The global labor community is condemning death threats made against Jean Bonald Golinsky Fatal, president of the Confédération des Travailleurs- euses des Secteurs Public et Privé (CTSP) in Haiti.
Garment union president Jean Bonald Golinsky Fatal is receiving death threats in Haiti. Photo courtesy Fatal
The Confederation of Trade Unions of Workers of the Americas (CSA) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) are calling on the international community to put pressure on the government to take action to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.
Fatal’s name reportedly appeared on a list threatening five individuals, one of whom was murdered. Lionel Alain Dougé, executive director of the Tripartite Implementation Commission of the HOPE law, was killed in December at his home in Pétion-Ville, Haiti.
Dougé was responsible for ensuring textile companies adhere to Haitian laws, International Labor Organization labor standards and the HOPE law, which guarantees companies tariff advantages when trading with the United States and European Union.
The CSA and ITUC said in a statement that a joint trade union mission to Haiti in 2018 found rampant anti-unionism which translates into “campaigns of persecution and criminalization of trade union members and leaders.” At least 16 women were beaten by police inside a factory for refusing to return to work in May 2017, according to the ITUC 2018 Global Rights Index, which listed Haiti among countries that systematically violate worker rights.
The challenges to forming unions means workers have little opportunity to improve wages and working conditions. Haiti’s minimum wage is two to three times lower than the cost of living, with a liter of milk costing more than half the daily minimum wage. The resulting extreme poverty is exacerbated by increases in taxes and prices for gasoline, diesel and kerosene.
Another union leader in Honduras has received death threats and a second union leader was arrested in the department of Colon during a peaceful rally protesting government corruption, according to the Honduras-based nonprofit ACI-Participa. Earlier this year, one Honduran union leader was murdered and another disappeared and is presumed dead. The latest incidents bring to nine the number of attacks on union leaders in 2015.
Isela Juarez Jimenez, president of the public employees union SITRASEMCA, began receiving death threats earlier this month and last week, her motorbike was rammed by a white Toyota, which had been following her for days. Jimenez was not injured.
SITRASEMCA has been in the forefront of opposition to government corruption and a water privatization scheme. More than half of all households in Tegucigalpa, the capital, do not have access to potable water and a plan supported by a government commission to privatize the water supply likely would make access to clean water prohibitively expensive for many residents.
Meanwhile, Heber Rolando Flores, a leader in the union representing workers of the National Agrarian Institute, was arrested and charged with sedition for taking part earlier this month in a peaceful rally in which students, workers and the public were protesting government corruption. Flores must report weekly to the Public Ministry until his court hearing.
Both Juarez Jimenez and Rolando Flores suffered physical attacks at the hands of security forces (including the National Police and the Army) as the September 1 anti-corruption rally was violently repressed by the state.
Violence against union leaders in Honduras nearly always goes unpunished, even though Honduras is under scrutiny for failure to enforce worker rights under its labor laws. The United States is waiting for the Honduran government to present a corrective plan of action to address labor rights violations, a move required after the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Trade and Labor Affairs last year accepted a complaint under the labor chapter of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).
The AFL-CIO and 26 Honduran unions and civil society organizations filed the complaint in March 2012. In a February 2015 report, the U.S. Trade and Labor Affairs office said Honduras has made virtually no progress since then.
A delegation of U.S. union leaders traveled on a fact-finding trip to Honduras late last year, where they described the widespread noncompliance with laws, including attacks against labor leaders, a lack of compliance with minimum wage laws and an unresponsive government. Based on the delegations’ findings, the AFL-CIO issued a report describing the exploitative conditions workers experienced in factories and in their communities. According to the report:
“Throughout the delegation visit, workers and community leaders spoke not only about the extreme levels of corruption, but also the increased militarization of the country, and widespread corruption among security forces and the impact it had on their daily lives.”
Many union leaders reporting threats and harassment are members of the Network Against Anti-Union Violence in Honduras, coordinated by leadership of the national labor confederations and the human rights NGO ACI-Participa, which seeks to promote respect for human rights in Honduras, encourage people to exercise their right to participate in decision-making processes and push for transparency in government and private-sector institutions charged with providing public services.
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.
Family and friends attend the funeral of slain trade unionist, Juan Carlos Pérez Muñoz. Credit: Robinson Cook
Juan Carlos Pérez Muñoz, a trade union member in Colombia, was gunned down last week on his way to board a bus to the Cauca River Valley where he worked in the sugarcane fields.
The death of Pérez, 30, a leader in the SINTRAINAGRO union’s struggle for living wages and decent working conditions at the La Cabaña sugar plantation, came just days after two rallies by sugarcane workers. The workers were protesting the firing of 87 employees of the La Cabaña and 24 employees Maria Luisa plantations. Since December, when the sugarcane workers collectively began pushing for workplace improvements through SINTRAINAGRO, workers have been subjected to threatening phone calls and other forms of harassment, and the company has refused to negotiate.
“Anti-union violence and the victimization of the workers is still growing,” the union federation CUT (Central Unitaria de Trabajadores de Colombia), said in a statement. In Colombia, “the rights of workers continue to be violated,” CUT Human Rights Director Alberto Vanegas Zuluaga, told Colombia Reports.
Sugarcane development is a thriving business in Valle del Cauca. Nearly half its cultivated area is devoted to sugarcane production as either raw sugar or ethanol, about one-third of it for export. Sugarcane cutters work as long as 14 hours per day and make as little as $200 a month. Because they are largely subcontracted, they receive no health care or pensions and must provide their own safety equipment—and have no recourse if they are injured on the job.
Colombia remains the deadliest country for union leaders and members. In 2012, 19 trade unionists were murdered and there were at least 10 attempted murders, according to the Colombian non-governmental organization, Escuela Nacional Sindical. The International TradeUnion Confederation (ITUC) says that although some efforts have been made to investigate these crimes, the majority of the cases reported by trade union organizations remain unsolved.
In recent meetings with the Minister of Labor and the Minister of the Interior, SINTRAINAGRO and CUT denounced the violence and threats to leaders and members of the sugarcane workers’ union and to SINTRAINAGRO’s national leadership and asked the governmentto provide protection. They made clear that without government protection, more unionists would be killed. Perez was gunned down a few days later, leaving behind his wife, Luz Aidé, and son.