jueves, enero 26

San Quintin Valley Agricultural Laborers (Part 1)

San Quintin Valley is located 123 kilometers from Ensenada,which is the Municipality’s headboard and has an extension of 36,941 squarekilometers, and accounts for 70% of the Municipality’s area and almost half ofthe total State area.

Agricultural Fields of San Quintin - very wellknown for the agriculture of cucumber, zucchini, tomato, potato and strawberry
In San Quintin you find one the most important agriculturalvalleys in Baja California; it has 14 large agricultural businesses with morethan 20 thousand hectares of water irrigation, and the newest and besttechnology that allows the maximum water use efficiency. San Quintin has modernproductive processes, biotechnologically enhanced seeds, computerizedgreenhouses and packaging procedures that guarantee the quality andpresentation of products for exportation. Nonetheless, this modernity requirescheap and intensive labor work to harvest the vegetables, mainly tomato,strawberry, brussel sprouts, peppers, zucchini, potato and cucumber.

This necessity has been covered for many decades, by agriculturallaborers, most of which are impoverished indigenous groups. Most of theindigenous workers are temporary migrant laborers from indigenous communitiesfrom Southern Mexico, like Oaxaca, Guerrero, Veracruz, Michoacan, and even fromthe northern state of Sinaloa, that arrive to San Quintin for the harvestseason and then return home, or migrate to another areas or agricultureharvesting seasons. During the harvest high season, there can be more than 40thousand migrant laborers.

While in the region, the laborers stay at “agriculturalcampsites” –approximately 20 at this moment—which are generally located insidethe privately owned lands of their employers, and are kept in precarious andinhumane conditions. Most of the laborers earn $4 to $8 dollars for an 8 hour shift;most can’t write or read and have no access to any health or medical services.

These migrant workers represent one of the most vulnerablegroups of Ensenada, their fundamental human rights are easily violated orignored; because of their limited knowledge of Spanish and their scarce or nulleducation, they are obliged to depend on their employer to take care of theirwork conditions, which diminishes the employers’ responsibility to offer the workers’health care services or any formal work contracts that gives them some legaland labor protection.

The workers are “hired” on a daily or seasonal basis, dependingon their productivity; by task (to do a specific job); or by working day (whichcan be as long as 10 hours of intense work in extreme hot or coldtemperatures); and are permanently exposed to being unemployed, even when theyhave worked for various seasons or years for the same employer.

Aerial View of San Quintin -
San Quintin represents 70% of the municipality ofEnsenada’s total area

In houses built from leftover metal scraps, some workerssettle in the region, and contribute to unplanned and disorganized urbangrowth. The areas and neighborhoods in which the migrants settle, generallynear agricultural fields, show very poor indicators of social wellbeing, thatcontrast with other regions of the State. The youth dominate theseneighborhoods that are created through land invasion and illegal occupation.

This displacement has contributed to the growth of poorneighborhoods in the San Quintin Valley. The new waves of mixtecos, nahuatls,perepechas, triquis and zapotecos indigenous laborers have not come alone: inthe new land they have reproduced their communitarian way of life, theircustoms, traditions and even the names of their lands of origin. These workershave been organizing themselves to defend their labor, human, and cultural andresidency rights from the land owners, from the lack of interest fromgovernment authorities and even from the deaths for fellow coworkers that have beenleft unresolved.

Migrant laborers live in camps built by their employers thatare warehouses of 50 to 200 rooms that often lack electricity, running waterand a private restroom; they don’t have electric stoves, so they cook inpetroleum stoves inside the rooms in which up to 12 people live in. There is nomedical facility and the workers can only enter and exit the camps with the employers’permission, access to these camps is guarded by armed security.

There are “cuarterias” that are operated by private owners–some of which are owned by migrant residents—which rent costs between 15 to 30dollars per month and size is approximately 18 square meters; having similar livingconditions to the camps.

Nearly 45% of the labor, mostly migrant laborers, receivesan income of less than 8 dollars per day. At this moment, and due to thevegetable market crisis, the laborers work an average of 4 days, seriouslyaffecting the family income, which adds pressure to the family members, soevery day, younger and younger workers become part of this agricultural system.

Paradoxically, San Quintin has the most advanced technologythat allows exporting produce at a competitive international level, and anextremely poor community. Forsome, this competitiveness is the product of cheap, abundant and intense labor exploitationthat takes advantage of indigenous migrant workers’ anguish to get a job andkeep the job.

(To be continued…)

~Jaime Martínez Veloz

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