Honduras is a country that many Americans tend to encounter mainly in the news and the grocery store. We see headlines about the influx of migrant children at the southern US border fleeing economic and social devastation. And we enjoy the fruits of the country’s economic underdevelopment every day at grocery stores stocked with Honduran-grown bananas and coffee beans.
But now Honduras’s products and people are entangled in a social crisis driving international pressure for an independent investigation into our Central American “trade partner’s” Banana Republic–style anti-labor tactics.
Several trade unionists have reportedly faced death threats in recent months amid rising labor and political tumult. In late August and early September, Tomás Membreño Pérez, a leader of the Union of Agroindustrial and Related Workers (STAS), affiliated with labor federation FESTAGRO, realized he was a marked man when he was tracked on the road by a car without plates and received anonymous social media messages that, according to the US-based International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), “detailed his whereabouts and threatened to kill him, his wife, and his son for trying to organize workers.”
Though it is unclear where these threats are coming from, Pérez challenged both the state and corporations (typically allied forces that control the most lucrative industries) by to trying organize some of the country’s largest and most globalized workforces—the farm laborers toiling for multinational agribusinesses. STAS has crossed banana giant Chiquita, which has historically been known for vicious union busting and cooperating with paramilitary groups in Colombia. At one Chiquita-owned plantation in particular, Finca Santa Rita, workers have suffered wage theft, anti-union retaliation, and grueling labor conditions, and “have struggled for years to resolve conflicts with management and gain secure recognition of their membership,” reports ILRF’s US Labor Education in the Americas Project (USLEAP). Pérez was also a potential target because of his work with the labor-rights watchdog network ACI-PARTICIPA, which recently documented nine violent attacks on trade unionists in 2015.