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Strikes Threatening To Spread Nationwide In Honduras

June 30, 1990

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) _ Workers at a third U.S. company were threatening to join a growing strike that has paralyzed Honduras’ only petroleum refinery and the huge Chiquita banana exporter.

President Rafael Leonard Callejas, who faces the worst crisis since taking office in January, said in a brief telephone interview Friday that he has appealed to other unions not to expand the walkout.

Callejas said he hoped ″there will be a satisfactory resolution″ to the growing number of strikes ″for the good of the country.″

Leaders representing hundreds of thousands of workers have threatened to call a strike in solidarity with 10,000 employees at Cincinatti-based Chiquita, who walked off the job Thursday demanding their pay of about $15 a day be increased 60 percent.

The 4,000 workers at Castle and Cooke, a subsidiary of Standard Fruit of New York, will strike beginning Monday if ″Chiquita Brands doesn’t accede to its workers’ demands,″ said Mauro Gonzalez, president of the Standard Fruit union.

Friday, 2,000 workers shut down Texaco Caribbean Inc., Honduras’ only oil refinery in solidarity with the Chiquita walkout, and a company official warned lack of fuel could paralyze the country.

″If there isn’t a rapid resolution to the strike, Honduras will be out of fuel in three days,″ said Manuel Crespo, the head of Texaco.

The workers at the three U.S. companies belong to the 70,000-strong National Federation of Workers’ Unions, which has threatened further action. Other labor groups, including the 600,000-member Workers Confederation, have said they will strike if Chiquita refuses to negotiate.

Chiquita Brands International Inc. and Standard Fruit control virtually the entire Honduras’ banana industry and bananas are its principal crop export.

Formerly called United Brands and, before that, United Fruit, Chiquita has enjoyed a near monopoly on Honduran bananas since 1912, controlling 60 percent of the fruit’s exports.

Although it has waned in recent years, the two banana exporting companies still wield a big influence in this impoverished nation of 4.8 million people whose annual per capita income of $740 is the lowest in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti.

Honduras was the first Central American nation to be dubbed a ″banana republic″ because of the vast influence of the U.S. fruit companies.

Many fear prolonged labor unrest could destabilize the country, one of the United States’ closest allies in Central America.

Chiquita’s employees average $15.32 a day and their last raise was in 1984, even though Honduras has suffered annual inflation of about 50 percent since then.

Renee Ayestas, head of the Chiquita union, said the company notified a presidential commission, trying to find a solution to the dispute, that it is willing to start negotiations beginning this afternoon.

But the report could not be immediately confirmed. No company spokesmen were available for comment when Ayestas made the announcement in a telephone interview Friday night.

Texaco has a complete monopoly of Honduras’ petroleum industry. It controls all 100 service stations, refines 8,000 of the 12,000 barrels a month the nation consumes, and imports the rest already refined.

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