I first met Raúl in Costa Rica. He was a genuine, humble man with a great passion for life. He was a natural born leader.
I later heard people call him El Padrino de Comerico Justo, or The Godfather of Fair Trade. He was my hero.
Born and raised on a small coffee farm in Peru in the 1950s, Raúl del Águila Hidalgo rose to be a powerful leader of disadvantaged farmers around the world, including the thousands of families he represented as manager of the COCLA Cooperative in Quillabamba, Peru. As the Fair Trade movement pioneered a new path for coffee in the 1990s, Raúl was a leading voice for the interests of small-scale farmers around the world.
In 2001, Raúl and I were in Costa Rica meeting with Carlos Vargas, an equally impressive leader of COOCAFE Cooperative. A few months before, I had accepted the job of organizing a global cooperative in the USA that would roast and market coffee on behalf of its members, farmer-owned cooperatives, led by Raúl and Carlos.
The first ever US-based federated cooperative to be owned by producers in Latin America would be called Pachamama Coffee Cooperative. Based in California, we would brand and distribute our members’ best coffee, creating brand equity for farmers. Raúl was the president of the board of directors, Carlos was the vice president, and I was the general manager. Within a few days, we had a draft of the co-op’s bylaws, a marketing agreement and a business plan.