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Report: Banana Resignations Forced

October 26, 1999

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) _ Union leaders representing workers of a Del Monte Fruit subsidiary have accused a local chamber of commerce of forcing them to resign at gunpoint in order to prevent a planned 10-day strike.

Morales Chamber of Commerce representatives were among nearly 200 armed men who forced workers to resign on Oct. 13, leaders of the Union of Banana Workers of Izabal said Sunday.

The six leaders said they were forced from their homes and brought, along with 24 other workers, to the union headquarters in Morales, 150 miles east of the capital.

After being held and threatened for eight hours, the leaders were forced at gunpoint to announce their resignations, unionists said. The declarations were read over the local radio station Stereo Banana, which unionists said was owned by a chamber member present during the violence.

The Guatemalan national Chamber of Commerce, Agriculture and Industry published an ad Monday rejecting the violence.

Ricardo Villanueva, president of the national agriculture chamber, said members of the Morales chamber had acted as individuals and did not represent the institution’s local affiliate.

Some of the unionists from the Guatemalan Banana Development Company, a subsidiary of the San Francisco-based Del Monte, said they were so terrified that they eventually thanked their attackers for ``making them see the light.″

``I just spoke to break the ice. After we signed the resignations, I thought only death awaited us,″ leader Jorge Palma said.

The conflict began Sept. 27, when Banana Development fired 918 workers due to production losses caused by Hurricane Mitch, recent flooding and high government taxes.

The union received permission for a 10-day strike in front of the company’s offices, but the leaders were forced to resign before the strike began.

The workers said their attackers told them Banana Development had said it would close its Guatemala operations because of the strike.

However, Banana Development said in full-page local newspaper ads it would not leave the country. It also said the resignations were void because they were obtained against the unionists’ will.

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