Defender Spotlight: Waldemar Barrera Palma

Hector Waldemar Barrera Palma is a Global Workers Defender Network defender from Zacapa, Guatemala. He is a lawyer from the University of San Carlos of Guatemala. A public servant for 24 years, he is currently serving as the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Department of Zacapa in Guatemala. Waldemar is a former union leader of the Guatemalan judiciary, and a human rights professor at various local universities.

What is your experience in the defense of human rights?

I worked fourteen years in the Office of Human Rights, in defense of human rights in three departments: Chiquimula, Quetzaltenango and currently the Zacapa department.

Who does the organization you work for help?

We help all Guatemalans and/or foreigners, young or old, male or female, who report on any violation of an individual or collective human right. Without such an office, we would see an increase in human rights violations in the department and Guatemala, at the local level, would be left without a way to monitor and enforce human rights, and the Guatemalan poor and excluded would be left without an advocate.

What has been your experience working with Global Workers (GW) and the Global Workers Defender Network?

I have worked with Global Workers (GW) as an advocate facilitating cases, for about seven years. I have the privilege of documenting the first transnational migrant worker case in the department of Chiquimula, for a man who worked as a seasonal farmworker for a company in the U.S. My experience with GW has been great because it has forced me to position myself to deepen my knowledge of the problems that Guatemalan agricultural workers face when working the fields in the U.S. Working with GW has allowed me to document a good number of cases of employees in several departments, and I think our impact has been positive with GW because companies that recruit here have decreased the human rights violations they commit against the Guatemalan workers they take to their fields in the U.S. Now these companies fulfill a good percentage of the promises they make them, something not previously seen.

Is there a case in particular that left an impact?

There were several cases in which we helped many farm workers. I’ll highlight two 1) The case of several farmers from the village of Jabiyal in the municipality of Quezaltepeque. These were former temporary farmworkers in the U.S. who lived in extreme poverty and did not even imagine or conceive that through a lawsuit they could receive restitution for violations suffered while working in the U.S. The damages won, they told me, would help them purchase some supplies for the planting of their crops. 2) A case of a worker who lost a finger working in the U.S. and was not indemnified for it. He was very happy with the damages he was paid because he said that at least with that there was some reparation for the abuses he suffered while working in the U.S.

What was your experience working with the U.S. organization on this case?

I’ll underline four points: a) It was a good experience to share work with this organization, the issue of migrant workers is an important issue, personally before becoming a member of GW know the status of Guatemalan farm workers transmigrants in the U.S., b ) be easier cases and work with this organization has allowed me to know and more details about the problems and vicissitudes of Guatemalan agricultural workers in the USA. c) The training and forums organized by GW, in which I have called have been the best I've received, it is important to take into account not only defenders of other countries in the training process but also Guatemalans, and have that besides being important has been motivating to continue doing the job the best way possible. d) Advocacy is today the subject is important, because I think today the GW and all those who form the network in the country, we are influencing the debate to improve the situation of human rights of workers tranmigrantes farmin the USA.

What success was achieved? What were the obstacles or challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?

A number of achievements, one of them is the real portabilty of justice that agricultural transmigrant workers had access to. If the economy is global, then so must justice be globalized. Many farm workers received their money from the lawsuit. The human rights violations to workers committed by the recruiters were much higher before, and that has now diminished, Also, thanks to the intervention by Global Workers, there is advocacy for greater impact so that Guatemala promotes a policy of defending the human rights of transnational farm workers. Finally, as advocates or facilitators of cases we are more in touch and sensitized on the issue.

What was your experience at the People’s Global Action Forum (PGA) this past Nov. – Dec. 2011 in Geneva, Switzerland?

My experience with the PGA was positive in that it allowed me to know that the problems migrant workers face in various parts of the world are similar, and that there are state policies in various countries that continue to see migration as something dangerous. However, I could also see that there are various civil society organizations in different countries in the world committed to the defense and promotion of human rights of migrants in the world, and we must seize the few opportunities and spaces that exist to hear their voices, and demand that the international community guarantee the human rights of migrant workers.

(Read PGA blog entries)

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