Honduran Union Leader Faces Death Threats


Long-time Honduran union leader José María Martínez of FESTAGRO is facing serious and repeated death threats for speaking out for banana workers' rights.


For the past 20 years, Martínez has hosted a daily radio show called "Trade Unionist on Air" where he shares labor rights, human rights, and citizenship information with Honduras' agricultural workers and answers questions for callers concerned about rights violations. Since September of 2012, Martínez has been working closely with workers at the Tres Hermanas banana plantations, suppliers for Chiquita Bananas, who have been struggling to win a collective bargaining agreement in the face of harsh employer repression. Since May, the struggle of the Tres Hermanas workers has been a frequent topic on Martínez’s radio program.

On June 25, 2013, unidentified callers used an untraceable number to call Martínez, demanding he "stop talking sh*t on the radio or [they] will shut his mouth for him,"and to "prepare your burial clothes because we are going to kill you." They repeated those threats the following day. The perpetrators also made repeated calls to his wife reiterating the death threats and citing the specific clothing Martinez wore each day as proof they were following him.

On July 5th, those threats escalated as an unmarked vehicle staked out Radio Progreso, home to "Trade Unionist on Air." The vehicle circled Martínez’s place of work four times at the hour Martínez was getting off air.  Martínez was forced to escape through a back exit, escorted by Father Ismael Moreno, the Catholic priest who serves as the director for Radio Progreso.

The local police force has warned Martínez to not leave his home without first notifying them for his own protection. Since the 2009 coup, 31 trade unionists, 52 rural workers, and 28 journalists have been murdered in Honduras.

FESTAGRO has asked for supporters to write to the US and Honduran governments to demand protection for José María Martínez and an investigation into these threats:

  • Honduras Attorney General’s Office: denuncias [at] mp.hn
  • US Department of State, Ben Gedan, Honduras Desk: gedanbn [at] state.gov

You can also write to Chiquita Bananas (who buys from Tres Hermanas) and Jose Lorenzo Obregon, owner of the Tres Hermanas Plantation, to ask that they speak out against these threats and use their influence to end Tres Hermanas’ ongoing refusal to bargain with SITRAINBA, workers’ legally recognized bargaining representative.     

  • Jose Lorenzo Obregon, Owner of the Tres Hermanas Plantation:jolobregon [at] gmail.com ( )
  • Chiquita Banana, Manuel Rodriguez, Vice President for Labor Relations:mrodriguez [at] Chiquita.com ( )

Eric Gottwald is Senior Policy Analyst at the International Labor Rights Forum.