MEXICO CITY – Stories about forgotten Mexican farm laborers occasionally emerge when large groups of near-enslaved workers are freed or strikes are staged, but then silence returns and the men and women who sleep on the ground continue supplying the products that fill North America’s grocery stores.
“Apparently, it is convenient now and then to bring the issue up and say that inspections led to freeing people,” showing that something is being done about the situation, Margarita Nemecio, coordinator of the Tlachinollan human rights center’s working group on agricultural migrants and laborers, told Efe.
One of the “rescue operations” happened three weeks ago, when Mexican authorities found almost 200 laborers working in deplorable conditions in a field in Baja California Sur state.
A few days later, 49 Mixtec Indians were released from near-slavery conditions in Colima.
Laborers in San Quintin, Baja California, have been staging strikes to protest poor working conditions.
The non-governmental organization Laborers Network, of which Tlachinollan is a member, said it did not like the term “rescue,” which they always use between quotation marks because after such operations farmworkers’ lives do not change much.
“It seems that all that happens is that they are recued, they are placed with another company or they are sent to their native communities, and (officials say) there will be penalties,” Nemecio said. “But there’s no follow up beyond penalties” and conditions in the fields “do not improve.”
A report released recently by the Laborers Network said there were more than 2 million farm laborers subject to abuses in Mexico, working in near-slavery, in 18 states.
Some 60 percent of laborers are Indians, both men and women, from Mexico’s most-impoverished states, like Guerrero, Chiapas and Oaxaca.
People without resources in their home communities must migrate to find jobs, usually heading to northern Mexico, and are employed by transnational corporations that provide housing for them and their families while they remain in the fields.
Workers rescued in Baja California Sur lived under threats in huts made from tree branches, plastic sheets and bags, surrounded by trash and mud, with little water and dirty bathrooms.
Some 20 percent of migrant laborers, or about 433,000 people, are minors, the Laborers Network said.
The group has documented the deaths of at least 40 children in farm fields since 2007 and says the situation is far from improving.