|Bullets and Bananas: The Violence of Free Trade in Guatemala|
|Written by Cyril Mychalejko|
|Thursday, 01 May 2008 05:52|
Carlos Enrique Cruz Hernández, a banana worker, was assassinated while working at a farm owned by a subsidiary of Del Monte. Cruz Hernández's Union of Izabal Banana Workers (SITRABI), was one of six Guatemalan unions who, along with the AFL-CIO, filed a complaint allowed through labor provisions of the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) on April 23, charging that the Guatemalan government was not upholding its labor laws and was failing to investigate and prosecute crimes against union members-which include rape and murder. The complaint states that violence against trade unionists has increased over the past two years (since CAFTA was ratified) and that the Guatemalan government may be responsible for some of the violence. The violence from this year alone includes 8 murders, 1 attempted murder, 2 drive-by shootings, and the kidnapping and gang rape of a top union official's daughter who was targeted because of her father's union work.
"There is a climate of terror for trade unionists," said Thea Lee, the chief international economist at the AFL-CIO, in an interview with Bloomberg News. "But so far the Bush administration hasn't lifted a finger to enforce any of the labor chapters."
The timing of Cruz Hernández's murder, just five days after the complaint was filed, is disturbingly reminiscent of a fellow SITRABI member's murder. Marco Tulio Ramirez, the union's Secretary of Culture and Sports, was assassinated by assailants wearing ski masks on company property just two days after the Ministry of Defense (MOD) ruled in September 2007 that a military unit should be disciplined for raiding a union office and interrogating officials. SITRABI met several times with the MOD and other government officials to discuss the military intimidation the months leading up to the ruling. According to the AFL-CIO complaint, his murder has never been investigated.
While the Bush Administration was offered an opportunity to informally discuss the complaint with
"And by the way, we talked about blueberries," added President Bush. "And-so that blueberries are able to come off-season here to the
While it is unclear how blueberry exports will lift one of the poorest nations in the hemisphere out of poverty, American unions have long argued that free trade agreements which encourage corporate investment without strengthening and enforcing labor laws and human rights protections will keep working families in developing nations mired in poverty and fear. This subsequently drags down the standard of living for workers here in the
"Guatemalan workers are being targeted for their union activity," AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said. "Without the freedom from fear to join unions and bargain collectively, how can we expect any workers to benefit from a trade agreement?"
The complaint alleges that five employers, four of which are companies that export goods to the
The Violence of Free Trade
Violence carried out to protect the interests of foreign capital in
"Violence is commonplace in our country. The main source of the violence is the national civilian police force (PNC)," said Pepe Pinzón, general secretary of General Guatemalan Workers' Centre (CTGT). "Government and employers collude with each other, which undermines the population and leads to widespread breaches of trade union rights. It is highly organized and all the more difficult to combat when the source is the government itself."
CTGT is affiliated with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), an organization that represents 168 million workers in 155 countries and territories, and has 311 national affiliates. The ITUC promotes and defends workers' rights through international campaigns. The organization sent a letter to President Colom on Wednesday expressing outrage over Cruz Hernández's murder and the continuous and unabated harassment and violence directed at fellow trade unionists.
In January, the ITUC organized an international trade union conference in
The U.S. State Department's annual human rights report released in March offers unexpected support to the claims made by Pinzón and the ITUC, while it also gives credence to the AFL-CIO CAFTA complaint.
According to State Department there were a number of "credible allegations" last year that PNC members carried out rape, murder, torture, kidnappings and other criminal activities. The Guatemalan government determined that PNC personnel were responsible for murder in 16 cases that were investigated. But impunity more often than not trumps justice as, "The PNC routinely transferred officers suspected of wrongdoing rather than investigating and punishing them."
In addition, the State Department pointed out that
The ongoing violence against workers in
According to the U.S. Labor Education on the Americas Project,
As for the notion that U.S businesses working in
But a free trade agreement with Colombia will require President Álvaro Uribe, who was recently implicated in a 1997 massacre of 15 Colombians by paramilitaries, whose cousin has been charged with working with right-wing death squads, and whose "most prominent political supporters" are being investigated for ties to paramilitaries, to ensure that his government uphold all labor laws.
Cyril Mychalejko is an editor at www.UpsideDownWorld.org.