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Lunch with Contra Man

Tom Winnifrith
Tuesday 30 October 2012

No I did not lunch with a bearded, extremely right wing, Nicaraguan freedom fighter. But with a bearded, extremely right wing, English freedom fighter (living in France). I refer to the publisher of my forthcoming book “The wit and wisdom of Viagra man”, Stephen Eckett of Harriman House. Over for a short holiday Stephen took me to a delightful pub (the Crossed Guns) near where his parents live. The pub overlooks an aqueduct which carries the Kennet & Avon canal over both the River Avon and also the railway line – a bit of a quirk. After lunch a pleasant walk up the valley to catch a train back.

Eckett is delightfully right wing. I would pare down the BBC to its bare bones. He would scrap it altogether. I would pare back the Welfare State greatly, he would go er…rather further. When the disagreement is just how far one cuts it is unlikely to be a heated row. After a brief return to rural France, Eckett’s next stop is Nicaragua to hunt down Contra coffee.

You may remember that when the Nicaraguans overthrew General Samosa in 1979 he was replaced by a hard left regime – the Sandinistas. Samosa had one or two civil rights issues involving the use of Death Squads and there was little disagreement that he was a man who had to go. But the Sandinistas were a petty appalling lot too. Not only were they beloved by the Guardian, the BBC, Bianca Jagger, Polly Toynbee and all the other sort of people who are always wrong on every issue, but they had a few civil liberties issues of their own. Most notably was their desire to force farmers to give up private land and merge all their holdings into co-operatives.

So that “Fair Trade” coffee from Nicaragua that is so beloved in London N1 and no doubt drunk in Polly Toynbee’s Tuscan castle is actually produced on land stolen by the State and where labour is forced, not willing and free. A Nicaraguan co-operative is not a group of peasants getting together voluntarily in some happy socialist dream existence in the Sun in order to make a better life but a group of folks who – through their own hard toil had a better life but were forced together to become peasants by an oppressive State.

In the North of the country the hill farmers objected. And so there was a bit of a civil war with the Northern farmers supporting the Contras. These folk were a bit discredited since they included supporters of the former leader Samosa and also got involved with Ollie North, the CIA, guns and Iran. The war ended but the Northern farmers kept their arms and via a company in the US Mr Eckett, on principle, imported hugely expensive Contra Coffee for his personal consumption. This is free coffee produced by free men.

But a year or two ago, suddenly the Contra coffee stopped flowing over to Eckett Towers in France. He has been unable to find an explanation. And so he is off to the Nicaraguan hills to see what has happened to the farmers who made Contra Coffee. Have market forces (their product was expensive) taken their toll? Or have the hill farmers finally been forced into co-operatives? Or maybe they were just scamming everyone and have made so much cash that the have all retired to Miami? Eckett is on a mission to find out.

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About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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