The slow-moving massacre of the largest private sector union in Guatemala took another life on February 5 when Miguel Angel González Ramírez, a member of the Izabal banana workers' union, was shot while he was holding his son. Six other current or former members of the union, SITRABI, were murdered in 2011. No one has been arrested for any of these murders. Inexplicably, on the same day that González was killed the Guatemalan government informed SITRABI General Secretary Noe Ramirez that it was ending his 24-hour security protection.
Guatemalan unions are demanding (English, Spanish) the resumption of security protection for Noe Ramirez, SITRABI General Secretary, and the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the assassination of Miguel Angel González Ramírez. Contact Guatemalan authorities to demand (1) an end to violence against SITRABI and other Guatemalan trade unions, and (2) that those responsible for the violence are brought to justice.
Background: CAFTA, Violence, and SITRABI
Violence against SITRABI is one of the key components of the CAFTA labor complaint, filed in April 2008 by six Guatemalan trade unions and the AFL-CIO. In the complaint, SITRABI focused on the 2007 murder of Noe Ramirez’s brother, Marco Tulio Ramirez, another case that remains in impunity.
Unfortunately, the Obama Administration has made clear that while it is concerned about violence against trade unionists in Guatemala, it does not consider violence against trade unionists to be a violation of worker rights subject to the CAFTA (Central America Free Trade Agreement) labor complaint process. Meanwhile, violence has sky-rocketed against one of the main filers of the complaint, SITRABI, sending a clear message to trade unions in Guatemala that it could be dangerous to engage in the CAFTA process.
In 2011 the Obama Administration threatened to take Guatemala to arbitration after the collapse of CAFTA negotiations over a “labor action plan,” but negotiations subsequently resumed. With the installation of a new Guatemalan government in January 2012, the Administration has reportedly set a six-month deadline for a resolution or it will return to arbitration, which could lead to fines against the Guatemalan government for violating the CAFTA labor protections. An FTA labor complaint has never gone to arbitration, so there is no track record by which to gauge its effectiveness.
In any event, CAFTA’s labor protections and the complaint process itself have failed the seven SITRABI members killed since February 2011, victims of the surge in violence against Guatemalan trade unionists that began after CAFTA went into effect in 2004. Guatemala is now the second most dangerous country for trade unionists in Latin America, trailing only perennial leader Colombia.
CAFTA is nearing its four year anniversary with few gains achieved, supporting USLEAP’s long-standing concerns that CAFTA’s labor protections are ineffective and represent a step back from what existed previously.
When SITRABI members came under death threat and violent attack in 1999, pre-CAFTA, the U.S. government immediately put Guatemala’s trade benefits on probation, providing an incentive for the Guatemalan government to arrest, prosecute, and, for the first time in modern Guatemalan history, convict and sentence the perpetrators of violence. In contrast, under CAFTA filers of the complaint have faced a sharp increase in violence, along with total impunity.