The Backside Of Commercialisation
It is very easy to forget what is happening behind the scenes some times. On the one hand I am very happy that the world gets to see more of Tequila and Mezcal, and especially in Europe. The more the merrier as long as the quality is good that is. Lately I have been working a lot with Mezcal, which is a bit of a new world for me, and I have yet to go to Mezcal country, yet there is a lot to find out on the internet. I stumbled over a blog post a while ago which I will post some bits and pieces of here. Just as I am falling in love with this beautiful spirit, I find reasons to get upset about it. I hope this will make sense for everybody.
” About half an hour from Oaxaca City on Cristobal Colón highway, is a fairly new distillery, Casa Armando Guillermo Prieto (casa AGP). When little Earl (Earl Fish, Mezcal enthusiast) entered Casa AGP, whose security little Earl describes as “tough as any airport”, they waived their metal detecting wand over him and discovered his digital camera. “No sir,” the security guard said. “It is the policy of Coca-Cola to not allow photographs.” Coca- Cola? Who knew? His cell phone in the other pocket suffered the same temporary confiscation. ”
Already here I feel that something is wrong. No Tequila distillery I have been to has ever had this type of security. Only a couple of times have I been asked not to take photos, but only in certain areas, which I think is fair enough. The vibe has however never been hostile, more likely to be the other way around, I find Mexicans to be very friendly and generous when I come to visit. However I will cut straight to the chase.
” S.A. de C.V. stands for “Sociedad Anónima de Capital Variable”. It describes a company whose capital partners are anonymous and of variable investment. Most foreign investments in Mexico are designated S.A. de C.V. CIMSA S.A. de C.V.-Coca Cola, a consortium of businesses “100% Mexican” produces Casa AGP Mezcal. I also saw it written in inverse order, as Coca-Cola-CIMSA.
CIMSA was founded in 1925 and currently operates through three self-described “Strategic Business Units”: Soft drinks; BEDLA (Bebidas de los Angeles) which sells purified water; and Casa AGP, the newest unit, oriented toward commercialization of Mezcal, to sell inside Mexico about 20% of product, with 80% destined for foreign consumption. To put the enterprise in perspective, the same Group that bottles Coke in Cuernavaca built the Mezcal plant in Oaxaca. It also built the international airport in Cuernavaca.
Casa AGP inaugurated its Oaxaca distillery in August, 2008 in a village named Lanacci. Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, Senator Adolfo Toledo Infanzón, Secretary of Tourism Beatriz Rodríguez Casasnovas, and Secretary of Economy Enrique Sada Fernández among other officials, all carefully pre-selected, attended. Head honcho Colombo Álvarez asserted then, that in five years Oaxaca Mezcal would be positioned in the international European and Asian markets. In the first year the product would arrive in Spain, the USA, China, Korea and Thailand. Subsequently, they would sell in Germany, Russia and Italy. He was right on. ”
This “mafia-like” setup might not sound as scary to the world of Mezcal as it might do to Mexico in general, but it gets worse. And this is a textbook example of capitalism. Coca-Cola is looking to produce 45.000 liters of Mezcal daily, while the artisan producers ar running max capacity at 2-3000 liters a week. What does this mean?
” A distillery producing thousands of liters of liquor uses water not only for cooking and distilling, but also for necessary wash-up and cleaning in a large industrial plant. Casa AGP claims it uses high-tech treatment of residual waste water. More than one contractor was contemplated, and the ultimate winner was IGR Ambiental. Their wastewater treatment facility for the distillery, finally certified as environmentally sound by the UN in 2010 (not in 2008 when the plant went into production), supposedly will handle 90,000 liters of waste-water per week, and recover methane gas to produce steam, cooking the Mezcal in something like a double boiler process. Selling back carbon credits offers Casa AGP a financial bonus; another international environmental fraud. Little Earl saw a very large wastewater storage tank on the property; there are photos, but thus far no indication that the water is being processed.
Wastewater treatment does not explain where the clean water comes from in the first place, or how much must be consumed for a Mezcal production of 45,000 liters. According to the website oaxacalibre.com on September 11, 2007, Governor Ulises Ruiz made an agreement with Coca-Cola to exploit water in exchange for money for political PRI campaigns. Allegedly, Coke was given permission to drill wells in the Central Valley. Interviewing APPO activist Florentino Lopez, the site reported:
Interviewer: “On the internet you circulate statements in which you indicate an unhealthy relationship between the governor Ulises Ruiz and the soft drink business Coca-Cola. Are such assertions true?”
Lopez: – “It seems to us that Ulises has, in the first place, sought the backing of businesses and primarily the transnationals, because that has a basis in development of Plan Puebla Panama in Oaxaca, with development of diverse projects such as the urban megaproject, the tourist corridor, the trans-isthmus corridor, and the Dominican [tourist] route. Then, after that comes commercialization of all the state resources, including the cultural ones.
We have denounced the case of Coca Cola which established a series of agreements to exploit the hydraulic resources and which received several objections, for example the case of the neighbors of Viguera, when they were blocking the well located near the Juarez Monument. They informed us that the State Institute for Water and the National Water Commission had contracted with the Coca Cola company to drill wells in this zone of Viguera and in other places like Huitzo, Telixtlahuaca, and Etla, which have below-ground aquifers. And while the neighborhoods and districts have solicited drilling for the benefit of the communities they have not been given permission; Coca Cola has several wells drilled in this zone that have been granted by agreement with the government of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz.”
Interviewer: “Does the sale of these permissions to Coca Cola relate to the resources that will be in the electoral process this year?”
Lopez: “It has to do exactly with this situation, or it could be said the political accommodation being developed here in Oaxaca has to do directly with the relationship Ulises Ruiz Ortiz has with transnational corporations, not only Coca Cola, but a series of corporations which directly helps the Ulises Ruiz team to stay in power”
Interviewer: “Have you considered actions against this corporation?”
Lopez: “Up to now we have called for a boycott of Coca Cola products because they are doing damage and commercializing the natural resources of the people of Oaxaca transnationals are taking over the extraction and administration of water in Mexico. Apparently, one or more wells were drilled inside the Casa AGP complex. Purified water for distilling the fermented juices gets trucked in. Most likely the company trucking in purified water is the partner BEDLA, with water coming from parts unknown, but how far can one profitably truck water?“
So to take this topic very far, is the commercialisation of Mezcal killing off the art, craft and culture behind this magical spirit and forcing local producers to work for the big distilleries? Hopefully not, but how much can one make without water? Do yourself and the rest of us a big favour, only drink Mezcal and Tequila if you know where it comes from, stay true to the source and remember why we drink. It is going to cost you a little extra, but damn it tastes good.
Please visit the distilleries webpage: Here