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The Central American Coffee Commodity Chain  

Mario Samper Kutschbach

Coffee production has been a significant economic activity in Central America since the 19th century, and it has played an important role in shaping social relations, politics, and culture in various ways over time, both within coffee-producing areas and in each country. Coffee continues to be a major export crop, although the region’s economy has diversified, and the prospects of coffee as a commodity and a way of life will influence the fortunes of many in the highland areas of the isthmus. The Central American coffee commodity chain, from planting, care of the coffee groves, and harvesting through transportation, processing, and storage to shipping, roasting, and distribution abroad and within each country, has evolved in response both to internal dynamics and to changes in the world market for coffee and consumer demand, international trading systems, capital flows, and marketing systems. The supply of credit and the exchange of knowledge and information on the market as well as technical expertise and the provision of inputs, genetic material, and equipment have helped shape and reshape this value chain. Farmers’ strategies and cooperative endeavors, as well as local processing, gathering, and storage facilities and financing and regulations, have adapted to changing trends and to market downturns, recoveries, and segmentation. Vertical and horizontal integration of the various links in this chain have also evolved, in ways that differ from one country to another. While historically there has been a trend toward concentration especially in processing and export, there has also been fragmentation and greater involvement of small- or medium-scale producers in cultivation and in primary processing in specific countries or areas. Certain pests and diseases, whose geographical distribution and severity have been related to agro-ecological conditions and practices, have also contributed to modifications in productive systems. Climate change has had increasingly severe short-term impacts on the frequency of extreme events and variability of rainfall and temperature, while warmer average temperatures have begun to affect the altitudinal range of coffee cultivation. There is definitely a future for specific types of Central American coffee, but not necessarily for all current areas, farms, and firms specializing in this tropical product.

Article

Saint Óscar Romero, Liberation Theology, and Human Rights in El Salvador  

Michael Cangemi

Saint Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez (b. Ciudad Barrios, San Miguel, El Salvador, August 15, 1915; d. San Salvador, El Salvador, March 24, 1980) was the seventh Archbishop of San Salvador. During his episcopate (February 22, 1977–March 24, 1980), Romero gained international renown for his human rights activism, advocacy for the poor, and denunciation of El Salvador’s political repression and violence. Romero was one of Latin America’s most influential political and social voices and routinely drew thousands of people to San Salvador’s Metropolitan Cathedral, while his homilies were broadcast across Central America on shortwave radio. In 1978, members of Britain’s Parliament, the United States Congress, and the US press supported Romero’s nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his efforts to halt the economic, political, and social violence that plagued El Salvador and, more broadly, Central America, during the late 1970s. In his final homily, delivered on March 23, 1980, Romero directly addressed members of the Salvadoran military and police forces, “in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression.” The following day, Romero was murdered by Salvadoran government forces while he celebrated Mass at the Church of Divine Providence in San Salvador. His assassination sent shockwaves through Central America, and over one hundred thousand people attended his funeral. In May 2015, Pope Francis beatified Romero and elevated him to sainthood on October 14, 2018.

Article

Digital Resources: Online Finding Aid for the Archivo General de Centro América  

Rosemary A. Joyce and Russell N. Sheptak

The Online Finding Aid for the Archivo General de Centro América will provide increased ways for researchers to identify documents of interest in a widely distributed microfilm copy of this primary resource for the history of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Chiapas (Mexico). The original archive, located in Guatemala, houses approximately 147,000 registered document collections from the colonial period, ranging in date from the 16th century to independence from Spain in 1821. The microfilm copy, composed of almost 4,000 reels of microfilm, is organized according to basic keywords designating the original province in colonial Guatemala, a year, and a subject-matter keyword. Also associated in the basic records of the finding aid (which are already available online) are the reference number assigned each document in the original archive, and the specific reel(s) on which it is found. With funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, enhanced records are being created for documents dating between 1700 and 1821 identified as associated with Guatemala, the administrative heart of the colony, for which there are no published indices. Enhanced records add names of people and places not recorded in the original record, opening up the microfilm collection, and through it, the original archive, to broader social history including studies of the roles of women, indigenous people, and African-descendant people.

Article

Catholics, Evangelicals, and US Policy in Central America  

Michael Cangemi

During the Cold War’s earliest years, right-wing governments and oligarchic elites in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua fostered closer relationships with the Catholic Church. Dictatorial leaders like Guatemala’s Carlos Castillo Armas and dynastic regimes like Nicaragua’s Somoza family regarded the Church as an ally against supposed Marxist influence in the region. Those ties began to fray in the late 1960s, as the Second Vatican Council’s foundational reforms moved Catholicism farther to the political and social left around the globe. This shift was especially prominent in Central America, where Catholics like El Salvador’s Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero and Guatemala’s Father Stanley Rother were among Central America’s most visible critics and reformers as political violence increased across the region during the 1970s. Relatedly, evangelical Protestants, particularly Pentecostal groups based in the United States, flooded Central America throughout that decade. Their staunch anticommunism and established ties to influential policymakers and political lobbyists in the United States, among other factors, gave evangelical Protestants greater influence in US-Central American relations. Their influence was strongest during the early 1980s, when José Efraín Ríos Montt, an ordained Pentecostal minister with Eureka, California’s Verbo Ministries, seized Guatemala’s presidency via a coup in March 1982. Notable US evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson praised Ríos Montt’s regime for its rabid anticommunist ideology, while President Ronald Reagan claimed that the dictator had received a “bum rap” in the global press. Concurrently, some US evangelical missioners and pastors also foregrounded the Sandinista government’s anti-Protestant activities as additional justification for US support for Nicaragua’s Contra forces. Religious actors were also instrumental to Central America’s peace processes after the Cold War, as Catholic and Protestant leaders alike worked closely with regional governments and the United States to end decades of political violence and enact meaningful socioeconomic reforms for the region’s citizens.

Article

Taxation, Money, Credit, and the Consolidation of Oligarchic Rule in El Salvador, 1848–1931  

Antonio Acosta

The formation of El Salvador’s oligarchy was a long and complex process. Its beginning can be traced to 1848, when the first export of Salvadoran coffee took place. The first stage in its formation may be seen as ending in 1931, just before the army’s great “slaughter” of the rural population after the crisis of 1929. This long period is divided into two parts, with the year 1890 marking a change. Before that date, although El Salvador was beginning to feel the effects of the Industrial Revolution and the reorganization of the world markets, the country’s international politics were focused primarily on Central America. However, from 1890 on, the business sector expanded and penetrated deeply into the country based on the capital accumulated from the coffee industry. To that was added certain foreign participation, especially from the United States. This is why the period of 1848–1890 is considered the origin of the oligarchy, and 1890–1931 is seen as the formation of this social sector that has marked the history of the country up to the 21st century. A plausible definition of the term oligarchy is provided by Waldo Ansaldi: the combination of a social class defined by its function in the economic structure and the particular form of government it developed and practiced. The Salvadoran oligarchy was initially made up of the large landowners and traders whose economic power was based on their access to land and labor, acquired to a large degree at a very low price and often through non-commercial relationships. This minority experienced a transition toward a profile with increasingly capitalistic characteristics—that is, a more complex managing class with more and more wage labor, although in poor working conditions. In spite of this, it retained purely oligarchic features in the way it controlled political power and in its use of abundant, though not always wage-earning, labor, so that it can hardly be considered bourgeoisie. Coffee, including its cultivation, processing and export, was the principal (although not the only) basis of the enrichment of the oligarchy and of their political power. The development and consolidation of the oligarchical class was based on their control of the state and, as a result, also of their monetary, credit, and above all, fiscal policies. Representatives of the oligarchy came to control the government through electoral as well as military means, enabling them to reproduce and expand their power.

Article

Liberation Psychology and the Salvadoran Civil War  

Alexandra Puerto

Liberation psychology emerged in Cold War Central America with roots in the intellectual foundations of post-1960s Latin American social sciences. Jesuit priest, theologian, and social psychologist Ignacio Martín-Baró pioneered the field of liberation psychology. He critiqued the epistemological limitations of mainstream Western psychology for Central Americans and encouraged the development of new ways to approach mental health as a collective community need with specific historical and social conditions. Spanish-born, but based in El Salvador at the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) José Simeón Cañas, and influenced by the social ideas of critical pedagogy and dependency theory, the process of participatory action research, and, above all, the religious ideas of liberation theology, Martín-Baró proposed a new psychology that did not abstract individuals from their social context and incorporated a “preferential option for the poor” into its conceptual model. In Catholic social teaching, the fundamental principle of the “preferential option for the poor,” to prioritize care for the poor and vulnerable, originates in the Bible, but the phrase was coined in 1968 by Spanish Jesuit priest, Pedro Arrupe, and fully articulated as a central tenet within Latin American liberation theology by Peruvian theologian and Dominican priest, Gustavo Gutiérrez, in 1972.Rethinking psychology from the perspective of the poor and marginalized became a priority for Martín-Baró who called upon Latin American psychologists to reject intellectual neocolonialism and build a new epistemology from below, as well as a new praxis to transform reality for the oppressed. He also set the recovery of historical memory, deideologizing everyday experience and uncompromising solidarity with war survivors as essential practices for Central American psychologists. The realities of El Salvador’s civil war (1980–1992) served as the inspiration for Martín-Baró’s conceptualization of liberation psychology, his understanding of the psychosocial impact of political violence and the creation of the Instituto Universitario de Opinión Pública. Unfortunately, Martín-Baró’s work is unfinished, as he was assassinated by the elite Atlacatl Batallion of the Salvadoran army on November 16, 1989, in his UCA campus residence alongside five Jesuit colleagues, as well as a UCA employee and her daughter. Nonetheless, Martín-Baró’s psychological research and practice not only exposed the profound economic structures that limited Salvadoran liberation but also contributed to the emancipatory ideologies of anticolonial movements.

Article

Religion and Politics in 20th-Century Central America  

Virginia Garrard-Burnett

The role of religion shifted dramatically in Central American politics during the 20th century, as the Catholic Church moved from a position as conservator of the status quo to a powerful force for reform and human rights. The century also witnessed the rise, then the “boom,” of Protestant—specifically Pentecostal—religion. By the century’s end, Central America had become among the most Protestant regions of Latin America, with every country except Costa Rica and Belize measuring a large and rising evangélico minority. These changes unfolded alongside, and deeply affected, one of the most traumatic and violent periods in the region’s history, the so-called Central American crisis of the late 1970s and 1980s, when Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala became the battlegrounds for one of the last large proxy wars of the larger Cold War, between Marxist insurgencies and authoritarian governments.