The Coca-Cola Co. provided $1,200 to bring poet Martin Espada to Kansas University on March 10. Espada, a Latino poet who has published seven collections, plans to donate the money to a union for workers at Colombian Coca-Cola plants — a union that Espada believes has been decimated by unfair and sometimes brutal labor practices, according to news reports.

“Until the disturbing questions about Coke’s labor record in Colombia have been answered, I cannot in good conscience accept monies from Coca-Cola or have my name associated with the company,” Espada told the crowd of nearly 200 who gather for his reading at the Kansas Union. “Giving up $1,200 is not easy for a poet, but the union needs the money more than I do.”

Coca-Cola’s $1,200 to bring Espada to KU was part of a contribution the company made to the KU Endowment Association to bring speakers to campus.

Espada approached Robert Vodicka, an American Studies doctoral student at KU who organized the poetry reading, about his ethical concerns and then devised the plan to donate the money to the Colombian union.

Espada currently serves as an English professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. A former lawyer, his poetry frequently deals with poverty, labor and racial issues.

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