Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Dreams of "Trabajo Digno" on International Migrants Day

By Amanda Jordan

She holds her dreams close. Close like the brown earth that creeps under her fingernails, close like the morning dew soaking through her shirt.

She begins the season in Texas, in Arizona, or in California. She harvests grapefruit, lettuce, or oranges. In the spring: cantaloupes or onions in Texas. In the summer, corn detasseling and seed sorting in Indiana or Iowa. Fall: apples in New York, Washington, Vermont…

Every few months she attends a new middle school, junior high, or high school. She makes friends she will soon leave. She starts assignments she won’t be able to turn in. She drops out.
She holds her family close. Close like the caravan of cars and trucks they form driving north, close like snow sticking to their tires, close like leaning in to speak Spanish together so They won’t hear.

She is part of any migrant farmworker family in the United States. Following the ebb and flow of growing, planting, and harvesting seasons for fruits, vegetables, and flowers, families often travel together on different routes throughout the country. People working in the fields carry out some of the most dangerous tasks under a myriad of unpredictable conditions. Exposure to cancer-causing chemicals, like the recently approved Methyl Iodide in California, snake and spider bites, dangerous machinery, oppressive heat, and freezing rain mar their work.

In addition, migrant workers struggle within an industry that for years has barely raised wages in accordance with the cost of living. Breaks and holidays, protective equipment and sanitary toilets, things most working people take for granted, are often mere luxuries on farms where they work.

Most people migrating for the harvest are Mexican or Mexican-American, but African Americans, Haitians, Jamaicans, Hondurans, Guatemalans, and in rare cases, white Americans, also toil together in farmwork. Concerns over legal status and laws against unionization, complicates worker solidarity and struggle, as some people laboring in these crops hesitate to organize for fear of deportation. State and federal health and safety regulations are in place, but the hierarchy of workers, crew leaders, owners, and then wealthy corporations setting the prices for the crops creates a stagnant system in which there is little incentive for the regulations to be followed. It is a system in which the tomato, the poinsettia, and the cantaloupe are all more important than the health and well-being of the family who harvests them.

For she who follows the tomato crop from seed to packing, Florida to the Delmarva Peninsula, yet dreams of a good house and trabajo digno for her parents, today is Migrants Day. For he who was threatened with losing his job because he refused to enter a field being laced with pesticides, today is Migrants Day. For the kids who miss months of school every year, or simply do not finish, in a country that mandates primary education, today is Migrants Day. For the workers who toil on land they do not own, pick thousands of vegetables they will not eat, and sleep places that will never be “home,” today is Migrants Day.

She holds the horizon close, the only consistency in her travels. She wakes up early, the ceiling of her workplace is the black sky punctured with stars.

Amanda Jordan provides training and advocacy on the health and safety of migrant and seasonal farmworkers in the United States. She is pursuing a master’s degree in Social Justice in Intercultural Relations.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Open and Shut: a Case of Hypocrisy and the Honduran Coup

By Brooke Denmark, Witness for Peace International Team

Leaked State Department cables recently shed light on what was going on behind the scenes when Washington pretended to deliberate over whether or not what happened on June 28, 2009 was in fact an illegal military coup. The classified report filed by the U.S. embassy in Tegucigalpa was called “Open and Shut: the Case of the Honduran Coup.”

“There is no doubt” that the events of June 28 “constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup,” the cable reads.

Today the State Department continues to ignore evidence of the crisis in Honduras. In October, State Department Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs Philip Crowley stated that Lobo’s government still had work to do with regards to human rights but that while“there have been incidents where activists have been killed, intimidated, [and] jailed…we expect the Lobo government to investigate these fully and prosecute those who are responsible.” He went on to say that the State Department does not believe that progress on human rights should be a precondition to Honduras’ reintegration into the OAS.

Last Friday, the Committee for the Families of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras (COFADEH) issued an urgent appeal for support to the international community.

The call comes on the heels of another of state violence: Kevin Alberto Carías Silva, 19 years old, was found dead just hours after being detained by the police for questioning on November 11, 2010. He had been executed with shots to the head, his hands tied behind his back and his body covered with signs of torture. While the State Department seems confident that this atrocious murder will be fully investigated, the Honduran people are less so.

The Wikileaks release brought attention to the two faces of U.S. policy towards Honduras. But while Washington keeps reviewing Lobo’s attention to human rights with rose-colored glasses, people like Kevin Alberto Carías Silva are being killed. The U.S. needs to cut funding to the Honduran police and military in order to stop such politically motivated violence.