ALERT: TAKE ACTION TO DEFEND UNION ORGANIZERS IN GUATEMALA
In the early morning hours of Sunday September 23, Marco Tulio Portela Ramirez prepared to go to work at a banana plantation in Izabal, Guatemala. He never made it to work. He was gunned down in front of his house by armed masked men. Marco was the secretary of culture and sport at SITRABI, the union for banana workers in Izabal. His brother Noé Ramirez is the general secretary. He leaves behind a wife and young children.
SITRABI is the oldest union in Guatemala and arguably one of the strongest and the largest private sector union in Guatemala. This is not the first attempt to intimidate workers.
§ In 1999, in a case that brought international attention to violence against unionists in Guatemala, seven members of SITRABI were violently attacked and forced to flee to the United States. Their case became the key test on impunity for workers rights advocates and the U.S. government who put Guatemalas trade benefits on probation until Guatemalan courts convicted the criminals.
§ In November of 2006, Union officer Cesar Guerra was shot at while driving in a union vehicle and others were threatened to cease and desist their activities or pay the price.
§ And directly related to the murder of Mr. Ramirez, in July 2007,military forces forcibly entered a union meeting and demanded to know the identity of the leaders.
Violence against trade unionists in Guatemala has increased significantly since the passage of CAFTA. Four trade unionists have been murdered so far this year (none in the year before CAFTA passed) including the January murder of Pedro Zamora, head of an important port workers union. The government has yet to charge anyone in the murder of Mr. Zamora.
SITRABI has been working with local and international forces to pressure the Public Ministry and Ministry of Defense in Guatemala to investigate these crimes. Now they need our help and international solidarity to let the government know that this type of harassment and murder of unionists will not stand!
Stand with SITRABI to stop the violence and intimidation of UNIONISTS!
Contact the Guatemalan Ambassador in the United States and urge the Guatemalan Government to act now!
Ambassador Jose Guillermo Castillo,
2220 R Street, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Tel:(202) 745 4952
Fax:(202) 745 1908
Dear Ambassador Guillermo Castillo,
I am writing to ask your government to take strong and decisive action to stop the violence against unionists in Guatemala. The recent assassination of SITRABI Executive Committee Member, Marco Tulio Portela Ramirez on Sunday, September 23 is a stark reminder of the incredible danger workers face when trying to exercise their right to organize for better wages and more humane conditions in their work places. I urge your government to thoroughly investigate and prosecute the murderers of Mr. Ramirez and other trade unionist in Guatemala, including Mr. Pedro Zamora of the port workers union.
As you may recall, the SITRABI union leadership was violently intimidated in 1999 and forced to leave their country. Their case became an important test case on impunity for the U.S. government.
The government of Guatemala must also publicly condemn the violence against Guatemalan trade unions.
In addition, it is vital that the Guatemalan government take responsibility for the safety of the remaining leaders of SITRABI and ensure that they are protected from all violence and intimidation. The Guatemalan government must protect those that organize for basic their human rights. I will be monitoring the news as well as following updates from labor rights organizations to ensure that this case is taken seriously and that labor unions are protected throughout Guatemala.