Bullets and Bananas: The Violence of Free Trade in Guatemala

Dandelion Salad

by Cyril Mychalejko
May 3rd, 2008

Less than 24 hours after President Bush met with Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom at the White House on Monday, a worker from a union that filed a trade complaint with Washington against the Guatemalan government was murdered.

Carlos Enrique Cruz Hernández, a banana worker, was assassinated while working at a farm owned by a subsidiary of Del Monte. Cruz Hernández’s Union of Izabal Banana Workers (SITRABI), was one of six Guatemalan unions who, along with the AFL-CIO, filed a complaint allowed through labor provisions of the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) on April 23, charging that the Guatemalan government was not upholding its labor laws and was failing to investigate and prosecute crimes against union members–which include rape and murder. The complaint states that violence against trade unionists has increased over the past two years (since CAFTA was ratified) and that the Guatemalan government may be responsible for some of the violence. The violence from this year alone includes 8 murders, 1 attempted murder, 2 drive-by shootings, and the kidnapping and gang rape of a top union official’s daughter who was targeted because of her father’s union work.

“There is a climate of terror for trade unionists,” said Thea Lee, the chief international economist at the AFL-CIO, in an interview with Bloomberg News. “But so far the Bush administration hasn’t lifted a finger to enforce any of the labor chapters.”

The timing of Cruz Hernández’s murder, just five days after the complaint was filed, is disturbingly reminiscent of a fellow SITRABI member’s murder. Marco Tulio Ramirez, the union’s Secretary of Culture and Sports, was assassinated by assailants wearing ski masks on company property just two days after the Ministry of Defense (MOD) ruled in September 2007 that a military unit should be disciplined for raiding a union office and interrogating officials. SITRABI met several times with the MOD and other government officials to discuss the military intimidation the months leading up to the ruling. According to the AFL-CIO complaint, his murder has never been investigated.

While the Bush Administration was offered an opportunity to informally discuss the complaint with Guatemala’s Colom, the only words concerning CAFTA were about “how it was working.”