Persons of the Day

MARCH 14, 2007
Saints of Guatemala, in which we see the dots underneath the dust of George W. Bush’s boots and try to connect them. 1. Mayan Cleansing Ritual, performed yesterday at the ruins of the ancient Mayan city of Iximché, after a visit by Bush. “We can’t have a man who represents war come to this place.”, said Jorge Morales, a protest leader. 2. Updated Cleansing Ritual. After the Bush visit local people picked up kernels of corn from the ground, which were thrown as part of the welcome for Bush, so great is their poverty. 3. Speaking of poverty, less than ten miles from where Bush spoke, children work under sweatshop conditions almost impossible to believe, under CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Amy Goodman’s interview with Charles Kernaghan, anti-sweatshop activist, is excerpted below. 4. (unillustrated) New Bedford, Massachusetts raid, where undocumented workers were arrested and sent to Texas leaving their children without parents. Given life in Central America can we wonder why they are here?
Well, inside the factory, they’re all kids. The vast majority were thirteen years of age to seventeen -- sixteen, seventeen years of age. It looks like a high school, but it's not a high school. These kids are going in from 7:00 in the morning until 7:00 at night, fourteen hours a day, six days a week. Sometimes they have to come in earlier, at 6:00 or 6:30 in the morning. They do an extraordinary amount of work, these young kids. Thirteen-year-old kids, we watched them cutting up broccoli. You know, you buy those frozen broccoli florets in the stores. Every head of broccoli, they grab these heads of broccoli, and with a knife they make thirty-seven cuts, and then with their hands they break the broccoli apart into ninety-seven pieces. So there’s ninety-seven operations. They do one broccoli every sixty-four seconds. So they're making a cut every seven-tenths of a second. And this is all day long, seven-tenths of a second. I mean, flying through. They're cutting themselves with their knives. They're on their feet all day. They say their feet swell up. Their backs hurt. They’re exhausted. They make the same movements over and over again. Their wrists swell up. But they told us something that was extraordinary. They were doing like 692 pounds of fruit and vegetables a day. These are thirteen-, fourteen-, fifteen-year-old kids. But they said to us, the worst was the melon. And we said, like, “Why?” They said, well, you work in the water, because they're constantly washing the floor. So here you have thirteen-, fourteen-, fifteen-year-old kids standing in sneakers in an inch of water for twelve hours, and they say that their feet begin to crack, the skin, and bleeds -- and they begin to bleed. And they just kept going on. They said, you know, the factory is quite cold. This area of Guatemala is in the highland. It's quite cold. And plus, they're freezing these vegetables. So their workers are surrounding in an area called preparation, surrounded by all of these freezers, and it's freezing cold in there. And they won't let the kids wear sweaters, because the sweaters may get lint onto the fruit or onto the vegetables. So you have kids working in cold temperatures in t-shirts, but all the supervisors are walking around in sweatshirts and jackets. And they also say to the kids, “It will make you lazy if you wear the sweater. So if you wear that sweater, we're taking it away from you, and we’re going to throw it away.” So you have kids, you know, working twelve hours a day in the cold, often standing in an inch of water, their feet are bleeding, their hands are cut and they’re cheated their wages. And the company actually tells the kids -- this company was not, you know, too reticent to discuss with the children why they wanted them. They said, “Look, you have no responsibilities. You don’t have families. You’re not a parent. You don’t have to worry about kids or a house. You’re just here to work.” And they would constantly scream at them to go faster, go faster. Most of the workers were earning about half of the legal minimum wage. They didn't have social security, which is mandatory in Guatemala. They weren't paid for holidays. I mean, this place was like -- this place was a bad place, and this was right next to where George Bush was giving his talk about the benefits of free trade.