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Another Guatemalan Trade Union Leader Murdered
On May 26, Guatemalan banana union leader Joel Hernandez Godoy, Finance Secretary of the SITRABI union, was shot dead, reportedly by two gunmen on a motorcycle. According to BananaLink, Godoy “was killed by unidentified gunmen as he left the Nuevo Campo plantation in the community of Los Amates..... Eyewitnesses waiting for a bus said that two men on a motorbike shot at Hernández Godoy as he was driving the union vehicle back towards the office in Morales. The vehicle lost control and crashed with a lorry, whilst the gunmen fled. This is the second killing this year of a SITRABI official. Oscar Humberto Gonzales Vásquez, a local committee member and worker at the Del Monte subsidiary Bandegua, was killed on 11th April. His body was found with 35 bullets in it.”
SITRABI, which represents Del Monte banana workers and is the largest private sector union in Guatemala, has issued a request for international solidarity, denouncing the new violence.
Violence against SITRABI members is particularly sensitive politically for the U.S. and Guatemalan governments. A pending CAFTA labor complaint filed against Guatemala by the AFL-CIO, SITRABI and five other Guatemalan trade unions in April 2008 included as a prime case the murder of SITRABI union leader Marco Tulio Ramirez, brother of the union’s General Secretary, Noe Ramirez,. Three years later, no one has been charged for the murder, or most any other murder of trade unionists in Guatemala, one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a trade unionist).
The failure of the Guatemalan government to address worker rights violations associated with the CAFTA complaint recently prompted the U.S. government on May 16 to request the convening of a special trade panel, a last step before moving towards arbitration. It would be the first arbitration under the raft of trade agreements passed since NAFTA was implemented in 1994.
Now, the failure of the CAFTA labor complaint to curtail violence even against one of the plaintiffs in the complaint calls into serious question the effectiveness of the labor protections of Free Trade Agreements, just as the Obama Administration has begun making a big push for passage of a Free Trade Agreement with Colombia, which annually leads the world in number of trade unionists murdered.
In an indication of the political pressures at work, the U.S. embassy quickly issued a press release denouncing the killing and expressing its concern about the violence and intimidation facing union workers in Guatemala, noting that, “when a trade union leader is violently attacked in total impunity, the impact of the crime can reach beyond the individual targeted and cast a shadow of fear over others, weakening the right to free association and collective bargaining.”
Take Action by visiting the website of the International Union of Foodworkers to send a message to Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom Caballeros condemning this murder of a union leader and demanding that the perpetrators be brought to justice.
Check out our collaborative labor rights blog, Labor is Not a Commodity!