Since the beginning Of 2016, Jouseth Chaves and Francisco Cruz have been at the front line of the process of organization of workers of the company Exportaciones Norteñas S.A., pineapple producer, in the border zone of Costa Rica and Nicaragua, more precisely in Santa Fe de Los Chiles, Alajuela province.
By SITRASEP – Costa Rica.
In the region, the comrades are invested in organizing the workers’ and peasants’ struggle. Particularly in big pineapples and oranges agro-exporter businesses, they have made dozens of environmental and labor denunciations, which has earned them a major prestige among workers and the determinate hate of several businessmen of the region.
The district of Los Chiles is the one with the greatest concentration of immigrants in Costa Rica, and most of the labor and peasants’ struggles have a high number of Nicaraguan immigrants.
Foundation of SITRASEP
The workers and former workers of the pineapple project in Santa Fe de Los Chiles have been struggling for respect of their rights.
In the heat of the strikes and organization, the Private Workers’ Union (SITRASEP) was funded, in a massive public event, on May 1 of 2016.
Since March 2016 until today, 6 strikes took place, most of them lasting several days.
These strikes confronted a harsh repression by the bosses and Costa Rica’s government. In many cases, workers were shot by the company security office, and they were surrounded by riot squads ready to repress. They could not repress the struggle because the workers were prepared to confront the police and because the struggles were covered in solidarity by dozens of social organizations of the country.
SITRASEP’s achievements in Santa Fe
Thanks to these strikes, basic rights that were violated for over 7 years were achieved, such as the annual bonus, paid vacations, extra-hours, minimum wage, compensation for unjustified dismissal, safety equipment, and uniforms, among many other things.
All of this caused for 600 million colones (104 million dollars) on 2016, which normally would have gone to the bosses’ hands, to go to the workers and former workers dismissed in 2015 and beginning of 2016 without the right to a fair compensation.
SITRASEP has been increasing its number of members and its reputation in the region. Today, it counts with an affiliation of 50% of the workers of the Finca, which counts with 600 workers in total.
The company’s reaction
The pineapple company confronted the union’s development in all possible ways, firing workers growing as leaders, moving its influences for the public force to repress the strikes, etc. During the last strike, it even tried to make a group of ex-workers to organize and break the strike by force, it sent private security to shoot fire guns against the strikers, and it keeps a policy of blacklists in the region against the union, to pressure the workers to stop fighting for their rights.
Currently, before the attempts of strikes, the company doubles the private security at the entrance, besides organizing armed individuals along strategic points of the road to wait for the strikers.
SITRASEP leaders receive death threats
From a meeting that took place on Saturday, June the 3rd, 2017, between Rodrigo García Brenes, owner of the company, his assessors, and the former union leaders, José Ángel Picado and Henry Rosales, they launched a public campaign against the Union, and a process of punishment and threats against the union’s leaders.
From that meeting on, a series of events took place that clearly attempts against the physical integrity of the main union leaders in the region, Jouseth Chaves and Francisco Cruz.
Sunday, June 4: a workers’ assembly was scheduled. The former leaders, present in Saturday’s meeting with the company, appeared as thugs with a defying attitude. They insulted and threatened SITRASEP leaders directly. A formal denunciation was made at the prosecutor’s office for serious threats, currently investigated under the file number 17-000195-0801- PE.
Thursday, June 8: it was scheduled a meeting with the Finca contractors to debate the process of negotiation of the collective agreement. The contractors were not present, and, instead, a group of 20 people was waiting for Jouseth and Francisco with the clear intention of attacking them.
Friday, June 9: the thugs appeared outside the company were Jouseth and Francisco were meeting with the firm, and they stood at the door waiting for them.
Tuesday, July 18: after a meeting of the SITRASEP regional at the Santa Fe pineapple company, 3 individual waited for Jouseth Chaves to come out of the meeting place, according to they own words, to “crush him.” The reason was that the company called a meeting with them and told them their names were on the blacklist, promoted by the Union.
Thursday, July 20: several neighbors informed there were 5 men hidden in the bushes near Francisco Cruz’s home, aiming to surprise him at the moment he went out.
Sunday, September 1: a peasant warned Fransciso Cruz that he heard some men saying that when they saw Jouseth or Francisco alone on the street they would shoot their heads off because they were tired of the presence of the union in the region.
There is no doubt that the meeting of those thugs with the contractors’ boss and assessor was to plan all these actions taking place. We will not allow another threat or attack to the SITRASEP comrades. All necessary measures are being taken to avoid this, including legal measures.
We will not allow any attack to our comrades. We believe it is a responsibility of the social movement as a whole to avoid this struggle for workers’ rights to end in tragedy. Thus, we make a call to all labor, students, and social organizations to join the cause and demand for these threats to be investigated.
We demand from the Luis Guillermo Solís government to guarantee union freedom in the Finca Piñera de Santa Fe, and we make him responsible for any attack against the union leaders of the region.
SITRASEP grows in midst of a bosses’ dictatorship
With the foundation of the SITRASEP, a bosses’ regime that has been banning labor organization in Costa Rica is put in check.
This generates hate by the bosses who managed to eliminate the unions in the private companies of the country.
After organizing the workers of the pineapple company Exportaciones Norteñas, the workers of the factory Sajiplast S.A., in the metropolitan area of Costa Rica, also affiliated to the union to struggle against occupational accidents and for their wages.
Later, the workers of the Piñera Nenita Farm, also in Los Chiles, funded a sectional of the union, but they were harshly repressed by the bosses and the police, with some detentions and deportations by the migration police.
SITRASEP is still fighting and making new public denunciations of dozens of companies that violate labor rights.
On August 22, more than 45 organizations launched a national campaign in defense of private workers’ right to organize, and on September 5 a note was delivered to the Presidency of the Republic demanding protection to the union leaders Jouseth Chaves and Francisco Cruz.
Solidarity is urgent to protect SITRASEP leaders
Despite the legal and political efforts to pressure the Ministry of Labor, the Public Ministry, and the President of the Republic, the State of Costa Rica has done nothing to protect the union freedom of the workers affiliated to SITRASEP not to ensure the safety of the threatened leaders.
Thus, from SITRASEP we make a call to all labor and popular organizations of the world to take a stand on this matter and demand for the State of Costa Rica to stop protecting the interests of the bosses above the workers’ and unionists’ human rights.
Who is Jouseth Chaves?
- Secretary of Conflicts of SITRASEP
- Main organizer of SITRASEP labor work in Santa Fe
- Member of the Workers’ Party (PT Costa Rica) since 2008
- Candidate to Deputy for the PT by the province of Alajuela
- Student activist during his youth
- Leader of the PT in the North Region since 2013
- Treasurer of the National Executive Committee of the PT
Who is Francisco Cruz?
- Nicaraguan worker of the pineapple company
- Fired in 2015 from the company for defending his brother, who lost a leg in an occupation accent in the Finca
- Member of the PT since 2015
- Union representative of SITRASEP by Santa Fe de Los Chiles
- One of the main leaders of the strikes in 2016 and 2017