Distilling the Influence of Alcohol: Aguardiente in Guatemalan History / Coffee and Community: Maya Farmers and Fair-Trade Marketsby M. A. Redinger

Ethnohistory

About

Year
2014
DOI
10.1215/00141801-2414262
Subject
History / Anthropology

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Text

376 Book Reviews

Distilling the Influence of Alcohol: Aguardiente in Guatemalan History.

Edited by David Carey Jr. (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2012. xi + 212 pp., acknowledgments, introduction, illustrations, glossary, bibliography, index. $74.95 cloth.)

Coffee and Community: Maya Farmers and Fair- Trade Markets. By Sarah

Lyon. (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2010. ix + 266 pp., acknowledgments, introduction, illustrations, bibliography, index. $75.00 cloth, $32.95 paper.)

Matthew A. Redinger, Montana State University Billings

David Carey Jr. and Sarah Lyon present a pair of engaging works that plumb the depths of the sociological, political, cultural, and economic impact of beverages on Guatemalan history. Both works explore Guatemala’s place in the global marketplace in two different times and two very different markets. Carey’s volume showcases the work of both established and emerging scholars of Guatemalan history in five essays that explore the place that alcohol (aguardiente) played in the consolidation of social position and cultural identity of Ladino, Mayan, and African American expatriate communities from the early nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth. Lyon, by comparison, examines the life and work of Guatemala’s La

Voz Que Clama en el Desierto (The Voice Crying out in the Wilderness) cooperative and its efforts to achieve social and economic justice through its relationships with intermediaries and consumers of fair- trade/shadegrown/organic coffee. For both books, beverages, whether distilled or brewed, can help readers view Guatemala, both domestically and internationally, through new lenses.

The essay authors of Carey’s Distilling the Influence of Alcohol maintain that aguardiente production and consumption not only lie at the heart of

Guatemalan nation building but are key elements to understanding the social and economic lives of Guatemalan—particularly Mayan— communities.

Regulations of the production and sale of alcoholic beverages emerged as major efforts by the fledgling government to wrest control over the country, socially, politically, and economically. Mayan communities’ resistance to this control, through the production and consumption of aguardiente clandestino (moonshine), proved to be an essential ingredient in their efforts to resist the impositions of the state on their heritage. Moreover, alcohol provided a mechanism for social interaction and negotiation between groups along ethnic, racial, class, and gender divides.

Amid the pressures that challenged the young country in the early nineteenth century, Guatemalan government officials viewed alcohol as both a

Book Reviews 377 mode of social control and a potential source of income through monopoly licenses. As Guatemalan elites worked to secure their control over the country early in the national period, alcohol and coffee became intimately intertwined. Alcohol lubricated labor contract negotiations and facilitated the expansion of the debt peonage system to such a degree that coffee producers believed that production was impossible without it. While official government licenses were required for the production of “legal” booze, and while these licenses provided an essential source of national income through the sale of monopoly contracts, local officials oftentimes recognized that clandestine alcohol was, at times, preferable to the legal sort. By providing a stable and traditional mechanism of social interaction, local officials turned a blind eye on illicit trade when it was politically or socially expedient.

Within the emerging national culture of Guatemala in the nineteenth century, women found the domestic economy surrounding alcohol production and sale to be crucial in their efforts to achieve some degree of position and autonomy. In their gendered world, alcohol fit handsomely in women’s quest for agency. Particularly for aguardiente clandestino, alcohol production and sale was a largely domestic affair, fitting in perfectly with the feminine sphere. It complemented women’s traditional roles of food production and the sale of small domestic manufactures, and it complemented the male sphere of agricultural labor in the sugarcane fields.

The essays in Carey’s volume articulate the intimate historical, social, cultural, and political interrelationships between alcohol and Guatemala’s people and the ways that Guatemalans used alcohol to facilitate ongoing gender, racial, and ethnic negotiations.

Lyon’s Coffee and Community: Maya Farmers and Fair- Trade Markets uses the La Voz cooperative of coffee growers as a vehicle through which she examines the disparate relationships between Mayan producers and consumers, predominately in North America and Europe. Lyon illuminates effectively the inherent inequities in this system whereby international market forces and intermediaries complicate the ostensibly intimate relationship between socially conscious consumers and those whose labors produce their morning coffee. Lyon shows that an economic relationship that is marketed as direct and simple—between a grower and a consumer—is anything but simple. In reality, growers, inspectors, certifiers, processors, marketers, and consumers are entwined in a deceptively complex relationship that combines local realities and global economic forces. Lyon, however, holds out hope that equity and economic justice for producers remain within the realm of possibility.

The heart of Coffee and Community is La Voz Que Clama en el Desierto, from the village of San Juan la Laguna. The co- op formed in 1977 in an effort 378 Book Reviews to wrest some degree of control over its own economic destiny. La Voz sells its coffee to Green Mountain Roasters, the second- largest specialty- coffee roaster in the United States. The apparent intimacy between the growers and the consumers is, to a large degree, a result of Green Mountain’s marketing department, which has used (at times without the farmers’ permission) photographs of the farmers and their families working their plots of land to sell their coffee.