Ex-Guerilla Entrepreneurship

The calm (and coffee) after the storm: Santa Anita La Unión

Rebels are on the move in Libya, Egyptians are overhauling their constitution and Tunisians unseated a multi-decade dictator, but reading about it in Guatemala’s relative tranquility makes it easy to forget that the same turmoil engulfed Guatemala not long ago. A history of the 36-year civil war and what has changed since the 1996 Peace Accords has been exhaustively covered in articles and books. But to receive first-hand accounts from those who were there, a few chicken bus rides can put some faces on the statistics.

A little less than two hours outside of Quetzaltenango, Santa Anita La Unión is a fair-trade coffee finca and eco-tourism site founded by a group of 35 ex-guerillas. They’ve transformed land they camped on during the war into a growing community, boasting schoolhouses and basketball courts. Local women will take you on a hiking tour that offers stunning views, a (very cold) waterfall and demonstrations on how to harvest and roast the beans.

One of the main services offered is a conference with an ex-combatant, and we sat down with a man named Mauricio in the main room of the dormitory. Our rooms had originally been home to the guerillas when they first arrived, and their ghosts filled the walls as he talked about the state of the finca today, problems in Guatemala, and what daily life was like on the run from the army. We peppered him with questions, and he gladly answered.

Visitors are welcome to stay for a single night or several weeks, volunteering while living with local families. Your involvement in the community is up to you.

One afternoon during our second day, we were ushered into a small chapel to participate in Mass led by a priest from Colombia. My wife and I were near the back, next to the couple we had eaten with the previous night.

After Mass we watched some American volunteers play with kids around the school buildings. It was “cooking week,” so regular classes had been replaced by cooking workshops, and we joined several high school girls and boys making pastries. After some scooping, mashing and a few dashes of cinnamon the creations were put into an oven, and we waited for them to be ready on the steps of the main building. Surrounded by left-wing murals and under the shadow of Santa Maria, I hoped that these kids offered a way out of the history of violence they had inherited.

Accommodations are more than adequate and prices are reasonable; I hope to return with others. For more information visit www.santaanitafinca.com

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