Gustavo Murillo - a worker at the Los Alamos banana plantation, Ecuador. This interview was conducted on 17th May 2002 - the day after two attacks against striking workers. Source: Jan Nimmo – www.greengold.org.uk.
My name is Gustavo Murillo. I was born in the city of Guayaquil on 25th March 1977. I started work on the Los Alamos plantation four years ago, with the hope that this would bring better days for my family.
We don’t have uniforms, the food is scarce, it’s bad and isn’t enough to sustain people who do this kind of work. With respect to health, there’s no specialised doctor. The gardener has now assumed the responsibility of doctor, he has no qualifications. Often women are abused by the foremen of the packing plants. I’ve seen how when the boss on the plant liked a girl who worked there, he forced the girl to be with him. She has no choice – if she doesn’t comply she doesn’t get her wage. They mistreat the men as well; they suspend them from work... and pay a wage which is one of the lowest in our Latin America.
Low wages, bad food, no health care, no provision of tools for work, being abused by the bosses. All this has accumulated, bit by bit. About three months ago, the compañeros decided to take action and to stop this abuse. That’s when they organised the trade union and Señor (Noboa) hasn’t liked it one bit.
We stopped work, we’ve formed a trade union, and on 16th May 2002 something happened that changed many of our lives. We had been on strike for more or less 10 days. We had peacefully taken over the installations here on the plantation. We were on guard, and some of us were sleeping calmly in our rooms. We never for a moment thought that what I’m about to tell you was going to happen.
Masked men, armed men, men swearing, burst aggressively into our rooms. They got us out of our rooms, pushing and shoving us. They assaulted us both physically and verbally. They didn’t even give us our clothes so that we could get dressed. Nothing. They mistreated and humiliated us. They made us kneel down. They didn’t let us see their faces. Then they put us in pick-up trucks. There were dozens of our compañeros in these pick-ups, one on top of the other. They took us to a building where they shut us in. They threw water over us, they threw in tear gas, they insulted us and they harassed us. Later they put us in a banana container. If they shut you in a container like that then after 10 minutes the air runs out. They put us in the back. These men said: “We’re going to kill you and dump you”. We were afraid for our lives. They were going to take us in this truck to an unknown destination.
Some of our compañeros who had escaped had alerted the local police. A patrol car turned up. They wisely blocked the way with a bus that was there and prevented the crime that was about to be committed, although it was already a crime by then.
We took the injured as fast as we could to Naranjal (the hospital). One compañero (Mauro Romero) had been shot. There were many compañeros wounded in the early hours, women sexually harassed, their private parts groped, their clothes ripped and stolen. Those men entered to rob. Many of our belongings have disappeared.
I don’t believe there’s a part of the earth where they treat human beings like they have treated us . I’ll be really sad if this (the strike) isn’t resolved in our favour. Not because of the money, but because of the effort and the blood that’s been spilled. I hope that that man (Álvaro Noboa) doesn’t just think that we want him to put his hands in his pockets. We want fair treatment. We want him to respect our rights… that’s all.