Famine and Hunger Devastate Guatemala …, Again The Pathological Interdependence of Feast and Famine in the Global “Free Trade” Economic Order

By Grahame Russell, February 18, 2015

“New famine”, cries out the Guatemalan newspaper headline (La Prensa, February 7, 2015), threatening the lives of 874,000 people in 206 regions of the country.

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‘Famine and hunger spreading through Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador’, reports the United Nation’s Food and Hunger Program, pulling on heart strings, opening their bank accounts for charity donations, many of which might come from the countries and consumers that help create and profit from the famine and hunger.

Former general, now president Otto Perez Molina promises: “My government will not abandon those families suffering from drought”, as his government cuts back spending on health and education, increasing spending on police and military forces that provide “protection” to large-scale landowners, the mining industry, hydro-electric dam companies, etc, that control the best lands and water sources, so as to produce goods for faraway investors and consumers.

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In all of this dismally repetitive ‘crisis’ reporting, year after year, there is no discussion about how most of the people suffering famine and hunger live short distances from some of the richest lands in all of Guatemala, that – protected by men with guns (police, soldiers and private security):

  • produce bananas and pineapple for export (Dole, Chiquita, Standard Fruit, etc) to European and North American consumers whose fruit consumer demands will be met;
  • produce cow meat for export to fast-food and boutique hamburger joints (“billions served”);
  • produce African palm and sugar cane for food products and “green” energies like bio-diesel fuel and ethanol so that vehicles of faraway consumers will not hunger for fuel, will not be famished for endless travel and mobility.

There will be no reporting about how the Guatemalan police, military and private security guards forcibly evict indigenous and campesino communities to make way for hydro-electric dams and open-pit gold, silver and nickel mining operations so that global investors (private equity firms and pension funds) will not hunger for profits.

Nor will there be analysis about how the World Bank, Inter-American development Bank, governments of Canada, United States, etc, are passing more “free trade” agreements, to make more of Guatemala’s best lands and water available to more foreign companies and investors to produce more products for export to more consumers in faraway places, creating more famine and hunger in Guatemala, just over there beyond the chain-linked, armed-guarded fence, just up there on the dried out, parched lands of the steep mountain sides.

The annual devastation and death caused by famine and hunger in countries like Guatemala are not a ‘crisis’ and they are not national issues.  There will be no end to this predictable, logical cycle of global feast and famine if there is no significant transformation of the unjust global economic system that creates and perpetuates it.

Rights Action: www.rightsaction.org

Solidarismo

Solidarismo is a form of worker organisation that serves as an alternative to trade unions. It originated in 1947 with an idea of Alberto Martén and it is particularly associated with Costa Rica, where it has grown strongly through and since the 1990s. By its critics, it is often referred to as a boss’s union because it responds principally to the economic interests of profit maximisation held by businesses, owners and managers.

Despite its name, the movement does not seek to generate solidarity within the working class. Its aim is to create harmonious relations between work and capital in the workplace; and in the long term, … the promotion of a form of ‘popular capitalism’.[i]

Solidarismo is a philosophical technique, like a movement with an evangelical route rather than a worker’s union. The concept suggests disputes between workers and bosses can be resolved through Christian principles and ‘arreglo directo’ (direct settlement) – a means of collective negotiation. Solidaristas contend that injustices and social inequalities are not the result of capitalism, but of unequal access to property, and that by becoming owners workers will start to share their boss’s aim of increasing the productivity of the company. Solidarismo also has a financial aspect to it which in Costa Rica is supported by law. People in solidarismo associations are often plantation administration staff, and the movement helps them to build their personal savings accounts by allowing frequent payments from wages to be made, and money to be loaned.

The methodology, however, is often abused because the three committee members of arreglo directo are supposed to be selected by plantation workers, but more often are put forward by the company and thus most disputes have a one-sided outcome. This is a way around collective bargaining and avoids the formation of unions which companies perceive as threats.

Today, the solidarista movement represents a serious challenge to unions throughout Central America.


[i] Equipo Envío (2009) ‘Solidarismo: nueva arma contra los sindicatos’, Revista Envío.

JFC: new union-buster on the block: how solidarismo operates

The following extracts are taken from an article in the Banana Trade News Bulletin, No. 44 (May 2010) produced by Banana Link. I am grateful to Banana Link for permission to reproduce this article.

The Joint Fruit Company (JFC) is Russian-owned and aims to increase international fruit sales in Russian retail chains. JFC first invested in Costa Rica in 2007 and bought over 900 hectares, mostly planted in bananas. It also buys its products from independent producers. It is reported to have continued buying land in 2009/10.

One of the farms it bought was Campo 5 in Cariari, now renamed Finca Bonanza. During 2009, a group of workers had complained to the company and labour inspectors about non-payment of the minimum wage, increased working hours, exaggerated workloads and exposure to chemical spraying, but their complaints had not been addressed. In mid-February they therefore contracted the local SITRAP trade union official to request support in getting the issues taken seriously by the company. A group of 13 workers joined SITRAP and Bonanza was duly informed so that the appropriate deductions could be made from the payroll.

Even before receiving the list of new members, management had circulated a letter for workers to sign requesting the intervention of the John XXIII Social School, the Catholic church body that has led the union-busting campaign for the last three decades in Costa Rica. Within 24 hours the School’s promoters had been contracted in to prevent the union from gaining ground amongst the workforce. The promoters organised elections for a permanent workers’ committee and even though they had lined up their candidates, two of the three workers elected were amongst those who had joined SITRAP.

The committee members were then taken off the plantation for the day with the intention of them signing up to a so-called ‘direct settlement’ (‘arreglo directo’) that had been drafted by the School promoters. Even though the two union members pointed out that they had played no part in drafting a document that was about their pay and conditions, they were pressured into signing the ‘settlement’ on behalf of the whole workforce. The company then created a solidarista association as part of its strategy to discourage union membership. But direct pressure was also applied: one of the two members of the committee was visited almost daily by the School promoter, who went as far as threatening him with sending a hired killer if he didn’t give up his union membership.

Just as happens on virtually every other plantation in Costa Rica where workers choose freely to join a trade union …, a range of tactics deployed by the School and some company representatives have been put into operation. These include threats of being black-listed so that no other plantation will employ you or your family members, threats that the plantation will be forced to close down and offers to accompany workers to the SITRAP offices with their papers signing away union membership at the company’s expense.

On Saturday 1st May, the local SITRAP official was escorted from the plantation by police, following a phone call alleging that the company’s property was about to be damaged. The plantation manager had previously – and very aggressively – tried to evict the same official on the grounds that he was on private property. On 4th May, the company sent the police again during a meeting between the union official and members.

Such activities are in clear violation of international and national labour legislation. With very few exceptions, however, banana companies are all sooner or later drawn into what has become standard union-busting practice. Meanwhile, the industry and government authorities continue to make out that Costa Rica is a socially advanced nation where freedom of association is respected.

Bonanza Servicios, the Costa Rican subsidiary of JFC, has now become embroiled in these violations, aggravated by threats of violence and even killing ordinary workers who find that their grievances are not addressed. It can only be hoped that the company realises that this kind of refusal to engage in any kind of dialogue, let alone free collective bargaining, with their workforce can only harm their operations in the long term.

When Vladimir Putin announced in March … that cheap bananas for Russian consumers were part of a strategy of “keeping down food prices including tropical fruit”, he was not necessarily aware that cheap fruit is often produced at the expense of the workers and the small producers. It is to be hoped that JFC will see that paying a fair price and treating workers fairly is an integral part of being a socially responsible multinational enterprise in the 21st century.


Sources:
URALSIB Fixed Income Research bulletin, Moscow 2006;
Various editions of El Expreso, Guayaquil, Ecuador, Dec 09 – Feb 10;
El Ciudadano, Quito, 05/02/10;
La Nación, San José, 16/06/09;
johnhelmer.net, Moscow, 25/03/10;
SITRAP reports, Siquirres, April and May 2010.
Banana Link website: www.bananalink.org.uk

Effects of Costa Rica’s Seed Law

All commercial seeds in Costa Rica need to be registered and approved by the National Seed Office, and comply with its requirements and procedures. This means legal action and fines for any farmer who sells or exchanges non-approved seed. Any possibility of creating exceptions to this rule will need further regulation, and cannot be taken as read.

Under the promise of raising quality, seeds must comply with rigid standards ensuring uniformity, distinctness, and stability. However, diversity and homogeneity do not mix, and this requirement for homogeneity effectively makes traditional native seed varieties illegal. These are the very seed that are able to adapt to the variety of climates, soils and agricultural practices employed by campesino agriculture.

Traditional seed needs to be registered. This transfers to seed companies the raw material to select new commercial varieties.

The homogenisation of agriculture severely reduces food diversity. This legally restricts which seeds are permitted for use and ignores the wealth of genetic diversity represented in traditional seeds. Loss of seed varieties represents erosion of the genetic pool, reduction in pest and disease resistance, greater use of fertilisers, pesticides and fungicides, and fewer food options available for the population.

Food costs will rise for everyone. Greater agricultural inputs and imposed registration and certification costs inevitably filter down to the consumer.

US interferes in El Salvador’s seed distribution practices

From CISPES (Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador), 27 May 2014

Rather than following through on Secretary of State John Kerry’s promise to “pursue a positive and constructive relationship” between the US and El Salvador, the US government is demanding that the Salvadoran government eliminate a crucial element of a food security and poverty reduction program in order to receive development aid from the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

Since 2011, the FMLN-Funes administration has been purchasing locally-produced corn and bean seeds from small-scale farmers and distributing them free-of-charge to other small-scale farmers to promote domestic seed production, ensure food security and improve the livelihoods of family farmers, impoverished after decades of corporate-driven agricultural and free trade policies.

Now, US Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte has announced that El Salvador must allow foreign corporations to bid on the same seed contracts currently offered to local producers in order to receive $277 million in development aid from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). Read more background on the situationhere.

It’s outrageous that the US government is using development aid to promote the interests of Big Agra giants like Monsanto at the expense of Salvadoran farmers and families.

Take Action Today in Solidarity with El Salvador’s Family Farmers!

Sign the PETITION to tell Secretary John Kerry to:<http://org2.salsalabs.com/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=6eBoty8CMMSIyTq5gY6c4Pd3raI0fjgc>
• Stop conditioning $277 in development funds on El Salvador cutting support for its family farmers
• Quit using international aid to influence the Salvadoran government’s sovereign policy decisions<http://org2.salsalabs.com/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=70scaSTTU3ilKVSGtHN5r%2Fd3raI0fjgc>

Deadline: The petition will close on Thursday, June 5th, so it can be delivered to Secretary Kerry.