I had just gotten back to the Coop after picking mangos with Don Fernando when Don Simon pulled up in a beat-up red pick-up and called me to his side window.
“The guys want to know if you can go to Sarampaña to do accounts.”
Since December, once a month, I have been meeting with the six socios who decided to take over the salina (saltworks) to review income and expenses.
I grabbed my bag, hopped in the truck and asked, “Did you guys sell all the salt?”
“Yes, and now we want to see how we stand.”
We pulled up to Don Beto’s house and there sat the five other socios: Toribio, Don Edgar, Don Jaime, Jose Angel and Don Beto. They stared at us from a semi-circle of plastic chairs planted awkwardly in the sand.
I climbed down from the pick-up and greeted them with a, “Buenas tardes.” They pulled up an empty seat and I sat waiting for someone to speak. Toribio began, “We are finished with the salinas this year and now we want you to help us figure out how to divide up the money.”
For the next hour we crunched numbers. Our discussion was punctuated with back and forths about who had already been paid for hauling salt, who had put in extra funds for this-and-that, who had been reimbursed for such-and-such. At every point of disagreement I took the opportunity to remind them, “If you had written this all down, you wouldn’t be having this argument.” They always agreed.
It takes time to change habits and I’m just glad I convinced Jose Angel, who was managing the salinas, to carry a notebook with him at all times. He recorded “most” transactions.
In the end, we calculated that the Salina had brought in a little over Q2,000 ($250) in profits for the year. To be divided up between the six men. This may not seem like much but, considering last year the Cooperative lost about Q40,000 in the Salinas, coming out ahead this year was a huge gain.
The difference between the two year’s outcomes lays largely in the price of salt. Last year, the Coop was selling a quintal of salt for Q15 or Q17. In English, 100 lbs of salt for $2. Amazing, right? This year, we were able to sell our salt at Q25. The increase in the price of salt, coupled with a slightly lower start-up cost, helped the guys come out ahead. The good weather conditions this year (less rain) didn't hurt either. I'm also going to go ahead and attribute some of the success to better management of the operation. Last year, it was impossible to assemble the associates to review expenses. This year we met monthly, without complaint. This forced the group to be accountable and scrutinize their spending.
At the end of the meeting, Toribio divided up the cash, setting aside Q200 for a celebratory lunch of fried shrimp, which they invited me to partake in tomorrow, insisting that the shrimp be accompanied by a “cervecita” (little beer). I didn’t contest.