STORY OF FRANCISCO RIVAS MARROQUIN
Editor’s Note: This was a portion of a combination father/son interview at the coffee finca where both work, but Francisco’s son, Evers, is now the mandador ( foreman). We had teased Evers about what he would do if he had to fire his own father. “He isn’t full-time any longer,” Evers had explained. “My dad works only seasonally doing things like cutting down the coconuts from the trees.” At that point we crane our necks gazing up, up, up into those very tall coconut palms and ask, “You CLIMB these trees?” The 57-year old smiles and nods his head, and we shrink in disbelief. Wow, this guy must be in good shape.
This piece of land and I are pretty well acquainted. When I was younger, I worked here for the present owner’s great-grandparents who ran it. Then there was a period of time when a family member owned it but lived in the U.S., making only occasional visits. The property then became overgrown from many years of disuse and neglect when no one lived here or actively farmed the property. A few years ago the present owners took an interest in returning to the country to try to revive the finca to its former life. They are working very hard to learn all they can to make it a sustainable venture.
My parents also worked near a volcano in coffee production in a village called Cerro Verde in this department. I was born on September 20, 1956. I attended school two years which was just long enough to learn to read and write.
Maria Adelina De Rivas Sigaran and I got together 30 years ago. We married 15 years ago and had ten children. I continued to do what I learned from my dad, which was the coffee business. Work was seasonal and erratic. It was hard to feed my large family during the periods when I would be laid off.
[Evers reminds him that there were also times when his dad used his paycheck to buy himself alcohol rather than for the family’s needs, however.] Yes, this is true. I had a drinking problem at one time. I am no longer interested in drinking. Sometimes there may still be hard times but not to the same degree they were before or for the same reasons they were before. Now I know about God and am going to church instead.
During the civil war from 1980-1992, I was in charge of the finca while the owner lived in the States. This area near the mountains was an active one for the guerrillas. The guerrillas fighting in this area wanted badly to see if there were weapons in the main house on the finca and would come persistently asking me if I had a key to it. I always denied owning a key. (I did have one but would not admit it.) They often used me as a courier ordering me to send letters on their behalf to the other coffee producers or others who had money asking for items such as food, clothing, or shoes. This was a frequent request. They threatened that if I told the police they were in the area, they would kill me and my whole family. I was fearful of what they would do, not only to me, but also to my children. I never participated on either side as a guerrilla combatant or as a military member. I chose to remain neutral.
My role on the finca now has changed. I now work for my son, in a sense. Actually, Evers is responsible for the day-to-day operations, whereas I work only on an occasional basis. Nevertheless, it is a role reversal. We work well together, learning and valuing one another. Two of my other sons work here on the finca as well.
It is one of Evers’ and my dreams to own our own land and go into coffee production. The government has been trying to give land to people who have worked all their lives in coffee production. We will wait and see what happens. Evers and I make a good team. When you work in a job in the informal sector, there is no pension. I hope to be able to continue to work for as long as I remain healthy. After that, I hope my son will provide for me.
Our area had a two bad earthquakes a month apart to the day in 2001 – [rated 7.6 and 6.6 on the Richter scale ]— causing major damage. After that, city hall gave families such as ours who lost their homes property in town.
As a young man I made many mistakes. I was not responsible by drinking. Going to church is helping me see that there is another better way to live. When I was young, I didn’t think much about security, but now I think it would be a good idea for anyone who is interested in law enforcement to protect the people. Now that I have ten children and seven grandchildren, I encourage them to avoid drugs, alcohol, and gangs.
During political campaigns we always hear a lot of promises being made, so we expect more to be done. Those in office need to make those promises real. There are some positive changes happening, but there are not enough to provide security for the people. People are constantly fearful that their property will be stolen.
The constants in my country that I have always loved and appreciated are within the environment. I especially love the trees and the flowers.
I am very proud of my son for handling the responsibilities involved in this type of job. I’m so grateful to these two finca owners who have trusted Evers and given him steady work. Helping arrange for him to get his drivers’ license and those kinds of things go above and beyond a job. These two owners have given him what I have been unable to give him. We both work hard to show our gratitude for what they provide us.
Editor’s Note: Francisco and Evers are obviously very comfortable speaking frankly and honestly together about the good and bad times of their lives. At one point I tease Francisco asking, “Who is your FAVORITE son?” and without a moment’s hesitation, he gives me the answer with the point of a finger beside him. When Francisco mentions he hopes his son will care for him in his old age, I don’t even have to ask WHICH of the 10 children he is talking about.