Banana processing in Guatemala. Photo copyright: www.speedy.photography
Murdered for cheaper bananas: Guatemala’s epidemic of violence against unions
Guatemala is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a trade unionist. Since 2007, 68 unionists have been murdered for their activism, but nobody has been brought to justice for the crimes.
Unionists in the banana industry are on the front line of this surge in violence. Guatemala is growing rapidly as an exporter of bananas, leapfrogging recently into second place internationally. The local banana workers’ union SITRABI have had some successes organising farms in the north of the country but the large-scale and fiercely anti-union plantations of the Pacific South – now responsible for over 80% of exports – are still somewhere that workers dare not organise.
The only attempt to organise a union in the south of the country was put down with violence in 2008; the General Secretary of the new union was killed and the daughter of another leader was raped. The north isn’t much safer: Between 2007 and 2012, twelve SITRABI organisers have been murdered there.
The epidemic of violence and Guatemala’s growth in banana production are linked, as major companies try to find the cheapest labour costs in the region. Keeping workers’ rights and pay down through intimidation means Guatemala’s exploited workers are more competitive, and this is threatening jobs with better conditions and respect in neighbouring countries. It’s running the risk of a race to the bottom right across Latin America.
And it will continue so long as the perpetrators feel they can act with total impunity. The investigations into the murders of the SITRABI activists are going very slowly. It seemed in March that possible culprits had been identified, but nothing has happened since. And then in a shock move recently the Guatemalan Attorney General was suddenly dismissed, jeopardising the progress that her office had made on the cases.
The President appointed a new Attorney General, Thelma Aldana, on 17 May, and unionists are waiting to see if the change will mean the government are attempting to sweep these crimes under the carpet and spare the international embarrassment.
Can you help out by writing an email to the new Attorney General’s Office and Guatemala’s ambassador to the UK, letting them know the world is watching what’s happening on these cases?
Winning justice for the murdered SITRABI activists will be the surest way to show those who would block workers’ rights in Guatemala that they can’t just act as they please and not face the consequences, and it would provide vital encouragement to the country’s brave trade unionists, facing these kind of attacks across all sectors.
Please take a moment to send an email now, via our Going To Work campaign site.