Guatemalan trade union leader Doris Lisseth Aldana Calderón was assassinated by unknown assailants on 4th October while travelling home from work in the banana producing region of Izabal, Northern Guatemala. Doris was a leader of the Izabal Banana Workers’ Union SITRABI, and a member of the union’s Women’s Committee. Doris was 33 years old and a mother of four. She was one of two trade union representatives at her workplace, BANDEGUA, a subsidiary of Del Monte. The other was dismissed in early September.
According to reports, this is the third assassination to have taken place at the same location in recent months. Another female member of SITRABI, Maria Del Rosario Rosa Ramos, was murdered there in early September 2023. The assassination of Doris Aldana follows reports of increased violence against trade unionists in the country.
Following the assassination, on 5th October SITRABI released the following statement:
We express our extreme concern and strongly condemn the assassination of our trade union leader, Doris Lisseth Aldana Calderón.
It is an act of violence against SITRABI, against all of us who undertake the work of trade unions, and it is an act of gender violence, which has left SITRABI and the wider the banana community bereft. We express our solidarity with the family of our colleague Doris Lisseth Aldana Calderón who was murdered on October 4, 2023, as a victim of a brutal attack for defending the rights of the workers. …
…(W)e ask the government of Guatemala to guarantee the life of all the inhabitants of this country, a mandate that is not currently being fulfilled, given that many such acts are carried out with impunity. We ask for an immediate investigation into the murder … and for the government to put an end to this scourge. This is one more crime that cannot and should not go unpunished..
In addition, the union has directly appealed to the Public Prosecutors Office for a full investigation into the crime:
As a result of the attacks that took place on 4 October 2023 in the place known as “The Dump” near Aldea Chiriqui, our colleague Doris Lisseth Aldana Calderón was attacked with a firearm and lost her life. Not knowing who the perpetrators could have been, we ask the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Crimes Against Trade Unionists to make every effort to objectively investigate this crime, by gathering testimonies and scientific evidence, which could lead to the apprehension of the material and intellectual perpetrators and their transfer to a competent court so that a conviction can be handed down for the murder of a trade union leader, taking as given the fact of the crime of femicide or murder.
The case has garnered international support, with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), representing 191 million workers globally and a supporter of SITRABI, making a direct appeal to the President of Guatemala, Alejandro Giammattei. In a letter dated 6th October, the ITUC states that the murder of Doris Aldana is ‘...not simply a regrettable consequence of the general climate of insecurity in the country; rather, it constitutes further proof of the deliberate persecution of the trade union movement.’
The letter continues:
Under the agreements signed with the ILO, the State of Guatemala has committed itself to “strengthen the mechanisms of prevention and reaction against threats and attacks against trade union leaders, unionised workers and others who are trying to organise in trade unions”.
It is precisely this climate of impunity and violence that led the ILO Workers’ Group to file a new complaint this year under article 26 of the ILO Constitution against the Government of Guatemala for serious and systematic non-compliance with Conventions No. 87 and No. 98 on freedom of association and collective bargaining.
Therefore, we demand the immediate investigation of the assassination of Doris Lisseth Aldana that those materially responsible can be found and those who ordered this act can be identified.
The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) – the largest trade union federation in the United States, representing over 12 million workers – has also written to the Public Prosecutors Office, calling for a thorough investigation into the crime and for the safety of workers and the respect of human rights to be guaranteed.
The ITUC’s Global Rights Index published in June this year listed Guatemala among the top ten worst countries for working people due to the widespread violence against trade unionists and a climate of fear and impunity, with the cases of threats, physical attacks and homicides increasing in Guatemala in 2023, while government efforts protect trade unionists and identify perpetrators of violent crime against them remained weak and inconsistent.
Guatemala is currently in the midst of political turmoil resulting from protests against apparent attempts by the outgoing President Alejandro Giammattei to undermine the results of elections held in August, in which anti-corruption candidate Bernardo Arévalo won a resounding victory. Peaceful protestors have blockaded roads at over 100 points around the country, and maintained an encampment outside the Public Prosecutors Office where they are demanding accountability.