Theft: Side Effect of High Coffee Prices

I had sent this tweet last night: “Stolen: Container of coffee. Where: Guatemala. Contents: Sweet Maria’s and Stumptown coffees. Description: Big metal box. Call me if found.” It was not a joke… We lost 98 bags of coffee (Pulcal – Hacienda Carmona) that was en route from Antigua to the port, just over an hour away. I don’t know the details yet, if the truck was stopped by thieves, or if anyone was hurt. It might have been the driver was paid off, and simply drove away with it. It is no wonder. With the current prices for even low grade coffees, a container of our coffee that is about $150,000 of contents, can be taken somewhere, blended and re-bagged, and sold for $100,000. That is a lot of money in Guatemala, as anywhere. In the past, the low prices made this impractical, but now it makes perfect sense. Trucks have been traveling to port in convoy, with security in front and back to prevent this, but something went wrong in this case. I am sure insurance will pay eventually (and the container might be found yet, perhaps for a “fee”). It’s just that great Pulcal coffee is lost for now.

It’s the second theft that has directly impacted us. About 6 weeks ago a Pacamara lot from El Salvador that we had contracted was stolen, not bags of coffee, but it was stolen from the trees! A crew of thieves came to the farm in the morning, locked up the manager, told the farm employees to go away (if they knew what was good for them), and proceeded to strip pick the coffee off the trees. Sounds odd to steal like this when it requires so much labor, but it is happening all over Central America this year with the prices so high. Normally they come in to the farm at night and pick, which is sad because they damage the trees, pick recklessly, and the result is a big income loss for the farm. Owners have had to hire security to combat the thieves, which has driven up their costs dramatically as well.

Who would have guessed that such a fortuitous situation for coffee farmers and all who work in coffee, an income bonanza, would result in more insecurity. I have heard of vigilante responses to the thieving. Two men who tried to steal a loaded coffee truck in Huehuetenango were supposedly lynched by the community!

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