The Archdioceses of Cusco, the Catholic hierarchy that owns several buildings in the historical center of the Inca city, have expelled the Cafe Ayllu a traditional coffee shop located in the main square of the city. Rumors has it that Starbucks might be there in the next months.
Photos by Cafe Ayllu
Today a friend in Cusco let me know that the Beltran family -owners of Cafe Ayllu- were ordered to leave the place they rented for almost 40 years. The 80-something years old tenants returned the keys last Monday. For the Archdiocese of Cusco it did not matter how many people in Cusco and the world protested, the business has closed its doors. In Peru of today, money is buying everything but not the consciousness of decent people.
A year earlier when Starbucks, Mc Donalds and KFC had announced their plans to open branches in the main square of Cusco. Activists in Lima, Cusco, and the U.S. have being asking Starbucks to stay away from the main square of Cusco. The Wajaypata square is the heart of tThey always had the chance to open anywhere else and thus respect the cultural identity of the Indigenous Quechua city.
People in Cusco organized the Comité Cívico de Defensa del Patrimonio Cultural de Cusco, and gave the Archdiocese 700 pages of signatures asking them to save Cafe Ayllu. They also organized vigils, protests, and created a blog. The priests got a good laugh at it.
Around the world over 2,400 people joined the Facebook Save the Cafe Ayllu page. In New York City, a Cusco poet and writer sent an open letter asking for a divine intervention. In Cusco, internauts protested, while a local blogger wrote about his personal experiences in Ayllu, and he got lots of support. In Lima, in Lima an American blogger protested about the MCD and Starbuks invasion: she called it "Totally offensive" and also a British blogger raved about it.
The efforts meant nothing to an obsolete church.
The priests responded to the public outrage. The Archdiocese of Cusco asked the Beltran family to sign a new lease contract but this time as business partners, where the Archdioceses would get 10% of the Cafe profits, after raising the rent as much as 200% while and forcing Cafe Ayllu to invest $200,000 in remodeling the place.
Who created this mess?
Archbishop Juan Antonio Ugarte, the nice looking man in the photo, had ignored the popular protest for months and now has left at least 20 people jobless.
Padre Ugarte didn't care neither about preserving the balance and cultural identity of the main square of Cusco, which according to PBS is "one of the 60 greatest urban spaces in the world". Of course people from all over the world would love to see a Starbucks right there!
You see his adorable smile? Juan Antonio Ugarte is a 80 years old member of the right-wing radical group Opus Dei. For that matter, he is a close friend with the infamous Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, the ultra conservative Archbishop of Lima and a Pope Benedict XVI favorite. Cipriani once said that Indigenous peoples' human rights "are crap".
Juan Antonio Ugarte was born in a rich family of Lima, he attended exclusive schools. After high school, he enrolled at the National Engineering University of Lima, where also Cipriani studied. Ugarte was ordered a priest in 1967 and assumed the post of Archbishop of Cusco -the oldest in Peru- in 2003. Ever since then he has built new Catholic churches in a region that has an average of 70% poverty level and is the center of Andean cosmovision and faith.
Today, Archbishop Ugarte also is the head of Caritas, the charity office of the Catholic church in Peru. (!) No joking.
I'm not trying to discriminate Opus Dei members and their fanatics views on life, the world and religion. But why would anyone expel a family-owned business out of their traditional location in the center of their own city? To understand why, you must know that most of rich white Lima people care little about Andean culture, much less would a right-wing Catholic priest who is member of the Opus Dei.
Hey padre Ugarte! I have some questions for you: now where will the old couples go in Cusco to get a coca mate in the Wajaypata square? Where will young schoolers get their freshly baked cookies, rellenos and other pastries? What stupid tourist would travel to Cusco and drink Starbucks?
The last resource: Cafe Ayllu website, check the photos and nice music before it's all gone.