Quoting Luis Perez Jimenez, a leaf cutter on a Chiquita plantation in Costa Rica, the report said: “they never tell us about the aerial spraying. We just see it coming and boom, it’s here.” Workers in Chiquita’s packing plants, complain of rashes on their arms from the pesticides used on the bananas as they’re denied protective gloves.
But like a classic Hollywood movie, the banana barons remained untouched. Instead, the Cincinnati newspaper retracted the story, published a front page apology and paid Chiquita at least $10 million in an out of court settlement. The journalists who investigated Chiquita’s practices were fired and prosecuted. They were not given a chance to defend themselves.
“Chiquita became the first company in US history to be fined for having financial dealings with terrorist organisations. They paid a $25 million fine in 2007 for aiding Colombian terrorist groups like AUC, FARC and ELN.
“Their lame excuse was that they were simply paying protection money,” Christina lambasted. She warned that things from the banana farms in Honduras to Chiquita board rooms in Cincinnati to corridors in Washington always smell foul.
Next day Christina brought Myrna to have a video chat with me. She is an intelligent girl who always passes her exams with flying colours. The 14 year-old Honduran school girl waved excitedly with a broad smile when I appeared on their screen. “She thinks you’re a Latino as well, Moign,” Myrna’s host exclaimed with a laughter. I lobbed a few Spanish phrases to live up to my new found identity…
The funny and frolicking chat did not last long as Myrna began telling about her family back in Honduras. “Her parents work day and night to support their three kids. Life is not easy in Honduras due to spiralling inflation and high unemployment rate,” Christina said as she interpreted Myrna’s words. “They can’t work on their own as there are no chances of survival for private entrepreneurs. They face crippling challenge from multi-national fruit companies,” she added.
Earlier this year, Honduran President Jose Manuel Zelaya increased the minimum labour wage by 60% to help the country’s poor working class. According to Zelaya, the hike in the minimum wage “will force the business oligarchy to start paying what is fair.” He added, however, that “I am aware it must be raised even further.”
“This is a government of great social transformations, committed to the poor,” the Honduran president claimed. Little he knew that punishment for his populist stance was soon to be meted out.
According to international economic and financial institutions, Honduras is one of the most poorest country in Latin America with a poverty rate of 70 per cent according to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The country’s GDP stands at 149th position in the world according to the CIA Factbook.
On the night of 28 June 2009, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was arrested by the military and forced into exile. He was sent to neighbouring Costa Rica and has since then not been allowed to return. The country is run by the speaker of the Congress (the country’s parliament) Roberto Micheletti. Mr. Micheletti is a member of Zelaya’s ruling party and receives strong backing from the country’s military.
A unanimous condemnation by the international community followed the coup and urged the instigators to restore Zelaya’s government by letting him return to Honduras and handing back the power. The military-led government in Tegucigalpa has rejected such calls. The response from the US government, however, remains confused from the beginning. While US President Barack Obama denounced the move and said: “We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the President of Honduras,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, refrained from calling the overthrow as a ‘coup’ and asked Zelaya to negotiate his way back rather than demand an immediate return.
A whole month has lapsed since the overthrow of democratically elected government of Honduras but things have not changed even a bit on the ground. The new government operates with impunity and has imposed an emergency in the Central American republic. Protests held by the supporters of Zelaya are suppressed by curfews and arrests. Media is not allowed to report unrest in the country and a blanket censorship has been imposed.
Honduran President Manuel Zelaya has tried to cross into Honduras a couple of times in the past few weeks but the military has sealed the borders and aborted his attempts to reach capital Tegucigalpa. He has camped on the Nicaraguan border in a bid to mobilise his supporters.
“This is the latest coup in the turbulent history of Latin America. Earlier this year, there was an aborted coup in Bolivia when plotters trying to overthrow President Evo Morales were arrested. Before that we saw a coup in Haiti in 2004 and in Venezuela in 2002,” Christina remarked. “The traces of all these coups indicate Washington’s overt or covert involvement,” the American activist lamented.
The 31-year old lady, who has a Masters degree in political science, showing me some of her books that were about American intervention in Latin America. I could see dozens of books lined up on her bookshelf with the ones written by William Blum and Noam Chomsky capturing my attention. Christina said books like ‘Killing Hope’ and ‘Rogue State’ show how American tax payers money ends up claiming lives of thousands of innocent people and aiding brutal regimes that overthrow democratic governments and beget tyranny.
“I’m a proud American. I’m proud of what my nation stands for. But on the other hand, I feel very guilty if my tax money is abused by our government and is used to fund repressive regimes that suppress their own people and make their country a burning hell,” she said with disgust on her face. Christina added that she understands why many governments and people in this world have a grudge against the administrations in Washington D.C. and how they feel when marginalised by the US government.
“I’ve travelled to Latin America several times and each time I go there I feel our government is unpopular than ever,” the care worker from Tampa, Florida said while adding that people treated her with respect whenever she came in contact with them. “Respect is mutual. You give respect to get respect. Why don’t the guys sitting in Capitol Hill understand this?” she asked in an irritating tone.
Christina was getting frustrated. She was annoyed by the way Obama administration has handled the whole situation in Honduras. Instead of taking stern measures against the plotters of the coup, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called for negotiations and restraint. “Does Zelaya has no right to return to his country being the president of Honduras?” she asked. Quick came her answer: “Well, don’t tell me that he has committed constitutional violations and other things. We like to talk about Iran and loathe their leadership but what about things in our own backyard?” I couldn’t argue with her.