HUIXTLA, Mexico – Working under the scorching sun, Marcos Morales takes a few last swings with his machete to cut sugarcane stalks before his lunch break, just like hundreds of other Guatemalan migrants working in the sugarcane region of Huixtla, in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas.
Before the sugarcane cutters can do their work, pre-harvest burning is carried out to make it easier to cut the stalks and to scare away snakes, some of which are poisonous.
Even so, cutting sugarcane is back-breaking work and requires long workdays, often starting at six in the morning and ending at six in the afternoon.
“Also, we work every Sunday. We don’t get to rest here,” Marcos told EFE.
According to Marcos, sugarcane cutters get paid 22 pesos ($1.16) per bunch, referring to the amount of sugarcane that fits in a tractor’s grapple.
Mexico is the third largest sugarcane producer in the Americas, after the United States and Brazil.
There are close to 60 sugarcane mills in Mexico and some 60,000-80,000 sugarcane cutters work on Mexican fields, according to the Colegio de Postgraduados agricultural college.
“Workers who have help” can harvest some 75 bunches per week, while those who work “alone” can cut around 45 bunches, Marcos said, referring to the fact that some sugarcane cutters are aided by their children.
After each workday, sugarcane cutters head back to the farmworker camps, some of which house up to 100 people.
In one of those camps, Victoria Garcia was preparing a meal with her baby tied to her back, while her husband and three eldest children were finishing their workday in the fields.
This is the third year they have come to work in Huixtla, where they earn around 2,000 pesos ($105.5) per week.
“We save 1,000 pesos and we spend 1,000,” Victoria said.
“In Guatemala there aren’t many opportunities. That is why we come here to work,” she added.