Mexican Coffee Chain Gives Starbucks A Run For Its Mocha

Spicier than Starbucks
Spicier than Starbucks
David Santa Cruz

MEXICO CITY - “We say small here, not tall,” reminds a notice, written in black letters on the wall of this new chain of Mexican coffee shops. If coffee isn’t enough, there is also chocolate: hot, cold or with chili pepper that leaves consumers with a slightly burning throat.

It’s been around for barely two years, but the Cielito Querido Café is fighting for a market that is very popular in Mexico, a market that was first cracked by Starbucks.

“When there is market that is dominated by such a famous competitor, the rest are like a flock of sheep, and the theory is that if you want to enter the market, you should emulate the dominant player as much as possible,” explains Diego Landa, the marketing director for Cielito Querido Café. Under this premise, the cafe has tried to develop a concept that builds on the modern Mexican esthetic, a paradoxically very vintage esthetic.

The company hired two the of country’s most successful designers, Ignacio Cadena and Hector Esrawe, and their work won the coffee chain the Quorum prize in design. According to marketing expert Paula Selene de Anda, the chain is completely focused on two marketing segments: those aged 35 and under and those aged 50 and older. The two groups both tend to dislike the atmosphere of other cafes around.

Authentic Mexicana

The chain’s name comes from two popular Mexican songs that were written at the end of the 19th century. The decoration takes inspiration from the past as well, with mosaic decorations that resemble the Art Deco style of the 1920s. “We are selling the Mexican experience of having a coffee,” explains Diego Landa. He insisted that we try the Mexican corn bread, a product that it is hard to eat in a cafe.

“They have been differentiating their products by using pewter and decorated ceramics to serve products, as well as using phrases from popular culture that are both funny and very Mexican,” says the economist and marketing specialist Edna Alatorre.

It’s also clear that the way it is differentiating itself could turn out to be the chain’s main limitation, says Selene de Anda. “What will happen when everyone has their own pewter cup or they have the complete collection of ceramics?” she asks. For now, the chain has only been exposed to a limited market in the city, and it is not clear how it will perform when it tries to expand into the countryside or into areas where most of the customers are foreign tourists.

“We have had thousands of requests to expand into Monterrey, Oaxaca or Guadalajara,” Landa says, while also admitting the need to consolidate the product and the distribution. “We are not going to do franchises, we operate all of the cafes ourselves and we want to keep it that way.” That also applies to the idea of expanding internationally. “We would love to expand in the United States, and we think that this concept would be a hit in places like Los Angeles, Miami or New York.”

But before doing so, the experts that we interviewed said that Cielito Querido should consolidate its market within Mexico and show that it is a sustainable business, not just a passing fad. Other Mexican chains have tried unsuccessfully to create a lasting concept.

“At this point we have only seen a very basic social media presence from them, and no mass advertising at all,” said Edna Alatorre.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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