November 1, 2011—Amid a climate of violence and impunity in Guatemala, five banana workers have been murdered since the beginning of April 2011. Their deaths have shattered their families, their communities, and their unions.
||A banana worker labors in Izabal, Guatemala, where worker rights violations are blatant, according to the ITUC. Photo by Solidarity Center
On April 10, Oscar Humberto González Vázquez, a grassroots leader of SITRABI, the largest union of banana workers in Izabal and a longtime Solidarity Center partner, was found dead with 35 bullet wounds. On May 30, SITRABI Finance Secretary Idar Joel Hernández Godoy was ambushed by men on a motorcycle as he traveled in a union vehicle to SITRABI headquarters. According to police reports, Hernández sustained multiple bullet wounds, including one to the forehead. On September 24, SITRABI member Henry Anibal Marroquin Orellana was shot 17 times by armed gunmen waiting outside the plantation as he returned there for his second work shift. On Sunday, October 16, SITRABI member Pablino Yaque Cervantes was shot eight times by an unknown, heavily armed gunman in the main alley of Carrizabal neighborhood next to the municipal market of Morales. And on October 27, Miguel Angel Felipe, founder and former general secretary of the Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Finca El Real (El Real Farm Workers Union), was shot dead by a security guard at the El Real banana plantation. The guard then fled the premises, reports the Guatemalan labor federation, UNSITRAGUA. Sagatusme was employed at El Real—located in the department of Izabal—for more than 20 years. He leaves behind a wife and five children.
Worker rights violations are blatant in Izabal, according to the International Trade Union Confederation. SITRABI has been heavily persecuted for more than a decade. In 1999, as union organizers planned a massive protest in response to the dismissal of more than 900 SITRABI members, hundreds of heavily armed thugs raided the meeting. SITRABI leaders were forced at gunpoint to flee their hometown of Morales with their families to the United States to defend their lives and pursue a case against their employer. In 2006, attackers stoned and then shot at a SITRABI-owned vehicle driven by an elected union officer. In late July 2007, army officers conducted a threatening interrogation of union leaders at SITRABI’s headquarters in Morales. Only months later, Marco Tulio Ramirez Portela, SITRABI secretary of culture and sports and brother of SITRABI General Secretary Noé Antonio Ramirez Portela, was gunned down by masked assailants as he left home to work on a banana plantation. His murder led to an international protest campaign.
SITRABI is demanding that:
- The government take appropriate measures to ensure compliance with the Constitution, which guarantees the right to life.
- The attorney general undertake a thorough investigation and punish the murderers to the fullest extent of the law.
- The crimes be publicly denounced as violations of human and worker rights.
SITRABI is also asking national and international unions to continue to express their solidarity and support and advocate before government authorities to stem the tide of violence against union leaders and organizations, as well as the widespread violence that causes fear among all Guatemalans.