No. 177, June 6-12, 2002


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Workers killed in Haiti

June 4— A May 27 clash between unionized workers and armed goons backed by local officials left two union supporters dead at the Société Guacimal, S.A., orange plantation at St.-Raphaël in northern Haiti. Several union supporters were wounded, and five were arrested, along with two journalists; two St.-Raphaël officials were wounded by gunfire, one seriously. The violence was the latest incident in a two-year struggle between Guacimal—which produces orange extract for European companies, including the French multinational liquor company Rémy Cointreau—and the workers, supported by local peasants and organized into a union affiliated with the Batay Ouvriye (”Workers’ Struggle”) organization. In April Batay Ouvriye warned that increasing repression by management and local landowners and officials might lead to a massacre.

The May 27 incident began when the Guacimal workers tried to exercise their traditional right to farm the land between the orange groves during the off-season. Joined by Batay Ouvriye supporters from nearby Cap-Haïtien and St.-Michel, the workers began a march to the plantation. According to Batay Ouvriye, local officials and “a big crowd of armed men under orders of a local big landowner (Lavaud) along with his caretakers” attacked the demonstrators “with rocks, machetes and guns.” The workers and their supporters fled, but two elderly Batay Ouvriye supporters from St.-Michel were killed.

Seven people were arrested, including at least three people who were seriously injured: union supporter Urbenn Garçon; Darwin St.-Julien, a reporter for the New York–based weekly Haïti Progrès; and Allan Deshommes, a reporter for the Radio Atlantik radio station. St.-Raphael mayor Adonija Sévère, a member of left-populist Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Lavalas Family (FL) party, denounced the prisoners, including the journalists, as “terrorists.” Sévère has opposed the unionists, as did his predecessor, his brother Fernand Sévère, who was killed last December in a fight between FL factions.

On May 29 a helicopter came from Port-au-Prince and removed the seven prisoners to the National Penitentiary in the capital. As of May 30 none had been charged, in violation of Haitian law, which requires that prisoners be charged or released in 48 hours. The authorities allowed a delegation of journalists to visit the reporters on May 30 but not the imprisoned unionists. The delegation reported that the two journalists needed immediate medical attention and that there was a real danger that Deshommes would die from his injuries and St.-Julien would lose an eye.

Source: Weekly News Update on the Americas


Ecuador banana workers attacked
Workers’ and human rights activists called for worldwide action after thugs brutally beat banana workers in Ecuador who are fighting for decent wages and their basic human rights from their employer, Noboa Corp.

About 400 hooded men, who said they worked for Noboa, attacked the workers May 15 -16 in their homes on the Alamos plantation, according to US/Labor Education in the Americas Project (US/Leap). Other workers were attacked May 17 at a Dutch plantation, according to US/Leap.

US/Leap supports economic justice and basic rights for workers in Central America, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico. (

Chiquita workers strike in Honduras
Some 2,000 Honduran banana workers for the Tela Railroad Company went on strike May 27 at 14 plantations and their packing facilities in Cortes and Yoro provinces in the north. Tela is the Honduran affiliate of Cincinnati-based Chiquita Brands International, which emerged from bankruptcy in March.

The immediate cause of the strike was the firing of 29 workers who refused to apply a pesticide identified as “clorpirifos” or Durban, which the company started using on May 20. The workers say the chemical causes vomiting, fainting and sexual impotence. In addition to the rehiring of the laid-off workers, the strikers’ demands include a 10% wage increase and improvements in housing, schools and medical care.

After mediation by the Labor Ministry, Tela agreed to re-hire the 29 laid-off workers; the ministry also named a seven-member commission to determine whether the pesticide was harming the workers. But a general assembly of union workers voted to continue the strike and added two more demands, including stable pay for packing facility workers.
(Weekly Update on the Americas)

Strike brings Rome airport to a halt
An eight-hour strike at Rome’s Fiumicino airport, Italy’s main international hub alongside Milan’s Malpensa, grounded dozens of flights and left passengers stranded on May 24.

Unions were protesting the layoffs of hundreds of ground staff after a service and catering firm at the Rome airport collapsed.

The stoppage was the latest of a series of strikes to hit Italian airports since the end of last year, as workers demanded help for an aviation industry badly hit by the post-Sept. 11 air travel slump.

The strike at Fiumicino and the capital’s smaller airport coincided with a four-hour strike called by Civil Aviation Authority employees.

Last month Italian unions staged a crippling strike to protest government plans to change labor laws. (Reuters)

Alaska wage goes north
The Alaska legislature voted to increase the state’s minimum wage from $5.65 per hour to $7.15, effective Jan. 1, and to index future increases to the Anchorage consumer price index beginning Sept. 30, 2004.

Now, Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer will determine if the measure eliminates the need for a Nov. 2002 ballot initiative on raising the minimum wage.

A petition drive by the Alaska AFL-CIO and allied groups last year drew enough signatures for the initiative to be certified for the November ballot. (Grassroots Media Network)


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