Masked gunmen dumped a Guatemalan banana picker’s bullet-ridden corpse yards from fields of fruit bound for the United States, a grim reminder of the risks of organizing labor in the Central American country. Marco Tulio Ramirez, killed last month, was the fifth Guatemalan labor leader murdered this year.Activists say the deaths show promises to protect labor rights under a U.S. trade pact have changed little at a time President George W. Bush is pressing for similar deals in other Latin American nations with bad labor records. The Central American Free Trade Agreement, or CAFTA, was approved by the U.S. Congress in 2005 after a tough battle with Democrats who argued that worker safeguards in the agreement were too weak.
Since Ramirez’s death, suspicious cars have followed union members on and off the company’s property, his brother said. Hundreds of union members were murdered or ‘disappeared’ by state security forces during the country’s 1960-1996 civil war between the army and left-wing rebels.
The war began after a coup backed by banana company United Fruit, now known as Chiquita Brands International. United Fruit sold many of its plantations, including the ones where Ramirez worked, to Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc. Representatives from the Fresh Del Monte Produce subsidiary Ramirez was employed by said they have nothing to do with his killing and urged authorities to conduct a full investigation. (h/t commenter at Lenin’s Tomb)
And of course Chiquta were a paragon of non-criminal non-terrorism supporting behaviour, oh except they had to plead guilty to that in court. Del Monte’s statement calling on the government is sickly disingenious, the govt. works with them in the intimidation-
The company refused to agree to one of the union’s primary demands, the reinstatement of 900 workers illegally fired in violation of the union’s collective bargaining agreement. The workers were fired when Del Monte abruptly shut down three of its Guatemalan plantations in September.
Meanwhile, the Guatemalan government has not moved to arrest any of the 200 armed men who forced the union leadership to resign at gunpoint and flee for their lives on October 13, 1999. National Police investigators finally interviewed the union leaders officially on November 3. The government had previously known the names of at least 40 people who had been cited by the union for participating in the violent intimidation, but the government said it needed an official complaint to move forward, which the union said it would give as soon as the government provided security to them and their families. The security was eventually provided but it took another week before National Police investigators conducted the interviews.
On the question of Del Monte-
In 1989, the Del Monte Corporation split into two separate corporations, Del Monte Tropical Fruit and Del Monte Foods. The former changed its name in 1993 to Fresh Del Monte Produce, while the latter still exists as a separate entity. However, the “Del Monte Shield” mark is still used by both companies. Fresh Del Monte Produce is based in George Town, Cayman Islands. The current chief executive officer is Mohammad Abu-Ghazaleh.
So a tax dodging corporation supported by US trade pacts where labour organisers wind up dead…just an isolated incident, right?