Tag Archives: central america

Hit by climate change, Central American coffee growers get a taste for cocoa

Farmer Abelardo Ayala took a tough decision on his estate in San Juan Tepezontes, a traditional coffee-producing region of El Salvador: to swap his coffee trees for cocoa as a warming climate hit his crop.

Ayala said his plantation — situated between 600 and 1,000 metres (1,969-3,281 feet) above sea level in the south-central department of La Paz — had been ideal for growing coffee. But with rising temperatures, production became difficult.

In the last four years, recurring drought, a plague of coffee borer beetles, and other problems linked to climate shifts put his coffee plantation on the ropes.

The farmer tried sowing varieties resistant to a widespread fungus called roya (coffee rust), which affects the leaves and harms bean production, but that failed to protect his harvest.

In low-lying areas, many producers have abandoned their crops, or sold their land to urban developers.

But Ayala started to study the benefits of cocoa, including its low cost of production, good price on international markets, and environmental value such as protecting water basins and wildlife.

“People here are starting to cultivate cocoa in zones where before there was coffee,” the farmer told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Drought and climate change are making it impossible to work with coffee, so we produce cocoa now.”

Mexico and Central America, which together produce one fifth of the world’s Arabica coffee beans, have been hit hard by roya and the volatility of coffee prices in the last few years.

“The situation has led many producers to change from coffee to cocoa. It is happening step by step,” said Nicaraguan farmer Luis Moreno, referring to growers in Jinotega department, one of the country’s principal coffee regions.

“Where they have coffee, they get a harvest and then take out (the plant) – so now they are left only with cocoa cultivation,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


Moreno is technical coordinator for the People’s Community Action Association (APAC), which has been giving cocoa plants and technical help to small producers since 2014. He says the program has been a success so far.

The farmers find it cheaper to grow cocoa because it needs fewer workers and around 40 percent less investment in inputs than coffee, while international prices are buoyant. “It is more profitable,” Moreno said.

According to VECO, a Belgium-based NGO that works with small-scale farmers in developing countries, Central America has around 25,000 cocoa producers, spread across Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador, growing cocoa on roughly 12,700 hectares (31,382 acres).

VECO estimates cocoa production will expand to around 25,500 hectares in 2019.

“Many studies prove that coffee production will move higher up because of global warming,” said Karen Janssens, regional director of VECO. “For this reason, cocoa could be an alternative for producers whose estates are in lower zones.”


When the Spanish arrived in Mesoamerica in the early 1500s, they observed that indigenous people used cocoa seeds like currency.

Cocoa is a species native to the region, and was cultivated by the Aztec, Mayan and Pipil people until the 19th century when coffee was introduced from Africa, largely replacing cocoa.

Nestor Perez, a member of the Salvadoran National Indigenous Coordinating Council (CCNIS), said indigenous communities began re-introducing cocoa trees on their lands in 2014.

“We can see (this trend) not only from an economic or environmental point of view, but we can also link it with our cultural identity, because our people grew cocoa traditionally,” Perez said.

Indigenous peoples use cocoa to make chocolate, or in ceremonies where they burn cocoa seeds and chocolate in a wood fire to express gratitude to “Mother Earth” for the harvest.

But while cocoa production may be better suited to low altitudes in a warmer world, the writing is not yet on the wall for coffee.

Experts predict farmers will continue to produce coffee in mountainous areas, or adapt the way they cultivate it as the climate changes.

Some coffee producers are making an effort to revive their crop.

Francisco Flores Recinos, for example, has started planting cocoa and other fruit trees among his coffee plants to diversify production on his estate in Jayaque in central El Salvador.

Flores Recinos is growing around 4 hectares of cocoa interspersed with coffee as part of a project supported by the Salvadoran Agriculture Ministry, which is helping more than 300 farmers cope with climate shifts.

“I thought of mixing cocoa and coffee in some areas of my estate where there was water nearby, before roya attacked,” the producer explained.

If his coffee trees do suffer from roya, the profit from his cocoa crop will help cushion any losses, he added.
Reporting by Nelson Renteria; editing by Megan Rowling. Made possible by Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org.

Democrats furious over immigration raids

Congressional Democrats confronted White House officials over holiday-season raids seeking Central American immigrants for deportation, accusing the administration of spreading terror through immigrant communities.

U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois said that President Barack Obama risks all the goodwill he has built up over the last year through his executive actions sparing millions from deportation, actions now tied up in court. And he complained that the administration did not alert congressional allies before conducting the raids, with first became public when The Washington Post published a story about the plans just before Christmas.

Gutierrez and other lawmakers raised those complaints and others during a meeting with administration officials, including Cecilia Munoz, director of the Domestic Policy Council.

“In the Hispanic Caucus there’s a real sense of outrage,” Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez said he pointed out to Munoz that GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, running on an anti-immigrant platform, has praised the raids – and taken credit for them.

“Look, what I said to her is, I said, ‘Think about it a moment. Donald Trump is praising your public policy on immigration. You should need no further evidence of how wrong it is,'” Gutierrez said.

Separately, at a news conference in Las Vegas, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said that he’d contacted the Homeland Security Department “to have them just back off till we can find out a better way to do this.”

A White House spokesman, Peter Boogaard, declined to comment beyond a statement Monday issued by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. In that statement, Johnson said that 121 people with final orders of removal, who had exhausted their legal claims and remedies, had been targeted for removal.

“This should come as no surprise. I have said publicly for months that individuals who constitute enforcement priorities, including families and unaccompanied children, will be removed,” Johnson said.

Despite the small numbers involved Democrats say the publicity around the holiday-season raids has reverberated throughout immigrant communities. And several of the immigrants have subsequently gotten their removals put on hold, prompting Democrats including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California to argue that they need more lawyers and more help.

“We need to obey our laws. But we also want to, in obeying our laws, make sure that the process is fair to people,” Pelosi said.

The Center for American Progress, traditionally a close administration ally, also released a statement criticizing the raids.

The planned deportations come as administration officials worry about another surge of Central American women, children and families at the southern border as people flee violence and persecution in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. A similar situation consumed the attention of Congress and the administration in the summer of 2014, though Congress never acted on an emergency budget request and policy changes sought by the administration. The crisis subsequently receded from public view as the number of arrivals dropped, but they are back on the rise.

Democrats said administration officials pointed to that increase in justifying the raids.

“This was an announcement to send a message to Central America: Don’t come here,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. “But if your mother, your father and your brother have just been murdered, the message is not going to do it and that is the problem.” 

States where immigrant children are released

States with established Central American immigrant communities have received the most unaccompanied children released to sponsors this year after they were arrested at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Here’s a state-by-state breakdown of the 30,340 who have been released through July 7:

Alabama: 407

Alaska: 5

Arizona: 186

Arkansas: 166

California: 3,150

Colorado: 221

Connecticut: 325

Delaware: 117

District of Columbia: 187

Florida: 3,181

Georgia: 1,154

Hawaii: 8

Idaho: 8

Illinois: 305

Indiana: 245

Iowa: 122

Kansas: 179

Kentucky: 237

Louisiana: 1,071

Maine: 8

Maryland: 2,205

Massachusetts: 773

Michigan: 92

Minnesota: 173

Mississippi: 179

Missouri: 121

Montana: 1

Nebraska: 192

Nevada: 122

New Hampshire: 13

New Jersey: 1,504

New Mexico: 18

New York: 3,347

North Carolina: 1,191

North Dakota: 4

Ohio: 360

Oklahoma: 212

Oregon: 50

Pennsylvania: 386

Rhode Island: 119

South Carolina: 350

South Dakota: 21

Tennessee: 760

Texas: 4,280

Utah: 67

Vermont: 3

Virgin Islands: 4

Virginia: 2,234

Washington: 211

West Virginia: 10

Wisconsin: 50

Wyoming: 6

Source: U.S. Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families.

Feds housing hundreds of migrant minors in makeshift center in Arizona

Officials are working to improve conditions at a makeshift holding center in southern Arizona where immigration authorities are housing hundreds of unaccompanied migrant minors.

A federal official said that mattresses, portable toilets and showers were brought in over the weekend for 700 of the youthful migrants who spent the night sleeping on plastic cots inside the Nogales area center.

The Homeland Security official told The Associated Press that about 2,000 mattresses had been ordered for the center — a warehouse that has not been used to shelter people in years.

With the center lacking some of the basics, federal officials have asked Arizona to immediately ship medical supplies, Gov. Jan Brewer’s spokesman Andrew Wilder said.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security started flying undocumented immigrants to Arizona from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas last month after the number of immigrants — including more than 48,000 children traveling on their own — verwhelmed the Border Patrol there.

Immigrant families were flown from Texas, released in Arizona, and told to report to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement office near where they were traveling within 15 days. ICE has said the immigrants were mostly families from Central America fleeing extreme poverty and violence.

The Homeland Security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because there was no authorization to discuss the matter publicly, said the holding center opened for unaccompanied migrant children because the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had nowhere to turn.

At the holding center, vendors are being contracted to provide nutritional meals, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, meanwhile, will provide counseling services and recreational activities.

The Homeland Security official said the number of children at the warehouse was expected to double to around 1,400. The warehouse has a capacity of about 1,500.

The Arizona Daily Star reported that Jimena Díaz, consul general of Guatemala in Phoenix, visited the center and said there were about 250 children from Guatemala, with the rest coming from El Salvador and Honduras.

Diaz told the newspaper that the children are being kept in separate groups, divided by age and gender. Most of them are between 15 and 17, Diaz said, with a few much younger than that. Teenage mothers with their children are also being detained separately, he said.

The warehouse began sheltering children flown from South Texas in early June. And there are flights scheduled through mid-June.

Federal authorities plan to use the Nogales facility as a way station, where the children will be vaccinated and checked medically. They will then be sent to facilities being set up in Ventura, California; San Antonio, Texas; and Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

Customs and Border Protection in Arizona “is prepared to and expects to continue processing unaccompanied children from South Texas,” said Victor L. Brabble, a spokesman for the agency in Tucson.

The children being held in Nogales are 17 or younger. The official estimated three of every four were at least 16.

Nogales Mayor Arturo Garino visited the facility Saturday, but he did not get inside the site where the children were being held. Garino said he did meet with Border Patrol officials. He was told some of the children are as young as 1 year old.

“I have all the faith in the world as mayor and as a citizen of Nogales that our Border Patrol is doing the best and the most kind and humane thing with the children,” Garino said.

The town has begun collecting clothing donations for the kids, he said.

“Border Patrol has always been good to the city of Nogales, and they work very closely with us,” Garino said. “Now, as a city, we need to help Border Patrol so that they can accomplish their goal of making sure these children are all taken care of.”

Immigration officials can immediately return Mexican immigrants to the border, but they are much more hard-pressed to deal with Central American migrants. The Homeland Security official said that legally, only their parents or guardians can take custody if the government makes the children eligible for release.

Officials in Central America and Mexico have noticed a recent increase in women and children crossing the border. Father Heyman Vazquez, the director of a migrant shelter in Huixtla in the southern Mexico state of Chiapas, said he and others advise children that it’s too dangerous.

Yet Vazquez is seeing more and more youths heading north.

“I remember a little boy of 9 years old and I asked if he was going to go meet someone and he told me `No, I’m just going hand myself over because I hear they help kids,’ ” Vazquez said.

Pastor arrested for aiding mom in kidnapping

A pastor with ties to an anti-gay group was arrested in April for allegedly helping a woman flee the United States with her daughter to avoid turning custody of the child over to her ex-girlfriend.

The pastor, Timothy David Miller, is charged with aiding in the removal of a child from the United States and retaining a child with intent to obstruct parental rights. He was released into the custody of a friend April 25 on $25,000 bond.

Miller was sought by the FBI for allegedly helping Lisa Miller (no relation)  and her 9-year-old daughter travel to Central America. A federal arrest warrant exists for Lisa Miller. Her daughter, Isabella Miller Jenkins, is listed as missing by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins were joined in a civil union in 2000 in Vermont and had a child, but the couple broke up in 2003.

Miller later came out as both ex-gay and born-again. She moved to Virginia, where, with the help of the anti-gay Liberty Counsel, she sought to eliminate Jenkin’s custody rights. In Virginia, Miller won custody but Jenkins received visitation rights.

Meanwhile, in a Vermont court, Jenkin’s was awarded custody. Courts in both states have since ruled in Jenkins’ favor.

In September 2009, Miller and her daughter disappeared.

The FBI maintains that Timothy Miller arranged for the mother and daughter to fly from Toronto to Mexico City, then to El Salvador and on to Managua, where the pastor has connections with Christian Aid Ministries.

The two traveled under false identities, according to the FBI.

An FBI affidavit also alleged that the mother and daughter were hidden in a beach house provided by a businessman associated with Liberty University, the late Rev. Jerry Falwell’s institution.

Liberty University dean and Liberty Counsel chair Matthew Staver said his organization severed ties with Lisa Miller when she fled the country and denied a connection with Timothy Miller.