Green beans, child labor and NAFTA

Newspaper Tree (El Paso, TX)

By Frontera NorteSur

The death of Ismael de los Santos Barrea followed an accident last month near Culiacan, Sinaloa, in which 10-year-old Angela Barraza Lopez lost left her arm to a machine while cleaning green beans.

Two tragic accidents highlight the human toll of child labor in northern Mexico’s agricultural export industry. On Feb. 7, a 20-month-old child, Ismael de los Santos Barrea, was reported crushed to death by truck tires at a farm in Sinaloa where his parents, teenage migrant laborers from the state of Guerrero, were working to support the family.

Reportedly, no daycare was available for the boy.

A representative of the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center of the Mountain, a non-governmental organization headquartered in Tlapa, Guerrero, said the unfortunate child’s grandfather contacted the advocacy organization to complain of the tragedy.

Margarita Nemecio Nemesio, Tlachinollan migrant coordinator, said legal representatives for Agricola Reyes, the farm enterprise where de los Santos Barrea child died, convinced the child’s parents to bury their son in Sinaloa in order to avoid paying costs associated with transporting the body to the family’s Guerrero homeland.

“The argument of the boss was that they would come up with an agreement later since the boy wasn’t a worker for the company,” Nemecio said.

The death of Ismael de los Santos Barrea followed an accident last month near Culiacan, Sinaloa, in which 10-year-old Angela Barraza Lopez lost left her arm to a machine while cleaning green beans. Barraza was earning about $5 per day without benefits when the accident occurred.

“I let her work with her friends, all of them her age, because they paid well and it helped me with the household expenses,” said Barraza’s mother Rosario. Similar to the de los Santos Barrea episode, Barraza’s mother complained of initial difficulties in getting just compensation for death or injuries.

Child labor is still common in the fields of Sinaloa and other northern states where thousands of indigenous migrants and their children from the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Veracruz, and Mexico make an annual trek to perform stoop labor and other hard physical chores.

According to the Guerrero-based Council of Agricultural Laborers of the Mountain, 8,177 migrants from the indigenous region of the state from

which the de los Santos family hails traveled to northern Mexico to work during the 2008-09 winter harvest. The group additionally reported that 519 infants aged one year or less were brought along on the migration.

Nationwide, Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Informatics reported that 3.6 million of 29.2 million Mexican children aged 5-17 were engaged in some kind of economic activity in 2007. In Guerrero, 20 percent of the age group studied by the federal census agency was categorized as being in the labor force.

In the north, the states of Sinaloa, Sonora, Chihuahua and Baja California function as a vast, transnational farming belt that provides food and fiber for the urbanized societies of the United States and Mexico.

Cucumber, tomato, green beans and chile peppers are popularly-cultivated crops, among others. According to the Confederation of Agricultural

Associations of Sinaloa, state vegetable exports to the United States raked in $572 million in 2007. From Sinaloa, 316,828 tons of tomatoes were sent to the US during the same year.

Guerrero’s Tchallinolan Human Rights Center has documented five other cases of children killed or injured in the fields of Sinaloa, Sonora and Chihuahua in recent years. However, spokeswoman Margarita Nemecio said more cases might not be officially registered.

“We believe the number could be higher,” Nemecio said, “because many times the owners harass the parents of minors to not get the authorities involved.”

Mexico, meanwhile, is also a magnet for children laborers from other nations. Since the beginning of the year, federal authorities have discovered three groups of Guatemalan minors contracted to work as street vendors or domestic workers in the southern state of Chiapas. On Feb. 12, police assigned to the federal unit that investigates crimes of violence against women and human trafficking picked up 11 Guatemalan children aged 7 to 17 who were selling candy and balloons on the streets of Tapachula, Chiapas. Allegedly, the children were being paid with water, cookies and a tarp to sleep with on the ground.



-- El Sur, February 11, 2009. Article by Zacarias Cervantes.

-- La Jornada, January 29 and February 14, 2009. Articles by Javier Valdez Cardenas, G. Castillo and A. Mariscal.

Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico