Monday, January 20, 2014

The Shameful Existence of Slavery in the Americas

article from April 26, 2011
By Jamie Douglas

Yes, you read that right; slavery in the Americas, and that in 2011! “How can that be?” you hopefully ask yourself.

From Bolivian “contract workers” in Argentina, to miners in Chile, Colombia, Brazil and Peru, to migrant workers throughout the good old USA, modern-day slavery rears its ugly head. Even more shocking is its existence in the pineapple fields as well as the macadamia nut and coffee plantations of that dreamy tropical paradise, the Aloha State of Hawaii.

But let’s start at the far end of the American continent, in Argentina. This country is home to many labor-intensive industries that depend on a low-paid workforce. From the seasonal work in the huge farming and fruit industries, to the garment factories in Buenos Aires and several other large cities, the laborers are recruited by human traffickers in severely impoverished areas of La Paz, Santa Cruz and other cities and hamlets in neighboring countries, particularly Bolivia, with the promise of good paying jobs and better living conditions in Argentina.

Many of the recruits are extremely poor indigenous people who are trying to just survive in communities where there are no opportunities, making them very vulnerable. To an educated person, the fact that one is being supplied with forged documents for the border crossing, where corrupt officials on both sides are paid to look the other way, would be a clue that not all is as should be in this endeavor. But bear in mind that these people are uneducated, hungry and desperate. They are migrating with what little they have, often bringing along small children, abandoning their family ties and homes for what they hope will be a better future.

Unfortunately for them, the vultures who prey on them have other plans for their victims, and many end up in sweatshops where they are forced to work two shifts daily, seven days a week, supervised by genuine slave drivers for a pittance that is nowhere near the salary they were promised when they were recruited.

In a country that is so top heavy with bureaucracy such as Argentina, it seems impossible to me that these sweatshops are just hidden away in some magical invisible industrial park that the labor department is unaware of.

What is equally disturbing to me is that the government of Bolivia is not raising even its little finger to help its unfortunate children who are in these inhumane conditions, whether they are picking fruit, planting potatoes working in the hundreds of sweat shops or in the kitchens of restaurants in cities across Argentina.

Evo Morales, the current socialist president of Bolivia, was elected to a single five-year term in 2005, but as has become so popular amongst leftist Latin American leaders, a quick change in the constitution was enacted to allow him to be reelected for a second term. Evo, himself an undereducated coca plant farmer, rode into office on the promise of helping the poor out of their misery, considering that Bolivia’s mineral riches were producing billions of US dollars in revenue for foreign corporations. But much like Obama in the USA, he has come to learn the hard way that change is easy to promise, but very hard to accomplish when running into that tin, oil and gas wall of entrenched capitalism that has allowed multinationals to suck the wealth out of the country, barely paying any royalties into the treasury. The established Bolivian elite living in Santa Cruz, where all the natural gas is, actually threatened to secede when they felt that Evo’s planned nationalization of some of these industries was going to affect their obscene wealth.

Bolivia has an embassy in Buenos Aires that is well aware of the plight of the slave conditions of the hundreds of thousands of workers trapped between a sewing machine and a fire pit, but doing something about it through diplomatic channels would probably force the Argentine authorities to crack down on very profitable industries, causing a loss of millions in bribes paid by the producers to high-level officials to look the other way, or rather, to not look at all.

Another troubling fact is that if all the illegals were rounded up and sent back to their home countries, Bolivia as well as Peru, Paraguay and Ecuador would see a return of the poorest of the poor, who would become a burden on the social fabric of their home countries, so a stalemate has been reached, seemingly by mutual consensus, to let the guest workers fend for themselves. Never mind the inhumane conditions they are toiling in, or that there have been riots in Buenos Aires because there is no housing for them and no one wants them in their neighborhoods. After all, they went there of their own volition!

I am going to skip over the further details of the deplorable conditions of miners, factory workers and workers of the sex trade to not completely ruin your day, or evening, as the case may be, and go straight to Hawaii, where everyone lives on the beach and eats fruits off the trees and catches fish from the ocean by hand. Sound romantic? It’s not! There are thousands of homeless families who are living in parks and on public lands in the Aloha State, where former-Governor Linda Lingle, another one of these closet neo-liberals (like Governor Scott Walker of WI) who did not mention their true intentions while running, managed to completely dismantle what was already the worst educational system in the country. After all, she was only following in Ronald Reagan’s footsteps, but he at least destroyed the nation’s best educational system while Governor of California with the help of selfish short sighted Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann.

But in spite of having a record number of homeless, mostly native Hawaiians and natives of the Philippines, the boutique coffee, macadamia and pineapple growers have resorted to using genuine slave labor, imported from Thailand in this case. The minimum wage in Hawaii now is the same as on the mainland, $7.25 per hour, after always having been a little higher than in the contiguous 48 states; but again thanks to Linda Lingle, there is no difference in the minimum wage between Mississippi and the Aloha State, in spite of a much higher cost of living – by far the highest in the nation.

So it is easy to understand why companies such as Del Monte Fresh Produce, Kauai Coffee Co, Captain Cook Coffee Company, Macfarms of Hawaii, Kelena Farms, Maui Pineapple Farms and others would have to hire Mordechai Orian’s slave trader firm, Global Horizons Manpower Inc, of Beverly Hills, California (great name for a firm that trades in human misery!) to hire Thai nationals to come work in the USA, being imported like livestock under the ICE H2-A visa program, which allows foreign workers to go to the USA to do the dirty work that I am sure many of the homeless living on the beaches, on the minimal dole, in very unsanitary conditions, would gladly take on. A husband and wife together would make $14.50 per hour, which would bring in a decent $580 per week before taxes and qualify them for a substantial earned income tax credit.

But the above-mentioned economic criminals find it easier to cheat a few hundred Thais out of their earned wages in the old plantation tradition, having a few overseers in the fields that are charged with enforcing discipline and keeping the slaves from running away. Fortunately, some managed to contact the Thai government through the Thai Community Development Center in Los Angeles.

All the phones for Global Horizons Manpower have been disconnected and the companies connected with this shameful episode all refuse to comment or just simply do not return phone calls, messages or emails. The good news is that all of them have just finally been sued by the US Federal Government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the largest case of forced labor ever brought by that agency.

That is good news, but where were they when tens of thousands of migrant workers, mostly Mexican and Central American, were exploited by tomato farmers in Florida? And all those illegals working in California, Colorado and Texas, bringing food to the tables of good citizens throughout the US while barely having enough to eat, themselves, and living in substandard housing provided by their masters while charging them outrageous rent for those shacks, where many times 10 or more people live in crowded conditions. Unlike the Thai workers, their governments will not go to bat for them, because their remittances are supporting families back home who otherwise would be a burden on those societies.

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Look at the label before you buy. Support fair labor standards around the world!
Jamie Douglas
Patagonia, Argentina

I encourage you to write me at cruzansailor [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions or suggestions you may have. Disclaimer: I am not in any travel-related business. My advice is based on my own experiences and is free of charge (Donations welcome). It is always my pleasure to act as a beneficial counselor to those who are seekers of the next adventure.