Over the last two weeks, anonymous callers have threatened the life of long-time Honduran union leader and radio talk show host José María Martínez, whose vocal support for the rights of banana and other agricultural workers has made him a target.
For the past 20 years, Martínez, head of communications with the Honduran federation of agro-industrial unions, FESTAGRO, has hosted a daily radio show called “Trade Unionist on Air,” which features discussions about labor and human rights, including an opportunity for agricultural workers to call in and ask about abusive workplaces, labor standards and rights violations.
Since September 2012, Martínez has been working closely with workers at the Tres Hermanas banana plantations as they pushed to win a collective bargaining agreement in the face of harsh employer repression, including the firing of workers for their union activity. Since May, the struggle of the Tres Hermanas workers has been a frequent topic on his radio program.
On multiple occasions and with increasing frequency, unidentified callers have phoned Martínez and his family demanding that he shut his mouth or they will do it for him. He was told: “Prepare your burial clothes because we are going to kill you.”
On July 5, those threats escalated as a car without license plates staked out Radio Progreso, home to “Trade Unionist on Air.” The vehicle circle Martínez’s place of work four times at the hour Martinez was getting off air. He was forced to escape through a back exit, escorted by Father Ismael Moreno, the Catholic priest who serves as the director for Radio Progreso.
Local police have warned Martinez not to leave his home without first notifying them for his own protection.
According to FESTAGRO, since 2009, 31 trade unionists, 52 rural workers and 28 journalists have been murdered in Honduras.