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Guatemala City, Guatemala May 11, 2006

Guatemala is such a beautiful yet tragic country. The level of organized violent crime and accompanying impunity is simply spiraling out of control. The army can be now seen patrolling the city streets, a sight not seen since the civil war. More people are killed daily now then during the country’s 36 years of armed conflict. In this atmosphere of insecurity and poverty it is easy to understand why so many Guatemalans migrate north.

Cathleen came to Guatemala principally to work on a migrant labor case. Friends of Farmworkers, a non-profit in Pennsylvania, is suing the Brickman Group, Ltd. over underpayment of wages for landscapers they use through the USA’s H-2B “guestworker” program. Over the past few years they have used 2,000 Mexican and 150 Guatemalan workers. The case is centered on who has the responsibility to pay for the workers’ transportation costs (including recruitment fees, visa fees, etc): the employer or the employee. Currently, the employees pay all the costs, which average approximately $500 for Mexicans and more for the Guatemalans. Since the workers now pay all of these costs, they effectively earn nothing their first week of work, which is a violation of minimum and overtime wages.

Friends of Farmworkers asked Global Workers to help locate 150 Guatemalan workers so that the workers have the opportunity to participate in the lawsuit to recover their wages. It appears that most of the workers have returned for another season landscaping in the USA. Cathleen will go to Chiquimula next week, where most of the workers come from to locate the ones who have not returned to the US.

Global Workers belief is to always worker with local advocates. Not only is this ultimately more efficient but more importantly, it builds the capacity of local advocates to orient and support their fellow nationals who are transnational migrants. To that end, Cathleen spent most of the first week in Guatemala City trying to find which organizations would be interested in offering support for this specific case in Chiquimula. She met with several organizations that have presence in Chiquimula.

Cathleen met with the Catholic Church’s pastoral office that works with migrants. They offered to provide support through the national catholic radio stations. She also met with the Center of Human Rights Legal Action, which offered the use of its offices near Chiqumula to contact workers in the area. The Human Rights Omnibudsman’s Office (PDH in the Spanish initials) offered the most direct support. The PDH will use its networks to assist in contacting the workers.

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