End The Embargo Coffee
Entering the 25th year of End The Embargo Coffee, we find the embargo on Cuba by our government still in place. However, it is now easy to obtain a Visa to travel to Cuba on your own or via the many Social Justice Non profits and Churches that lead mission driven or curated special interest trips to the island.
Back in 1998 we teamed up with Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based nonprofit which was then, a leading proponent in favor of ending the US Cuba hostilities. Jonah Katzeff, now CEO of Thanksgiving Coffee, traveled to Cuba with Global Exchange in the late 90’s. I had complex motives for creating End the Embargo Coffee 25 years ago. My motives were not purely about Social Justice. I was a cigar judge at the time for Cigar Aficionado magazine, and I understood that the quality of Cuban cigars was based on its soil and climate as much as on the human skills that transformed fresh picked tobacco leaf and aged it, blended it, and rolled it into cigars for export. Coffee grown in Cuba I believed, would be as magnificent as their tobacco that were made into their fantastic cigars. I wanted that coffee! However, it was no secret that Thanksgiving Coffee was a supporter of the Nicaraguan revolution, and that I was a Sandinista at heart. I made many visits to Nicaragua in 1985, and in 1986 negotiated a contract to purchase 75,000 pounds of coffee for delivery to the SF/Oakland Bay Area).
America was at war with Nicaragua using unhappy Nicaraguans as it's Mercenaries. Although it was a peoples revolution, almost immediately after the Nicaraguan newspapers reported my contract, President Reagan declared an Embargo on Nicaraguan imports which included my 75,000 pounds. I was caught in the middle of US Foreign Policy. What I did is another story which solidified me as the Premier Craft Coffee Radical in America. Spoiler alert, I challenged the Reagan embargo and broke the embargo. I learned allot from that experience and fifteen years later, it informed my decision to create End The Embargo Coffee.
Coffee grown in Cuba I believed, would be as magnificent as their tobacco...
I was inspired by my experiences in Nicaragua. I wanted to do my part for the coffee farmers, and agricultural workers in Cuba. I wanted to put my stake in the ground to be the first to bring Cuban coffee to the United States. When we created the packaging for in the embargo coffee the Pope had just visited Cuba. Daniel Ortega, President and one of the nine commandants of the Nicaraguan revolutionary army (FSLN) that defeated the Samosa Dictatorship in 1979, came to meet the Pope at the airport. The Pope was not a happy Pope in the moment, and pointed and accusatory finger at the President of Nicaragua as he reached to kiss the popes ring. A photo of that moment became a poster, which became an International memorial to the Revolution. I saw one in Rwanda in the home of a coffee farmer twenty years later. I couldn’t help myself. I used it for the dark roast graphic. Che was chosen for the light roast.
It should be noted that the artist who created that likeness of Che was interviewed for an article in Business Week Magazine. He commented on the use of the image, disapproving of Seagram’s use of the image to sell vodka, but approved Thanksgiving Coffee’s use as the image representing coffee for End the Embargo. The week that publication hit the newsstands we sold 5,000 12 oz. packages.
For many years afterwards, I received quite a number of nasty letters and phone threats from Cuban immigrants living in Miami, who had, in their words, escaped Cuba to find freedom in America. They weren’t poor Cubans, but the wealthy, who had prospered as part of the pre revolution economy. I carried on an interesting dialogue with the detractors of our of our anti-embargo activism. As the Cuban political situation mellowed over time, the threats and nasty accusations slowed to a trickle.
Today, after quarter century of Che, and the Pope, being on grocery shelves, and in our online web store, we begin the process of ending our relationship with this revolutionary product line. Although the issue is still important, we just don’t have the staff to promote this product the way it needs to be promoted to achieve its educational aims. We have not changed our politics of inclusion and social justice, nor have we changed our opinion about whether or not the embargo should stand or fall. We believe that the Cuban embargo is an inappropriate way to achieve peace between nations. This embargo, as all embargoes do, impacts the poorest of the Cuban citizens. It does not impact wealthy Cubans in Cuba. Che and the Pope now, just sit patiently on store shelves looking out quietly as people pass by and choose other coffees that have a more current pressing social, environmental, and economic justice issues.
After a quarter century the time to retire these iconic images is for us, now. If you wish to continue to support the Cuban Cuban people and wish to see the embargo on Cuban products ended, here is the original organization that we supported which you can also support by contributing your energy and and/or financial support. They do the work that we can no longer do.
Let’s say goodbye to End the Embargo Coffee until such time when Thanksgiving Coffee Company has the employee power to give this product is due. Cuban coffee never got to the United States but Thanksgiving’s Embargo Coffee package recently got to Cuba. Photographs below show Susan Savage of the Mendocino Coast Community Healthcare District delivering Che to one of her friends in Cuba in late January 2023
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