Pushing Back: Women Workers Speak Out on Trade
STITCH Debuts Documentary On Women Workers in Honduras
documentary, Pushing Back: Women Speak Out on Trade gives a first-hand
view on how the 2006 passing of Dominican Republic-Central America Free
Trade Agreement (CAFTA) has impacted the lives of women in the last five
years and the challenges facing women workers throughout the region as
it explores the realities of globalization, trade, and immigration with
a unique glimpse into the organizaing methods used by women unionists
for women unionists in Honduras. Watch the 18-minute short documentary
Violence Continues in Guatemalan Banana Sector; Take Action Today
On October 16, 2011, Pablino Yaque Cervantes, member of the Banana Workers Union of Izabal (SITRABI), was brutally assassinated in Izabal, Guatemala by an unknown assailant. Cervantes is the fourth member of SITRABI murdered in 2011. His death adds to the growing toll of at least a dozen Guatemalan trade unionists assassinated this year.
In a statement released on October 21, SITRABI expressed concern for the safety and well-being of its members who have faced repression, threats and intimidation, persecution, acts of violence and murder since the 1999 violent raid on its headquarters.
Less than two weeks after the assassination of Yaque Cervantes, founder and General Secretary of the Union of Workers of the El Real Plantation, Miguel Angel Felipe Sagatusme, was cruelly murdered on October 27. The El Real Plantation is located in Izabal on the country's Atlantic coast and is a subsidiary of the transnational company Del Monte.
SITRABI and the CAFTA Worker Rights Complaint
Following Guatemala City, Izabal has the second highest unionization rate in Guatemala. SITRABI, which also represents Del Monte union members, is the largest private sector union in Guatemala. SITRABI was one of the six Guatemalan unions that filed a CAFTA worker rights complaint in 2008 with the AFL-CIO, responding to illegal firings, failure to bargain in good faith, health and safety violations, and violence against trade unionists, including the murder of a former General Secretary. The Guatemala labor complaint is the first filed under CAFTA.
On August 9, 2011, the United States Trade Representative announced that it was requesting the establishment of an arbitral panel under the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) in order to discuss the Guatemalan government's continuing failure to enforce its labor laws, including those protecting the right to association and collective bargaining.
Violence against Women Unionists More Ruthless
The rate of impunity in Guatemala lingers around 96% and overall violence connected to organized crime and narcotrafficking is at an all time high with the Atlantic coast not being an exception. Violence against women continues to deeply affect the country. Since 2000, almost 5,000 women have been murdered in Guatemala, and each year the body count rises. In 2010 alone, 630 women were killed.
In July 2011, two women unionists and members of the National Front of Struggle in defense of public services and natural resources (FNL) were brutally murdered in Guatemala, only days apart. Lesbia Elías Xurup, 33 years old, was savagely assassinated in her home in Suchitepéquez on July 21 by perpetrators who used machetes to carry out the crime. On July 22, María Santos Mejía, a 36 year-old mother of four children, including a four-month baby, was killed by assailants on a motorcycle who shot her multiple times in the head.
With International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women coming up on November 25, it is important to highlight the difference in how women unionists are violently attacked in comparison to their male counterparts. Brutal attacks against women have long been a tool and war tactic used in Guatemala to intimidate women and send them a message of terror. International human rights and women's rights organizations fear the Guatemalan government's lack of action and investigation into these heinous and systemic crimes may lead women to retreat from participation in public life, abandoning their indispensible role in national development. The international community, especially the United States, needs to continue to pressure the Guatemalan government to look into these crimes and ensure a proper allocation of resources is provided to strengthen old and develop new institutions taxed with bringing these crimes against women to justice.
SITRABI has called on the international community to continue to denounce the ongoing attacks and assassinations of its members and all unionists in Guatemala. Please stand in solidarity with Guatemalan workers today by sending a message to the Guatemalan government. Take Action Now! [our apologies, we're experiencing some difficulties with the action link. We're doing our best to get it working as soon as possible: as of 5:10pm EST]
Opposition to Secure Communities Continues; Program Endangers Women
Washington , D.C. -- Labor, immigrant, and church groups gathered at the August 24 public hearing in Arlington , VA organized by the Homeland Security Advisory Council to discuss the Obama administration's widely criticized deportation program, Secure Communities. The Wednesday evening session was one of four hosted throughout the country in the past few weeks after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced on August 5 that it would unilaterally terminate all contracts with states and localities who earlier in the year opted not to participate in this program.
In a statement responding to the announcement made by DHS, STITCH and other immigrant rights and women's rights organizations criticized the administration's decision to move forward with the Secure Communities (abbreviated “S-Comm”) program, regardless of public opposition. Women's rights advocates adduce that S-Comm puts women in danger by making domestic violence and sexual assault victims afraid to call police for help, for fear of being deported and separated from their families.
This was the case with Maria Bolaños, an immigrant from El Salvador who was arrested and detained for five days after calling police for a domestic dispute with her partner. She has been charged with illegal sale of phone cards, a charge she denied, and is awaiting deportation. At the hearing in Arlington , Ms. Bolaños directly confronted (video) an immigration official sitting in the audience, “Perhaps you have children too, and it would hurt to be separated from them. My daughter has a life here. I ask you, please stop Secure Communities.”
According to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), “Under this administration, ICE has set clear and common-sense priorities for immigration enforcement, with the highest priority on identifying and removing those aliens with criminal convictions or who pose a threat to national security.”
Under S-Comm, local law enforcement must check the fingerprints of anyone jailed and believed to be undocumented against the DHS databases for criminal and immigration violations. While in theory, the program aims to keep communities safe, the vast majority of those deported through S-Comm have had no criminal record at all. The DHS has itself admitted a large number of deportations have occurred after minor traffic offenses and the Office of the Inspector General has initiated an audit into the program.
On August 18, the Obama administration announced it would halt all deportation proceedings if they do not involve criminals or people with flagrant immigration violations. Given the administration's record one million deportations, this measure was lauded by many immigrant rights organizations.
More than 150 people marched out of the public hearing in Arlington chanting and beating drums. Like previous hearings in Los Angeles and Chicago, the majority of attendees oppose the Secure Communties program and call these hearings a sham since DHS shows no sign of legitimately taking into account what people have to say.
The task force includes members of local law enforcement, immigration lawyers, and union representatives. A final report with the findings and recommendations of the task force will be issued in September.
STITCH supports women workers in their efforts to plan and carryout organizing campaigns in Central America and the United States. Through a feminist perspective, STITCH sustains new and existing unions by offering leadership development workshops, trainings and exchanges that increase skills and build ties of understanding among women workers and activists.