Temas Especiales

25 de Jun de 2022

Nacional

Banana plantation workers protest by closing border

PANAMA. Workers from Coosemupar (Puerto Armuelles’ Multiple Services Cooperative), the country’s largest banana producer and exporter o...

PANAMA. Workers from Coosemupar (Puerto Armuelles’ Multiple Services Cooperative), the country’s largest banana producer and exporter on the Pacific coast, subsidized by the Panamanian government since 2008, took over the streets and closed the border between Panama and Costa Rica in what they claimed was a defense of their labor rights.

The protesters demanded the government to include workers in the negotiations with multinational Del Monte, who reached a $54 million agreement with the government last month to administer the banana plantations for 25 years.

The company, awarded a lease for nearly 3,000 hectares of plantations, met yesterday with the Panamanian Autonomous Cooperative Institute (IPACOOP) to start defining the terms of the agreement, yet no worker representatives were present.

The general secretary of the workers union of Coosemupar, Simon Lezcano, said that only one representative, who would be “without voice and without voting right,” was invited to the meeting, so they opted not to attend.

The workers interrupted the flow of trucks between Panama and Costa Rica to demand the right to decide on their economic future, prompting authorities in Chiriqui to demand the reopening of the highway bordering the neighboring state, a route of great commercial value.

The cooperative is displeased not only with the meeting’s terms, but more broadly with the leasing agreement with Del Monte in itself. They propose the creation of an alternative company that would allow the distribution of dividends.

Lezcano accused the government of negotiating behind the workers’ back and of pretending to swipe the complicated issue “off their hands,” claiming ignorance on Del Monte’s proposal.

In 2003, IPACOOP took over operations from the cooperative, with 2,800 employees, due to the elevated debts reached after the US multinational Chiquita Brands abandoned production.

The difficulties of the cooperative members grew with the high cost of fighting off the black sigatoka (a leaf spot disease of banana plants), old debts, labor commitments, and adverse weather conditions.