Date: Tue, 30 Jun 98 17:26:08 CDT
Guatemala Banana Worker Conflict Update
U.S./Guatemala Labor Education Project, 29 June 1998
For the past six weeks, thanks to Del Monte Fresh Produce, there have been intermittent signs of a possible resolution to one of the two main labor conflicts in Guatemala's banana sector. [For background, earlier alerts are available upon request from Campaign for Labor Rights at <CLR@igc.apc.org>.] However, there is no sign of progress in a second conflict, involving Chiquita.
After initially stating that the conflicts involving the Mopa and Panorama plantations were not a Del Monte problem but a third party dispute, Del Monte Fresh Produce has intervened vigorously in an effort to resolve the conflict between workers on these two plantations and the Guatemalan businessman who leases both plantations from Del Monte, Guillermo Lippman. When Lippman refused to agree to a reasonable buy-out of his contract, Del Monte sought to reclaim its plantations and succeeded briefly in obtaining a court order returning the plantations to Del Monte's control. Lippman appealed and currently has retained legal control of the plantations, but the plantations continue to be occupied by pro-union workers. The dispute between Del Monte and Lippman is now being portrayed in Guatemalan press stories as a conflict between Guatemalan employers on the one hand, with workers (SITRABI) aligned with multinational capital (Del Monte) on the other hand. While there are indications that Lippman may be willing eventually to negotiate a resolution, he had not yet come to the table as of June 25. Furthermore, his representatives continue to file spurious legal charges against the SITRABI executive committee, and even representatives of BANDEGUA, the Del Monte Fresh Produce subsidiary.
While Del Monte is engaging in a rather unusual form of intervention (seeking to resolve a labor dispute even at the cost of alienating Guatemalan business leaders), Chiquita has not taken any visible steps to obtain a resolution of conflicts at the Alabama and Arizona plantations that have been producing for Chiquita through the company's de facto (or real, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer***) subsidiary, COBIGUA. While Chiquita indicated to US/GLEP in late May that a resolution was going to be reached shortly, workers have not heard nor seen any sign that Chiquita is pressuring its suppliers for a resolution to the conflict.
In fact, the unions at Alabama and Arizona have reported strong rumors that Victor Morales, the owner of the two plantations, has sold them to another Guatemala businessman, Fernando Bolañños, whose intention may be to convert the two plantations from banana production to African Palm production; in this scenario, COBIGUA/Chiquita would purchase the palm oil.
Government-led negotiations have not contributed to any progress in either instance. In the case of Arizona and Alabama, an investigative committee that was to be sent to Arizona and Alabama to verify the owner's claims that the two plantations' banana crops are beyond rescue was canceled when the owner refused to allow technicians from the national university to participate. The workers at Arizona and Alabama claim that the majority of the banana plants is still viable.
Recently, Vice President Luis Flores publicly criticized the Guatemalan banana employers for inflexibility, specifically mentioning the common practice of rotating workers from one front company to another before workers can become permanent employees, which appears to have quelled some of the most virulent anti-banana worker sentiments that had been appearing in the Guatemalan press.
Meanwhile, Guatemalan authorities have still not arrested Abel Ipina, the security chief of a banana plantation who shot workers on two separate occasions, Guatemalan courts have failed to address the illegality of the original firings of workers on all four plantations back in February, and the Guatemalan labor ministry is reportedly sitting on applications for union recognition for the unions at Mopa and Panorama The threat of violent confrontation has receded for now, and orders to evict and arrest workers have not been pushed other than to require high bail for some of the workers and union leaders in order for them to stay out of jail.
The general failure of the Guatemalan government to ensure respect for labor law and the basic rights of banana workers was presented as the key case study in petitions filed in mid-June by the AFL-CIO and by US/GLEP along with IUE, UE, and the International Labor Rights Fund, asking that the U.S. Trade Representative review Guatemala's eligibility for duty-free trade benefits because of continuing worker rights violations.
[***Note: The Cincinnati Enquirer on June 28 renounced its series on Chiquita, accusing its own reporter of stealing voicemail tapes from the company. As of this writing, it is unclear whether any of the substance of the series has been disproved.]
1) Please send a letter to Del Monte Fresh Produce. Sample:
Mr. Mohammed Abu-Ghazeleh
Dear Mr. Abu-Ghazeleh:
I have been following the situation at the Mopa and Panorama banana plantations in Guatemala. Thank you for intervening in pursuit of a resolution of the labor conflict there. I encourage you to continue to take whatever steps are necessary to reach a resolution that is fair to the workers. I will continue to stay informed about this situation through alerts posted by human rights organizations in the United States.
2) Please send a letter to Chiquita. Sample:
Mr. Carl H. Lindner
Dear Mr. Lindner:
I have been following the situation at the Arizona and Alabama banana plantations in Guatemala. I also have been following developments at plantations supplying Del Monte Fresh Produce. I urge you to follow the lead of Del Monte in taking responsibility for the misbehavior of banana suppliers. I hope that you will intervene immediately to ensure a resolution of the conflicts at the Arizona and Alabama plantations that respects the rights of the workers. I will continue to stay informed about this situation through alerts posted by human rights organizations in the United States.
3) Please send a letter to Guatemala's Labor Minister. Sample:
[Information provided by the U.S./Guatemala Labor Education Project
Labor Alerts: a service of Campaign for Labor Rights