Press Release


Good afternoon. I’d like to thank Ambassador Mike Froman for inviting me to participate in today’s event.

We welcome today’s historic decision by the U.S. government to resume the arbitration process with Guatemala, to ensure that the government of Guatemala will live up to the commitments made under CAFTA to enforce workers’ basic rights and Guatemalan labor laws.

Six years ago, the AFL-CIO – together with Guatemalan unions -- filed a petition concerning widespread and serious labor rights violations in Guatemala – including numerous murders of trade unionists that were not being addressed or investigated by the government. 

Since the filing, the government of Guatemala has repeatedly made promises to protect and respect labor rights, but has consistently failed to act. This is why we applaud today’s resumption of the arbitration panel.

When CAFTA was signed, both parties promised to enforce their own labor laws and respect international labor standards, so that increased trade and investment would lead to better jobs and economic opportunities. Unfortunately, this has not been the reality for Guatemala’s workers.

Since 2007, over 70 Guatemalan unionists have been murdered for exercising their fundamental rights, while many more have been fired. We cannot remain silent over the ongoing abuses of worker rights and the violence against trade unionists.

Let me give you a few examples. On January 4 of this year, a 19-year-old construction worker named Marlon Dagoberto Vasquez Lopez a passionate young activist who encouraged other young people to get involved in civic politics… was shot and killed for his activism. A week later, someone fired shots at 11 banana workers outside their union office. One was struck by a bullet and survived.

The ongoing violence and lack of decent work have also contributed to the current crisis of unaccompanied minors arriving at our borders. We must recognize that a root cause of this is the lack of economic opportunity in countries like Guatemala. We can and must do better for workers, so that they can prosper from trade and not be forced to send their children far from home.

Right now, government officials, industry spokespeople, and advocacy groups from Pacific nations, Europe, and the U.S. have been negotiating new rules on proposed international trade agreements – the TPP and TTIP.

We must ensure that these agreements are indeed different from CAFTA – that the mechanisms to protect workers’ rights and the environment are powerful enough to do the job – and in a timely way. These trade deals must create good jobs for workers in the U.S. and in our trading partners. We are working hard to finalize that language, so that if it becomes law, it will be effective.

Broad lessons should be learned from this process. In the context of the TPP and TTIP, what happens as a result of this arbitration process sends a clear message to our trading partners that meeting their obligations and enforcing core labor rights are fundamental to our trade and investment relationship.

We believe America needs a new trade model, one that leads to increased economic opportunities and better working conditions for workers and their families. 

We applaud the actions of our government today. We respectfully say officials from both the United States and Guatemala MUST follow through with the arbitration. In the end, the focus of this process must be on improving working conditions and delivering long overdue justice to Guatemala’s workers.

Thank you.

Contact: Amaya Smith (202) 637-5018