Date: Wed, 29 Dec 1999 13:56:28 -0600 (CST)
Del Monte linked to violence against workers
U.S./Labor Education in the Americas Project, Labor Alerts, 28 December 1999
[Information provided by the U.S./Labor Education in the Americas Project: (773) 262-6502, <email@example.com>]
In this alert:
From a press statement released December 23 by the U.S./Labor Education in the Americas Project (US/LEAP)
New reports link Florida-based Fresh Del Monte Produce to violent intimidation of its banana workers in Guatemala. According to sworn testimony provided to the Guatemalan national police, the chief of security and the engineer for Del Monte's Guatemalan subsidiary, Bandegua, were both part of a group of 200 armed men who forced the resignation of Del Monte union leaders at gunpoint in October. A Guatemalan criminal judge has issued warrants for the arrest of the security chief, Captain Carlos Enrique Hernandez Diaz, and the engineer, Teodoro Jimenez. Sources say the security chief has been working on Del Monte's Guatemalan plantations since October despite complaints made to Del Monte.
Union leaders also reported that the alleged "commander" of the 200 armed thugs, Mr. Obdulio Mendoza Matta, is now helping run one of Del Monte's plantations previously worked by the ousted union. Mr. Mendoza has reportedly hired workers and supervises production at the Arapahoe plantation, one of the three plantations in the Bobos district of Morales that are at the center of the conflict between Fresh Del Monte and the union.
In response to this evidence that three men allegedly involved in the violent intimidation of the union are working on the Del Monte plantations, US/LEAP Executive Director Stephen Coats called on Mr. Abu-Ghazeleh, CEO for Del Monte, to immediately suspend doing business with anyone involved in the violent intimidation and to return to the negotiating table with the union.
"Two months ago Del Monte issued a public statement disclaiming any connection to the violent intimidation of its union leaders. Now we find that Del Monte is doing business with the man who is accused in court documents as one of the main perpetrators of the violence and that a Guatemalan criminal judge has issued arrest warrants for two other men employed by the company, one of whom reportedly continues to work as the company's chief of security. Mr. Abu-Ghazeleh, actions speak louder than words, " said Coats.
"The company has apparently decided to reward those who forced its union leaders to resign at gunpoint and flee for their lives. What kind of message do you think this sends to the workers remaining on the plantations?" notes Enrique Villeda, the banana union's Secretary of Conflicts.
"The company seems to be taking advantage of the violent intimidation of the union," concludes Coats.
In mid October 200 armed men raided a union hall where union leaders and members were planning a legal walkout to protest mass firings on the Del Monte plantations in Guatemala. These members were forced at gunpoint to resign, call off the walkout and leave their homes or risk death. The company has hired non-union replacement workers who are receiving 20% less wages and none of the benefits the union gained such as housing, education for their children and health. An international campaign has been launched to support the right of the workers to reach a fair resolution with the company.
Fresh Del Monte Produce (fresh fruit) is a separate company from Del Monte Foods (canned vegetables).
The following action request, which first appeared in our December 13 alert, remains a top priority. NOTE: The talking points have been updated on the basis on new revelations about Del Monte's links to anti-worker violence.
Get Del Monte off the shelves for two weeks.
Please ask any stores in your community that carry Del Monte bananas to stop stocking them for two weeks as an act of solidarity with the workers in Guatemala. We encourage strengthening this request by mentioning your organizational affiliations and also mentioning the possibility of leafleting (if applicable, of course). But, even if you do not have organizational connections or if future leafleting actions are not a possibility, please contact local stores by phone or in person and request that they not stock Del Monte bananas for two weeks. LET US KNOW IF YOU CONTACT LOCAL STORES and what the response is. You can make your report by email <CLR@igc.org> or phone (541) 344-5410.
Note: Whether or not local stores agree to keep Del Monte bananas off the shelves for two weeks, once the national headquarters of the chains hear that consumers are raising concerns about Del Monte, they are almost certain to contact Del Monte and complain that its bananas are creating public relations problems.
Talking points: In October, following the illegal firing of 900 Del Monte banana workers in Guatemala, banana union leaders were violently forced at gunpoint to renounce their union and to flee for their lives. Although Del Monte denies that its representatives had anything to do with this serious human rights violation, sworn testimony now links two Del Monte employees to the group of 200 armed men who forced the resignation of the union leaders. Moreover, the alleged leader of these armed thugs is now helping run one of Del Monte's plantations previously worked by the ousted union. Del Monte has profited from this violence in its drive to bust the banana worker union in Guatemala. In order to pressure Del Monte to deal fairly with its workers, we are asking stores which carry Del Monte not to stock those bananas for two weeks and to let Del Monte headquarters know why they are taking this action. Stores can contact Del Monte via phone (305) 520-8400 or fax (305) 442-1059. This action has the support of the banana workers.
LEAFLETING ACTION IN PORTLAND, OREGON
Activists from the Cross Border Labor Organizing Coalition in Portland, Oregon leafleted at Zupan's, the only Portland outlet they had identified for Del Monte bananas. CBLOC reported a very favorable response from customers.
COLOMBIA: BANANA UNION LEADER'S MURDER PROMPTS STRIKE
[Information provided by the Weekly News Update on the Americas, issue #516: (212) 674-9499, <firstname.lastname@example.org>, the Colombian Labor Monitor: <email@example.com> and US/LEAP]
Some 18,000 banana workers and other members of the Agricultural Workers Union (Sintrainagro) in Colombia began a 48-hour strike on December 14 to protest the murder of union leader Cesar Johny Herrera Torreglosa. Herrera was general secretary of Sintrainagro, one of the strongest agricultural worker unions in Latin America. He was shot to death on December13 by unidentified assailants at the union offices in Cienaga. Sintrainagro president Guillermo Rivera Zapata said that Herrera had been on a list of 15 Sintrainagro leaders threatened with death and that the government failed to take any action to provide protection.
Colombia has the world's highest number of assassinations of labor leaders, journalists and human rights activists. In the great majority of cases, these assassinations are carried out by paramilitary death squads working hand-in-glove with Colombia's military. Under the guise of anti-drug efforts, the Clinton administration is pushing for more than a billion dollars in increased military aid to Colombia, in spite of the military's involvement in gross human rights abuses and in spite of the fact that its paramilitary allies are known to be far more involved in the narcotics trade than are the guerrillas. If approved by Congress, this aid would result in even more assassinations of Colombian labor leaders - and quite possibly would facilitate an increased flow of illegal drugs from Colombia to the United States.
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