CPT provides emergency accompaniment for FLOC workers in Monterrey.
In early May CPT received a call from the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) seeking emergency accompaniment for their staff and volunteers in Monterrey, Mexico, about three hours south of Laredo, Texas.
The April 9 assassination of FLOC organizer Santiago Rafael Cruz, whose body was found tied up, tortured, and beaten to death in the FLOC office, sparked both fear and resolve within the organization. “We are all shocked and devastated by his vicious murder,” read an April 25 statement issued by FLOC. “But this brutal act will not intimidate FLOC into abandoning our operations in Mexico.”
FLOC, described as “both a social movement and a labor union,” has a long history of organizing migrant workers in the U.S. – primarily in the Midwest and North Carolina. They opened an office in Monterrey two years ago to assist farm laborers through the process of obtaining H2A “guest worker” visas and to investigate grievances concerning employment conditions and corruption in recruitment.
Santiago visited many rural communities to educate subsistence farmers about their rights. For example, guest worker laws stipulate that the U.S. contractors are responsible for paying all transportation and visa costs. Illegal recruiters often try to charge laborers exorbitant amounts of money in order to benefit from the program. In the two months before his death, Santiago logged over 200 workers’ complaints of such abuse.
Since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) passed in 1994, American crops subsidized by the U.S. government have flooded the Mexican market, dispossessing many Mexican farmers. In order to support their families, farmers are faced with the choice of working in a maquiladora for less than 40 dollars a week or leaving their loved ones for six months a year to earn more money as farm laborers in the U.S. FLOC’s work directly challenges criminal elements that profit from the exploitation and trafficking of these already impoverished workers.
In response to Santiago’s assassination, FLOC supporters have flooded the Mexican government with over 100,000 messages of solidarity from around the world. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordered the Mexican government to provide protection to FLOC and its workers. However, organizers continue to fear for their safety in the aftermath of this violence. According to FLOC staffer Ken Barger, “We still feel as though we’re all walking around with targets on our backs.”
Citing a particular appreciation for CPT’s faith-based approach to nonviolent work, FLOC invited CPT to provide a short-term, violence-deterring presence with staff members as they hold meetings with workers, attend public events or vigils, assess the climate of violence and longer-term security needs, and keep pressure on local police and state authorities to conduct a thorough investigation of Santiago’s murder. CPT responded by sending a small team to Monterrey on May 23 for several weeks. For more information about FLOC, see www.floc.com.