedad Civil Las Abejas (Civil Society of the Bees, which I will refer to as Las Abejas) to symbolize their collective work and spiritual identity (Moksnes 2012; see also Nash 2001; Tavanti 2003). Unlike the EZLN, Las Abejas were not clandestine in their struggle. Shortly after their formation in December 1992, the group participated in a nonviolent protest march from the highland town of Yabteclum to the valley city of San Cristóbal de las Casas.
These two groups—the Zapatistas and Las Abejas—are populated by indigenous peoples. In the highlands, these indigenous people are first and foremost corn and coffee producers. These social movement actors take on roles within the resistance alongside their everyday activities as subsistence and fair trade coffee producers. At the same time, these campesinos/as are the living, breathing embodiment of the struggle. Fair Trade Rebels is about how the struggle and resistance set in motion by social movements are written into the landscape and onto the bodies of the campesinos/as who support them. These are the campesinos/as in resistance. These are the fair rebels.
“A Window to Better Money”
Why fair rebels? Campesinos/as in resistance cultivate coffee for the fair trade market, but their identities and politics are not defined by fair trade certification. As noted earlier, campesinos/as who participate in social movements in the highlands refer to themselves as “in resistance,” and this resistance is a defining characteristic of their everyday lives as campesinos/as. As part of their struggle, they demand a fairer price for the goods that they sell in the marketplace. In the case of coffee, this is tied to production for certification. Certified coffee from Zapatista and Las Abejas cooperatives is branded and sold in U.S. markets as “peace” or “rebel” coffee. Yet, when asked about the benefits of fair trade certification, campesinos/as in resistance often shrug. Throughout the highlands, fair trade is considered comercio más justo, “more-fair trade” (as in more fair than free trade), but as one campesino explained, “it’s a window to better money.” This depiction is not necessarily tied to quantity (as in more money) but is qualitatively different, connected instead to a consistent buyer, their social movement practices, and their stories, which are shared through wide-ranging networks. It is these experiences and perspectives that form the foundation of the analysis in the chapters that follow. In this analysis, I demonstrate that the case of fair rebels provides an opening for thinking about fair trade differently.
Campesinos/as in the highlands have been growing coffee since the 1960s and 1970s, when it was introduced by the National Indigenous Institute as a solution to poverty in rural areas (Martínez-Torres 2006, 53), a history I will discuss in more depth in chapter 2. Prior to the collapse of the International Coffee Agreement (ICA) in 1989 and the dismantling of the state coffee agency, the Mexican Coffee Institute (INMECAFE), producers and cooperatives had a consistent buyer and price expectations. The collapse of the ICA coupled with neoliberal restructuring in Mexico had a significant impact on coffee producers in the highlands, who had to rely on the meager and fluctuating payments offered by intermediaries (coyotes) for their coffee beans. Following the 1994 uprising and the declaration that they would not interact with the Mexican state, a number of Zapatista-affiliated coffee producers in the highlands split off from existing cooperatives to form their own. Consistent with the requests of the Zapatista-aligned cooperatives with which I worked, I will not use the names, specific locations, or any other identifying details of these cooperatives. The cooperative of Las Abejas, called Maya Vinic (Mayan Man), was also established through splitting from existing cooperatives and through forming economic relations based on solidarity. Consistent with the demands of Las Abejas for peace and justice, and at the request of the leadership of the cooperative, I use the name of their cooperative and make visible their places of production to create a new space for their stories. The formation of cooperatives and, later, the introduction of fair trade certification created opportunities for producer cooperatives to partner with buyers, lock in a stable price each season, and activate their politics in new ways.
Fair trade, put simply, is simultaneously constituted by movements and a market that are designed to provide secure market access and commodity prices for marginalized producers. It has been hailed by scholars and practitioners as a panacea for impoverished rural populations and damned within the same groups as a neoliberal solution to a neoliberal problem. Fair trade is evaluated as a development fix in impoverished communities and assessed as to whether it is working for producers. The purpose of this book is not to test the successes and failures of the fair trade market but to look at fair trade differently as a site of exchange and to examine how it is practiced by campesinos/as in resistance as part of a broader and diverse political-economic approach in their struggle. In the highlands, the harnessing of the fair trade market is just one of many strategies used by campesinos/as in resistance in their efforts to maintain their lives and livelihoods while building livable worlds.
If we read fair trade as a “window” for campesinos/as in resistance, we can begin to imagine multiple vantage points. Certification is a “window to better money,” yet it is also a window on the world, which allows us to ask questions about who opens and/or closes this window and how the view differs looking from the inside out and the outside in. The sale of coffee on the fair trade market is not just about selling coffee; it is about creating connections beyond the highlands and building new nodes in the network of resistance that flows through the highlands. Fair Trade Rebels tells the story of a place, but it is not a static, local account of the highlands and campesinos/as in resistance. Investigating fair trade certification in the highlands provides an entry point for considering diverse localized political and economic initiatives that are practiced by campesinos/as in resistance and how they channel political and economic practices that are global in scale. Indeed, the engagement with the fair trade marketplace by campesinos/as in resistance is an example of the local working with and against the global. However, the focus here is not on an isolated local “alternative” that makes a difference only in the lives of the immediate actors. This story is about the transformative possibilities of power “from below.” Moreover, this power is not contained within a hierarchy that stretches from local to global but instead trespasses scale, creating, and threading through, communities of people.
Situating Fair Rebels
As Mora (2008, 2017) notes, research in Chiapas is politically charged, a situation that creates particular possibilities and constraints that must be negotiated by researchers and research participants alike:
During the last fifteen years in Chiapas, scientific research has been forced to reformulate how studies are conducted. Debates on autonomy and self-determination, as part of zapatismo [sic] and prior to the uprising, have generated concrete effects in the ways in which members of indigenous communities accept or do not accept how research is implemented. (Mora 2008, 56)
Chiapas was and remains an area that receives intensive scholarly attention. In an investigation of ethnographies conducted in indigenous communities in Chiapas, Rus (2004) argues that the dominant narrative of Chiapas was driven by a particular group of scholars (the Harvard Chiapas Project begun by Evon Vogt in 1957) and, until the 1970s, was propelled by desire to understand the origins and descent of the contemporary Maya from their ancestors. Moreover, the vast majority of these anthropological studies used one location, Zinacantán, an atypical, closed indigenous community, as the focal point of research; Rus notes that it was the Zapatista rebellion that forced a change in the way people produced knowledge about indigenous peasant populations in Chiapas.
There is a long intellectual history of (mostly white) outsiders debating the extent to which Chiapaneco livelihoods are capitalist—in this case, Fair Trade Rebels is an intervention in not conducting a litmus test for capitalist imaginaries but instead examining economic diversity. Much of the analysis presented throughout the book seeks to account for the complex political and economic terrains that campesinos/as in the highlands have to navigate on a day-to-day basis to build livable worlds while earning a livelihood in a society structured around neoliberal principles that discourage such practices. Elaborating the philosophical, ethical, and practical dimensions of the methodology employed in this work turns our awareness to these power-laden social terrains and considers the production of knowledge more deeply. Research is performative, and seeing knowledges as multiple and diverse is one possibility for changing our thinking about the world, which in itself can be world changing (see Gibson-Graham 2008). Beyond conducting research and analysis, a diverse economies framing (such as the one used in this book, described more in chapter 1) is invested in constructing (and performing) livable worlds (Gibson-Graham and Roelvink 2009). These knowledges and practices are not uncovered by research but are performed relationally and in place.
It is essential to state going forward in this book that I am not only privileged to be writing it and making attempts to perform livable worlds but to have been able to conduct the research that is at its foundation. As Faria and Mollett (2016) argue, there is a particular mobility of whiteness in the field. They also identify a structural advantage in the production of knowledge, where its workings are normalized and less visible yet continuously privileged (Faria and Mollett 2016, 81; see also Kobayashi and Peake 1994). This privilege, among other important considerations, made it critical for me to evaluate my position in this research. Consistent with the argument of Lugones and Spelman (1983) that providing an autobiography does not serve to fully acknowledge my position or provide me with a disclaimer, I attempt instead to analyze the system within which I am conducting research (see also Alcoff 1992, 25). Since the late 1980s, feminist and poststructural epistemologies have assisted with decentering the positivist tradition in research and the so-called unbiased researcher through the promotion of reflexive and self-critical examination (cf. England 1994). Feminist geopolitical scholars in particular have attempted to move away from “disembodied” geopolitical analyses by resituating knowledge and a relational ethics in research (Hyndman 2004, 309; see also Routledge 2002; Sparke 2000), and decolonial feminist scholars work to move beyond collaborative and participatory knowledge production to co-production of knowledge, something Hernández Castillo (2016, 38) articulates as epistemic dialogues. As Walsh recognizes, producing knowledge remains a struggle; quoting Anzaldúa (2015), Walsh writes, “How to write (produce) without being inscribed (reproduced) in the dominant white structure and how to write without reinscribing and reproducing what we rebel against” is a dilemma in showing how “decoloniality happens” (Mignolo and Walsh 2018, 20–21).
Research is decidedly not a neutral practice (Alcoff 1992; see also Stephen 2013). As such, I attempt here not only to recognize my positionality but to put into practice self-reflexivity (see Rose 1997; Routledge 2002). However, I am wary of falling into the trap of simply locating myself and exposing my bias so that I can “discover truths” (Pratt 2000). Instead, in positioning and representing myself and others within this research, I recognize that there are many truths and that what is recorded in Fair Trade Rebels is not a version of truth but a situated knowledge (see Haraway 1988, 1991), a pluralistic interpretation of something that can be understood in many different ways and that does not fully escape the myriad relations of power at work. It is not only my position as researcher and participant in the research that is at stake, however; there is also the issue of representation, which has been long contested (cf. Ortner 1995; Spivak 1988).
Within and beyond the research period, I attempted to create a measure of accountability to both participants and their ways of knowing and understanding the ideas under discussion (cf. Alcoff 1992; Newdick 2012; Stephen 2013) through a dialogic cycle of sharing ideas, questions, and hopes about the research with participants. As Newdick (2012, 27) pointed out in her work with Zapatista women, working through collective processes creates a space for accountability even as the tensions and contradictions in everyday life and practice are considered. Consistent with the effort toward collective process, a number of my interviews took place with groups of campesinos/as, where instead of having a list of questions to be answered, we discussed the broader questions of my research, which participants questioned and dissected and, in many cases, collectively answered. As an example, on one day, I met with four socios (members of a fair trade cooperative) to discuss their production for the fair trade marketplace. I started by asking if they had any questions for me or about my research, which led to a lengthy discussion in Tzotzil that was then translated into Spanish by one socio. There was a question of what I thought about their coffee production and the price. As a result, we discussed different perceptions of price—for the cooperative, for the socios, for the buyer, and especially for the people purchasing coffee in the United States. In this conversation, the participants were less interested in my questions about fair trade (as they noted comercio más justo) than in discussing the changes in price and what a good price would be for them. Their desires to talk about price changed the way I asked questions about their participation in fair trade. Having entered the highlands with questions about resistance and market-based production as they related to autonomy and fair trade, the focus on price forced me to start from a place where fair trade exists not just as an intervention but as an income. It was not enough to theorize participation in just one way—as an income-earning strategy, or a form of resistance, or a network of actors, for example; fair trade participation had to be theorized as multiple. The research stage of this project provided opportunities for dialogue and for consistently rethinking and reframing fair trade, the questions I asked, and the considerations I was making.
Dialogue is a task not as easily accomplished at my desk in the United States as I attempt to write “in” (Mansvelt and Berg 2016), in a way that provides some transparency regarding who I am and how I am trying to present the knowledges built in and through this project. Part of this process is reading the geopolitics of knowledge onto my own efforts to produce knowledge in an effort to decolonize it (see Castro-Gómez and Mendieta 1998). Race is a powerful force in the (geo)politics of knowledge production, and it profoundly shapes the lived experience of research. It is not enough to explain racialization; we must also discuss how it is continuously enacted (Faria and Mollett 2016). It is critical to recognize these relations of power and also to adopt perspectives that not only acknowledge power dynamics but, as Hernández Castillo (2016, 39) argues, “demand the rights of indigenous peoples to their own culture and to self-determination.” My efforts to develop and enact this research in collaboration with a variety of actors in the highlands of Chiapas do not absolve my ongoing privilege rooted in my ability to move in and out of communities and the region more broadly at will and to take with me the stories and interpretations of autonomy, resistance, fair trade, and so on, of the participants in my research. It does, however, represent an effort to destabilize “normalized” perspectives and knowledge (see Faria and Mollett 2016). In these acknowledgments of my professional and embodied privilege, I seek not simply to reflect on my position but to mobilize it as a way toward a deeper understanding of power imbalances in research and activism and to use this book as a platform to vocalize a deconstruction (and decolonization) of the geopolitics of knowledge and visibilize indigenous knowledges, rights, and futurities.
The analysis presented in this book is drawn from a larger research study centered on fair trade production and autonomous resistance (Naylor 2017a, 2017c). In the process of documenting, observing, and conducting interviews about autonomy and agricultural production, I found that the narratives of fair trade did not map onto self-declared autonomous communities nor campesinos/as in resistance very easily. As campesinos/as in resistance seek multiple strategies to build livable worlds, I argue that fair trade production both fits into and complicates their efforts. The exchange of coffee in the fair trade marketplace and participating in movements to make trade fairer allow campesinos/as in resistance to expand their community to transnational scales, bring in cash income, build solidarity and knowledge-exchange networks, diversify their livelihood strategies, maintain a crop (coffee) in which they have invested for decades, and retain the visibility of their social movement politics and demands for rights and recognition. However, through their participation in the fair trade certification process, campesinos/as in resistance are additionally exposed to a project of development that seeks to enfold them into capitalist logics and make them into “rational economic actors”—producers and cooperatives are subject to standards for production and community development that do not fit into their broader struggles and livelihood strategies. The interaction of fair rebels with the transnational fair trade marketplace adds another dimension to these struggles. Here I offer a place-based approach to thinking about fair trade, autonomy, and economic development, asking, what is fair trade, who is it for, and who gets to decide?
Fair Trade Rebels provides an empirically grounded analysis of the diverse economic and agricultural practices of indigenous campesinos/as as they play out in self-declared autonomous communities in highland Chiapas; such practices are enacted by campesinos/as in resistance who are struggling for dignified livelihoods. This introduction is intended to provide context and a background for understanding fair trade in rebel Chiapas. Although the book draws on stories and experiences coming from the highlands of Chiapas, it is also grounded in a discussion of the nodes of the fair trade network, which necessitates a more zoomed-out approach. In chapter 1, I delve more deeply into the theoretical foundations for the book, drawing out how fair trade is understood in the broader context of economic development and creating a space for a more nuanced analysis of how fair trade is harnessed by fair rebels. Chapter 2 provides the historical backdrop for the cultivation of coffee and is an investigation of the standards for certification and their impact on the lives and livelihoods of campesinos/as in resistance. To understand how fair trade certification functions, the dominant narratives of fair trade are discussed in chapter 3. In this discussion, I examine the broader fair trade system, underscoring the divergence of movements for fairer trade and the so-called alternative certified market. This apolitical framing of an alternative economy is taken up and addressed in the context of the struggle of campesinos/as in resistance.
Standards for certification and development that are tied to fair trade coffee production are only one side of the coin; on the other side is the social justice activism that is concerned with breaking down the structural conditions that create and maintain unequal trading relations in the world. The activism and solidarity tied to movements for fairer trade are the basis for the analysis in chapter 4, in which I discuss the network that extends from the highlands and into the United States. A specific emphasis on the connections between the producer cooperatives and the roasting cooperatives assists with illuminating different sites of solidarity along the nodes of the fair trade network and possibilities of being in common. While the network in fair trade coffee production extends from the homes of coffee growers in the highlands to the homes of coffee drinkers in the United States, an important part of this discussion is questioning such narrowed economic identities and rethinking, how are we to live well? In chapter 5, I address the practices and processes of making livable worlds through a deeper discussion of economic difference in the highlands. Specifically, I investigate how campesinos/as in resistance are cultivating actually existing food sovereignty as part of a diverse livelihood strategy that is at all times based in maintaining autonomy. Here a deeper look at the performance of diverse economies grounds the discussion. Finally, in the conclusion, I come back to the questions around fair trade coffee in the highlands and how it functions as part of diverse and changing economies being enacted by fair rebels, economies that stand apart from the universalizing tendencies of capitalist-style economic development.
I was fortunate to visit the highlands of Chiapas on multiple occasions to be a part of the broader community cultivated by fair rebels. Over many cups of coffee, the multiple and competing experiences of campesinos/as in resistance became more visible to me. I offer here a situated knowledge from a snapshot in time and place of the ongoing struggle of fair rebels to create dignified livelihoods and livable worlds.
I took the photograph in Figure 3 toward the end of July 2010, in the rebel autonomous territory of Oventik, which is administered by the Zapatistas. It was a warm and sunny day in the highlands, and while waiting for a meeting to begin, I sat under the shade of a staircase. Looking up, the staircase revealed to me its message. There are a number of murals in the rebel territories of Chiapas, which are populated by fair rebels. They are evidence of the solidarity relations in which the Zapatistas (in particular) participate, as many murals are painted by outsiders. There are murals about education, about the violence of the state, about resistance, about creating new worlds, and about corn. This one was about capitalism and may have been painted by students, by supporters of the Zapatistas living in Mexico, or even by activists from Europe or the United States.
I was in Oventik to meet with the leadership of a fair trade coffee cooperative. While I sat and thought about the monster of capitalism and its many heads, I tried to understand where fair trade fit. Was it a way to slay the monster? Or was it just a different beast (or a new little head on the existing monster)? What did the farmers think? How did it fit with their self-declared alter-capitalist politics and autonomy?
In our meeting that afternoon, we did talk about capitalism. We also talked about economies, and about the price of coffee. Fair trade is part of a multipronged strategy for cultivating dignified livelihoods in the highlands, but it is not able to be simplified to the growing and sale of coffee for farmers in resistance. Instead, it is a messy and entangled site of negotiation and contestation tied to broader social, political, and economic identities.
I realized much later that capitalism portrayed as a monster means so much more than the violence of profit. Trying to think about where fair trade fit was not really part of the project of “breaking the monster.” How then to think about both the monster and fair trade economic interactions?
For in this mural, at the very center of the monster is a heart.