For Maritza and I, it was just another travel delay, common for us and no big deal. Our Thursday flight from Cali to Pasto, Colombia was canceled due to weather. We were scheduled to meet with one of our producers, Armando Benavides of Finca Santa Maria, on Friday, and that is where everything took a very dark and life-changing turn.
Because of the flight delay, we didn’t make our appointment and Armando was not at the farm on Friday evening either. He actually lives in Buesaco, a town close to the farm; and that is the positive news.
Armando displays one of the damaged windows.
Bandits raided his farm Friday night near Buesaco, Nariño, taking everything in sight, even if it was bolted down.
The farm manager later reported that two masked men with guns came to the farm on Friday night around 8 PM. They tied him up and put him in the back of the car they were driving. His family was locked in one of the homes on the property, along with the dogs.
Then, more bandits joined the first two and they robbed Armando and his family of everything on the farm. They took his beds, his furniture, his motors to run the coffee processing equipment, and even the coffee that was drying on the patio or in bags in the warehouse. They took everything they could find for the next 5+ hours.
They took everything except Armando’s and his family’s spirit. His children, Valeria and Juan Pablo, rallied around their father, as did his wife, Magali. Thats what families do, after all: they prop us up during times of trouble.
The farm manager, who was locked in the car, was set free, unharmed, on the side of a road around 3 AM. That's when Armando got the life-changing phone call. The family and dogs were still scared to death in the home where they lived. No one was injured, but they were plenty scared.
When Maritza and I finally arrived at the farm the following Tuesday morning, Armando was emotional, but strong. Resilient. Undaunted. The harvest would go on and the coffee would make it to market so that he could feed his family.
Community and family members have rallied around to help them, and we are stepping up as well to raise some funds and help Armando and his family rebuild.
Finca Santa Maria's Farm Manager, back at work.
This is Latin America. Safe, beautiful, and full of good people with big hearts and wonderful smiles. My wife is from Colombia and we travel here often. We are always aware of the dangers and try to be prepared. But, sometimes, sometimes even in the USA, bad people do bad things.
Our job and our family often take us traveling in Latin America, and many of our friends do the same. We hope that any of them reading this will take note and not travel without a touch of fear or preparation. It is safe, safer than it’s been in Colombia in 30 years, but that doesn’t mean it isn't without risk. There is always risk in what we do, as there is for the farmers who live isolated in the mountains. But we love coffee and the people who grow it, so we measure that risk and evaluate the challenges with every trip.
This trip, we got lucky. Armando and his family were not so lucky.
We’ll help his family however we can, and we invite you to join us. We’ve set up donation links at the top and bottom of this page that will go to a special fund for Armando and his family. A percentage of the proceeds from the sale of Finca Santa Maria coffee will also go to this fund. If we can raise $1,000 we can change their lives for the better. Get them back on their feet and harvesting and growing coffee. Raising their family with the thought their are still wonderful people out there. The bad people in the world do not out number the good.
Valeria, Armando, Magali, Jeff, and Maritza at Finca Santa Maria.