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Date: Thu, 26 Mar 98 08:19:22 CST
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Article: 30942
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.2452.19980327181547@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** pn.alerts: 83.0 **/
** Written 3:51 PM Mar 25, 1998 by nisgua in cdp:pn.alerts **
/* Written 3:49 PM Mar 25, 1998 by nisgua in igc:reg.guatemala */
/* ---------- "GUATEMALA LABOR: URGENT ACTION" ---------- */

Anti-riot police invade banana plantations

U.S./Guatemala Labor Education Project alert, 25 March 1998

For the past month there have been stand-offs at two sets of banana plantations in Guatemala that produce for Del Monte Fresh Produce and Chiquita Brands. In both cases, workers attempting to form a union in order to negotiate better wages and working conditions were reportedly illegally fired. In both cases, management then locked out the entire workforce, then accused the workers of conducting an illegal strike and sought orders to arrest the fired workers.

This morning we received news that anti-riot police have been sent to carry out these orders on two plantations that produce Del Monte bananas, Fincas Mopa and Panorama. Workers reported later this morning that the police have entered the plantations and are conducting house-to-house searches and are apparently intent on evicting all the workers, not just those for whom there are arrest orders. Workers are currently in hiding to avoid being arrested or evicted. Worker rights advocates are concerned not only with the violation of these workers' basic right to organize but also with the possibility that there could be violent confrontation.

We are seeking immediate communications to both the Guatemalan and U.S. governments.


The Del Monte Case. Workers trying to organize a union at the Mopa and Panorama plantations obtained an injunction on February 19, 1998. Five days later, on February 24, 22 workers were illegally fired, according to the workers. Local labor inspectors have reportedly been complicit in this, having agreed to alterations in the dates so that the firings appear to have occurred before the injunction was imposed.

Workers at these plantations are being organized by a strong banana workers union, SITRABI, an affiliate of CUSG and the International Union of Foodworkers. SITRABI unions on other plantations subsequently engaged in a work slow-down to support the fired workers. A cooling off period followed but management has now moved ahead to arrest the fired workers as well as the executive committee of SITRABI.

These two plantations are owned and under contract to Bandegua which in turn solely supplies Del Monte Fresh Produce, now a privately-held company headquartered in the United Arab Emirates. Bandegua has refused to take responsibility for the behavior of its suppliers, in this case Guillermo Lippman Romero who leases and operates both the Mopa and Panorama fincas from Bandegua.

The Chiquita Case. The situation is very similar with the Arizona and Alabama plantations, which produce for COBIGUA which solely supplies Chiquita Brands, based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Both plantations are reportedly owned by Mr. Victor Manuel Morales Haeussler, and together employ about 350 workers. On February 9, 1998, workers seeking to organize a union at these two plantations filed an injunction against both plantations. The injunction prohibits management from firing workers without a court order. On February 12, twenty-two workers comprising the executive committee of the union were fired without the requisite court order. In addition, workers say that management shut down plantation operations. This union effort is being supported by UNSITRAGUA.

Management is also accused of other worker rights violations, including (a) intimidating workers with armed men; (b) threatening to close the plantations down permanently; (c) refusing to allow any of workers to return to work unless the worker signs either a blank piece of paper or an anti-union statement; (d) requiring workers owed back pay to sign receipts that included a statement in opposition to the union; (e) accusing the union of an illegal strike.


In order of priority, contact the following and request their immediate intervention to resolve the dispute at the Mopa and Panorama plantations quickly, peacefully, and in a manner that respects the basic rights of the banana workers on these plantations.

1. The Honorable Rodolfo Mendoza
Minister of Government
Guatemala City, Guatemala
Fax: 502-251-5368

2. Send a cc to:

The Honorable Pedro Lamport
Embassy of the Republic of Guatemala
2220 R St., N.W.
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: 202-745-1908

3. Ambassador Donald Planty
U.S. Embassy
Guatemala City, Guatemala
Fax: 502-331-0564

4. Mr. Mohammed Abu-Ghazeleh
Del Monte Fresh Produce
800 Douglas Entrance
North Tower, 12th Flr.
Coral Gables, FL 33134
Fax: 305-442-1059

5. And, for the workers at Arizona and Alabama:

Mr. Carl H. Lindner
Chief Executive Officer
Chiquita Brands International, Inc.
250 E. Fifth St.
Cincinnati, OH 45202
Fax: 513-784-8030


I write to express my deep concern about the urgent situation at the Mopa and Panorama fincas in the department of Izabal, plantations that are owned by Bandegua which supplies bananas to Del Monte Fresh Produce.

According to reports from international labor and human rights organizations, 300-400 anti-riot police armed with rifles and billy clubs have just been sent to arrest workers who had been trying to form a union at these plantations as well as the executive committee of SITRABI, the banana workers union.

I respectfully request your immediate intervention to ensure that the government of Guatemala halt the deployment of anti-riot police and resolve the dispute at the Mopa and Panorama plantations quickly, non-violently, and in a manner that respects the fundamental rights of the banana workers on these plantations.


This alert was prepared March 25, 1998 by the U.S./Guatemala Labor Education Project, PO Box 268-290, Chicago, IL 60626. Tel: 773-262-6502; Fax: 773-262-6602; E-m: usglep@igc.org