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SITRAPETEN Union Members violently evicted from the Constitutional Plaza
On the 10th and during the night of the 11th of December, union members of SITRAPETEN were violently evicted from the Constitutional Plaza (Central Park) in Guatemala City. Fifteen months ago, workers from the Agua Salvavidas’ Peten distribution plant set up camp in the Central Park of Guatemala City to protest against having been illegally fired by Agua Salvavidas in May of 2008. Agua Salvavidas is a water bottling company owned by the Castillo Brothers Corporation. The employees’ dismissal occurred after a group of workers made several attempts to form a union in the distribution plant, which is located in an area of the capital city known as “el Zapote.”
In February of 2007, a group of employees from the Peten Distributor organized themselves in order to form a labour union and filed an application for union status with the Ministry of Labour. Initially, the objective of forming a union was to strengthen the workers’ position vis-a-vis the company and to demand the fulfillment of their labour rights. It wasn't until May of 2008, after five other attempts were rejected by the Ministry, that the union was officially registered with the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. According to union members, this delay was caused by strong pressure exerted by the company on the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. The company used this delay in order to liquidate the distribution plant and the distributor filed for bankruptcy 4 days before the SITRAPETEN (Union of Peten Workers) union was ratified by the Ministry of Labour. Meanwhile, the distributor was closed and its workers forced to resign. While other workers were transferred to other plants and offered new contracts, this was not the case for those affiliated with SITRAPETEN who were all dismissed from work. In order to exert some form of pressure, the members of SITRAPETEN set up a camp in front of the installations. After a lack of progress in either the resolution of the labour dispute or the investigation of the complaints filed, they moved their camp to the Constitutional Plaza (Central Park, Guatemala City). For 15 months, the group occupied a space in front of the National Palace in peaceful resistance, protesting and demanding justice in their labour dispute. During this period, union members were the victims of a series of threats and intimidations, in addition to being subjected to pressures and constant offers of money by company representatives who sought to ensure their withdrawal from the union.
On the 9th of December at 11:30pm, a municipal judge, accompanied by members of the National Civil Police (PNC) presented themselves in the central park, in front of the precarious homes of the ex-workers. The judge, who did not have jurisdiction in the matter, announced that an eviction order, which was based on the law of public ornament had been issued. Neither in that moment, nor in subsequent exchanges, was the eviction order ever presented to the protesters, rather, several representatives of SITRAPETEN quote the judge as having spoken of an “oral notification.” At the time, the union members insisted that their constitutional rights to demonstration and to protest be upheld and they also demanded that a high level roundtable negotiation be established in order to settle the labour dispute.
The next day, the judge returned to the central park accompanied by a hundred anti-riot police of the PNC (Guatemalan National Civil Police) in order to enforce the eviction. The eviction took about two hours. Assisted by the Municipal Transit Police, the PNC violently removed all the workers’ belongings, they attacked workers using tear gas to force them to withdraw from the site.
After this first eviction, the members of SITRAPETEN, along with supporting organizations, reclaimed the area in order to continue their demonstration and passive resistance. But at 11:30 pm, the riot police once again presented themselves in the area and again evicted the group, again using tear gas on several people present, including several representatives of the Convergence for Human Rights.
It seems that the tv program ¨la Academia,¨ produced by Mexican broadcaster TV Azteca, which was taking place in the Constitution Plaza, was used as a pretext to effect the eviction. The excessive use of police personnel for the operation is in itself concerning, meanwhile the union members who are promoting and demanding that their labour rights be upheld, have been waiting over 19 months for the responsible authorities to provide a definitive resolution to their case.
During all this time, the members of SITRAPETEN have remained without the necessary income to sustain themselves and their families. During and after the event, the group installed themselves in the entrance to the cathedral and were constantly being monitored by a large number of police. On the night of December 15th, the group wanted to retake the spot they had occupied in front of the National Palace, but they were immediately surrounded by the PNC’s anti-riot police who threatened to evict them once again.
After a dialogue with the Deputy Minister for Community Support of the Ministry of the Interior, an agreement was reached that the union members could stay in the Constitutional Plaza. It was further agreed that a roundtable negotiation would be held, the first meeting was to take place on December 16th at the Office of Human Rights. The negotiation table had the goal of finding a solution to the situation of the union members who continue to demonstrate in the Constitutional Plaza where they live in a precarious security situation.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals in Spanish or your own language to the Guatemalan authorities, with copies to the respective embassies (templates in Spanish attached):
*Insisting that the SITRAPETEN members’ right to protest be respected and demanding the cessation of any attempts to evict the union members
* Calling for a speedy and final resolution to the labour dispute and calling for the appropriate authorities to reinstate the illegally dismissed workers
* Demanding payment of back wages of SITRAPETEN union members and redress for damages and loss suffered
*Demanding a thorough investigation into the criminal responsibility of the judge and of the national civil police for the evictions
*Demanding immediate measures be taken by government agencies to ensure the safety of the union members and to ensure their constitutional rights to demonstrate and protest be upheld
*Demanding an exhaustive investigation into the anti-union policies of the companies of the Castillo Brothers Corporation
SEND APPEALS TO:
Lic. Álvaro Colom
Presidente de la República
Casa Presidencial, 6ª Avenida 4-18, Zona 1
Ciudad de Guatemala
Telefax: (00502) 2221 4423 oder (00502) 2238 3579
Lic. José Amílcar Velásquez Zárate
Fiscal General de la República y Jefe del Ministerio Público
8ª Avenida 10-67, Antiguo Edificio del Banco de los Trabajadores, Zona 1
Ciudad de Guatemala
Telefax: (00502) 2411 9124 / (00502) 2411 9326
Sr. Raúl Antonio Velásquez Ramos
Ministro de Gobernación
6ª Avenida 13-71, Zona 1
Ciudad de Guatemala
Telefax: (00502) 2413 8658
Sr. Edgar Alfredo Rodríguez
Ministro de Trabajo y Previsión Social
7ª avenida 3-33, zona 9, Edificio Empresarial
Ciudad de Guatemala
GuatemalaTelefax: (00502)2422 2519