Nicaraguan coffee workers die on protest march

 Severe malnutrition and extreme poverty has driven thousands of unemployed Matagalpa coffee workers to attempt a gruelling one hundred mile march to the capital of Nicaragua on which fourteen people have already died. The Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights (CENIDH), a partner of the Catholic Aid Agency CAFOD, confirmed that the coffee workers desperate bid to attract government attention has already resulted in 14 deaths, six more are in hospital. CENIDH representative Edmundo Gutierrez said that the five thousand workers were already weak with hunger when they left their homes in Matagalpa in the north a few days ago and even the strongest and fittest struggle under the ferocious Nicaraguan sun to reach Managua. "They're desperately undernourished, they simply can't go on," he said. However, fuelled by a sense of injustice the marchers are determined to continue. Twenty two year old Marilyn carrying her 16 month old baby wept as she explained: "There is no work and the children are dying of hunger. There aren't even any bananas left. No matter what the risks, we have to go on to the end until the government listens to us." The steep drop in worldwide coffee prices over the last two years has led to many plantations being closed, leaving thousands of workers without their main source of income. Last year the government agreed the Las Tunas Accords, which saw the coffee pickers return to their homes in exchange for promises of work, seeds and land to grow corn and beans for their own subsistence. The workers claim the government has back-tracked on this agreement. According to La Dalia Mayor Raul Lopez Davila, the people were given letters supposedly guaranteeing access to land which was under government control, however, a while later these same lands went up for auction. CAFOD Latin America Programme Officer Sarah Smith-Pearse said: "The levels of poverty in Nicaragua are so alarming at present it is very important the international community are aware of the desperate situation. Here in Britain where we drink coffee all the time, it is hard to realise that there has been any change in the price paid to coffee farmers. For us the coffee costs the same. We need to press the coffee companies to show greater social responsibility and guarantee farmers a fair price for their crops." Many leaders who signed the original accords have made a special representation to the Catholic Church, to intercede with the government.

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