Guatemala: End the Murders

Idar Joel Hernandez Godoy

Idar Joel Hernandez Godoy

SITRABI (the banana workers’ trade union in the Izabal region) has once again been hard hit by the armed repression of which male and female defenders of union rights in Guatemala are regular victims. Idar Joel Hernandez Godoy, treasurer of the central executive committee of SITRABI, was gunned down in cold blood on May 26, less than two months after the murder of another of his comrades, Oscar González Vázquez. SITRABI is calling for international solidarity as they demand justice. Guatemala is now sadly the second most dangerous country, after Colombia, in the world in which to be a trade unionist. According to the latest annual survey of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), 10 trade union activists were killed in Guatemala in 2010 and 10 further killings have been reported so far in 2011.

Read: Selfa Sandoval defending workers dignity in Guatemala

On May 26, Idar Joel Godoy Hernández left his home and drove towards the headquarters of SITRABI, in the town of Morales. It was about 7:20am when two men on a motorcycle intercepted him as he was crossing the small village of Cristina, located in the Los Amates municipality. Idar Joel was killed by four bullets in the head and one in the shoulder. His vehicle, also damaged by fire, struck another vehicle, and ended up on the side of the road. Idar Joel, 50, leaves three orphan daughters. On April 10, his colleague Oscar Gonzalez Hulmberti Vasquez, a SITRABI official, was found dead, his body riddled with 35 bullet holes in the town of Morales.

These two murders are not isolated incidents. On March 26, 2010, Samuel Ramírez Paredes, SITRABI general secretary in the district of Panchoy, was murdered two years after Carlos Enrique Cruz Hernandez, an individual member of SITRABI, was killed on May 2, 2008. Representatives of SITRABI, who organise plantation workers employed by Bandegua, a subsidiary of Del Monte, are regularly subjected to harassment, death threats and all kinds of persecution. „At any moment we could be victims of this violence, perpetrated against anyone fighting for the defence of workers,“ said Noé Ramirez, current SITRABI general secretary. These murders are part of a pattern of escalating violence encouraged by institutional impunity in Guatemala. Shortly before Joel Idar’s murder, representatives of the Public Ministry had asked SITRABI to cancel the complaint that the union had filed in 2007 following death threats they received following the assassination of SITRABI activist Marco Tulio Ramirez in 2007.

In August, SITRABI, in partnership with COLSIBA1, are organising a conference entitled „Corporate social responsibility and banana workers’ rights in the South Coast of Guatemala.“ This conference aims to facilitate negotiation and dialogue between unions and the banana companies, led by the Ministry of Labour. This is a key opportunity for SITRABI and COLSIBA to raise and address their concerns about the systematic and growing use of non-unionised labour by fruit multinationals in the Southern Guatemala region.

In response to the assassinations of their colleagues, SITRABI are working in solidarity with other organisations, networks and trade unions at local, national, regional and international levels. In June, the IUF2 secured a commitment from the Office of the Public Prosecutor of Guatemala to establish a joint Commission to investigate the murders of banana workers’ leaders belonging to SITRABI. It is hoped that this will be an important step in overcoming the impunity that has reigned in the vast majority of such cases. In July, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the Confederation of Trade Union Unity of Guatemala are coordinating the second conference against Impunity in Guatemala.

SITRABI is calling for an investigation into the murder of Joel Idar, for those responsible to be charged and for an end to this wave of violence.

Find out more about Banana Link’s ongoing campaign to End the Violence and Impunity in Guatemala.

Letter to the President of Guatemala

Dear Mr. President,

I was informed by Banana Link of the murder, on May 26, 2011, of Idar Joel Hernández, treasurer of the executive committee of SITRABI (Sindicato de Trabajadores Bananeros de Izabal) in Guatemala. This crime follows the murder of another SITRABI union leader, Oscar Humberto González Vázquez, on April 10, 2011.

I therefore urge the government of Guatemala to:

    organise an immediate, impartial and independent investigation into the murders of these union leaders, so that the perpetrators can be brought to justice;
    ensure the protection of SITRABI members, especially of its leaders;
    take concrete steps to ensure that unions can carry out their activities without the threat of violence.

I look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,

Letter to the Guatemalan Ambassador to the UK

Your Excellency,

I was informed by Banana Link of the murder, on May 26, 2011, of Idar Joel Hernández, treasurer of the executive committee of SITRABI (Sindicato de Trabajadores Bananeros de Izabal) in Guatemala. This crime follows the murder of another SITRABI union leader, Oscar Humberto González Vázquez, on April 10, 2011.

I therefore urge the government of Guatemala to:

    organise an immediate, impartial and independent investigation into the murders of these union leaders, so that the perpetrators can be brought to justice;
    ensure the protection of SITRABI members, especially of its leaders;
    take concrete steps to ensure that unions can carry out their activities without the threat of violence.

I look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,