Deadly repression greases “guest worker” program

“Agriculture likes immigration bill,” reads the May 21 headline in the Columbus Dispatch and other McClatchy newspapers. The new bill would expand and streamline the guest worker program which has been in place since the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. Some 30,000 workers annually come in through the current H-2A program. The streamlined program, dubbed AgJOBS (for Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits and Security Act of 2007) could be passed as a stand-alone bill or part of the larger immigration legislation. Some of the same politicians who shaped the 1986 act are instrumental in the guest worker provisions of the currrent bill, such as Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA). California’s Tri-Valley Herald notes that the state’s agbiz interests are lobbying heavily for it. But a timely May 24 story in the New York Times notes how an attempt by farm labor organizers to eliminate the system of graft which greases the H-2A program recently resulted in a grisly assassination in northern Mexico. Further details on the case are provided by the advocacy website LabourStart:

Mexico: Protest murder of Santiago Rafael Cruz
On Monday morning, April 9, 2007, 29-year-old migrant farmworker organizer Santiago Rafael Cruz was tortured and brutally murdered in the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC, AFL-CIO) office in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. Santiago had worked for FLOC as a member-organizer for four years in Toledo, Ohio, and for one-and-a-half months in Mexico as a full-time office manager / grievance handler. Witnesses on the scene have confirmed that Santiago was tortured by more than one individual, and that the union’s office showed no sign of forced entry or robbery. Santiago is survived by his father, mother, brothers and sisters in Mexico.

In 2004 FLOC won a historic collective agreement with the North Carolina Growers Association to represent nearly 10,000 farmworkers who travel each year from Mexico to North Carolina on H2-A guest worker visas to harvest tobacco, cucumbers and Christmas trees. FLOC’s agreement cleaned up and systematized the recruitment of these workers in Mexico, jeopardizing the business interests of fly-by-night recruiters in rural areas of Mexico who previously overcharged workers by several hundred dollars to find them jobs in the U.S. Since FLOC established its office in Monterrey in 2005, it has been the victim of attacks in the media, deportation threats, several robberies and violent intimidation.

It’s typical in Mexico for state attorneys general and police investigators to presume relatively simple solutions to potentially complicated cases, especially those involving human and labor rights defenders. For this reason, we ask supporters to contact the Nuevo Leon Governor and its Attorney General’s office to demand the following:

A formal, timely, honest and thorough criminal investigation;
Just prosecution and punishment for the perpetrators of this crime;
Non-repetition measures to ensure FLOC and human and labor rights defenders are not subject to political and economically-motivated intimidation;
And restitution for Santiago’s family.

Santiago’s murder will not intimidate FLOC into abandoning its operations in Mexico. To the contrary, FLOC will reinforce the security of its office in Monterrey and continue struggling for justice and human rights protections for all farmworkers. Santiago spent years defending the rights of fellow Mexicans working the fields in the U.S. and Mexico, and his life and service will be missed but not forgotten. People wishing to donate money to help with funeral costs and securing FLOC’s Monterrey staff against further attacks can make checks payable to: FLOC, C/o Santiago Tragedy Fund, 1221 Broadway Street, Toledo, OH, USA, 43609.

See our last posts on the immigration crackdown, the pending legislation and violence in Mexico.

  1. Confessions in Santiago Cruz case?
    From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 10:

    On May 24 officials of the main US labor federation, the AFL-CIO, said that prosecutors in the northern Mexican state of Nuevo Leon had told them that three suspects had confessed to the murder of union activist Santiago Cruz, whose body was found in the Monterrey office of the Ohio-based Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), an AFL-CIO affiliate, on April 9. According to state prosecutors, Cruz had been trafficking legal visas to the US and was beaten to death because he had overcharged someone.

    Cruz was a Mexican national who had worked for years in the US. The FLOC Monterrey office assists Mexicans being recruited into the US government’s “guest worker” program for farm labor, with an emphasis on helping workers when Mexican recruiters demand exorbitant fees for the work visas. On May 25 FLOC secretary general Baldemar Velasquez rejected the Nuevo Leon prosecutors’ version of events. Cruz was killed in retaliation for fighting the corrupt practices of Mexican recruiters, Velasquez said, calling the three suspects scapegoats. “This case is far from being solved.” (Toledo Blade, Ohio, May 25 from AP; El Universal, Mexico, May 26; La Voz, Tucson, AZ, May 26)