Chile: Interview on the case of forced labor, modern slavery and human trafficking in Curicó

We reproduce some extracts from the interview done by Prensa Chiripilko to Carolina Rudnick, lawyer and president of the Libera Foundation against Human Trafficking and Slavery. In 2019 they began investigating a case of human trafficking and forced labor of Venezuelan origin in the city of Curicó, which had many records collected with research from universities working with migrants.

Since 2018 Chile has a lot of Venezuelan migration and a contractor group offered a good salary ($ 600,000 pesos per month) and accommodation, food, migratory regulation to harvest blueberries in several agricultural areas of the country. However, it was soon observed that the promises were false and that they were in a situation of forced labor. Rudnick declares: “They experienced situations that ILO [Note: International Labor Organization] catalogs as forced labor, suffering workers withholding wages, threats and intimidation, risky conditions, excessive extra hours without payment, abuse, restriction of movement. Then, from Coquimbo they are transferred to other fields, also of blueberries, to the south of the country where they experienced greater abuses. They found out that they should live in an unhealthy container, with threats of dismissal if certain production was not achieved as something constant; Who claimed for bad conditions were punished to change their housing without food.”.1

After that, the workers decided to denounce this to the Labor Inspection, and although the bosses tried to hide the evidences, the bosses and the contractors were fined for the serious conditions. However, this caused them to be transferred to a city with worse conditions, having no accommodation or food. Those who reclaimed were fired, but the Labor Inspection fined the company again for the conditions. Due to this, the company declares itself bankrupt and disappears, paying only $ 100,000 pesos to workers. Finally, from Libera Foundation, they managed to identify the main smuggler, Francisco Mendoza Berríos, who handled almost two dozen of companies under basters and names of relatives with whom he operated in the same way.

Prensa Chiripilko asks in what way the Provincial Government of Curicó is involved. To which is answered: “In the beginning the workers tried to communicate with the Government because it had processed the work permits of these contractors, very quickly, and a very fluid relationship was observed between employees of Francisco Mendoza and the governor herself. In fact, after the claims, the Government did not offer any specific help. ”

However, facing the overwhelming amount of evidence, the local prosecutor and the regional prosecutor “did not see indications of crime”, so they tried to close the case up to three times. Due to the insistence of regional and local prosecutors to close the case, the Foundation have requested a change of prosecutor. At the moment there has not been that change and the case is still open.

Prensa Chiripilko asks: “About the Department of Immigration of the Government of Curicó and its alleged participation in this case of human trafficking. Is there a history of other similar facts or is it an isolated case?”

Rudnick herself points out that “international organizations have indicated that corruption in cases of human trafficking are frequent. This is because it is common that at the time of hiring foreigners, state intervention is required, since the papers must be submitted to the Government, to foreigners and in the collection we see a constant of participation of officials of the Government and that must be clarified, for example, that the contractors met before with the Government officials, and the governor of the time, Macarena Pons. There are multiple photos that support all this. Add that employers are presented with a false name, as a foundation that helps migrants.

Perhaps of what is most attracted to attention is the fact of photographs that reveal that contractor employees supported the policy campaign of the mayor candidacy that Macarena Pons carried out.

These records that were public, once we delivered them as proof of justice, the next day were deleted, which is very suspicious and dangerous.

The other is that the processing of a work permit is very delayed. But in this case the permits were delivered very fast, and that was in 2018, the year of a gigantic migratory flow in our country.

In addition, the Government accused that the work contracts of the migrants were false, but quickly the Investigation Police clarified that they were true. This demonstrates an erratic act that reaffirms suspicions about the actions of the Government.

Finally, consider that the Government itself did boycott with the aid towards the storms being that at first the governor Pons himself promised it and then the person in charge of foreigners, surnamed Cardemil, denies the aid and leaves the victims to drift.

The Government was supposed to open a summary but we never knew if that was finally done, since no one notified us, and that they have already passed more than two years. ”

Subsequently, Francisco Mendoza Berríos is discussed, who seems to be outside of the country, and the responsibility of the fields to which Mendoza contributed immigrants. The president of the Foundation responds “in the case there are no accused, there is no formalization that the prosecutor wanted to close the case constantly” and adds the severity of separating the field “from what happens to the agricultural worker is a practice of many years ago and that only increases the vulnerability of workers. ” She also adds that due to the complaints of labor inspection, it is shown that the employers knew everything that happened and did nothing. And she adds “unfortunately these practices continue to be repeated in almost all fields in Chile, as evidence of conditions of modern slavery have been established by the ILO. “

Subsequently, the concept of “modern” slavery is disassembled, since they are remnants of the exploitation of feudalism, or even of slavery, and that not only occurs in countries such as Chile, in imperialist countries such as Spain, Canada, England or the United States is carried out among other forms through a work visa, in which the workers of the field depend on their employer to be able to stay in the country, and therefore support abuse. “In our country, coercion is given by the criminalization of migration, where today being an irregular migrant is almost like committing a crime, for something the horrible phrase of‘ illegal immigrants ’is used. And in that sense, with a large population of irregular foreigners; In this minute the hitch, dependence is an economically and additional trend, the dependence and fear of being deported. They change the mechanisms. Today there is no visa subject to contract but now we have the expulsion of the country. ”

Subsequently, there is talk of how the subcontracting serves to weaken the trade union movement and prevent the worker from denouncing, since there are many times multiple contractors and there is a network that prevents claiming. It is also denounced how human trafficking causes “lower and upper” people. “It is also required that workers unite, because we are in a situation of David and Goliath.” Rudnick adds.

The interview ends with: “It is also modern slavery because the victim is not chained but what there is is the use of fear as a mechanism of support, where he is frightened in several ways, such as the salary to the worker, making him not leave not to lose the money that is owed to him. Or you fear being deported, or losing the paste in a context in which your whole family depends economically on you and there are no more job offers. Thus, companies have a tremendous power of influence as they are from the few labor sources of a place (such as peoples, villages and cities in peasant and rural areas), that difference in power should not be used in their favor. But today we see that there is use in Chile.

We do not cease to surprise ourselves from the level of vileness, of how miserable bosses can be with the worker that collects the fruit and that will finally make millionaires to the owners of those companies of international markets by not considering labor rights.

It is also an aberration in the alleged rules of the game in capitalist ‘free’ markets, which are supposed to be freely competition, but we have social dumping. All of that implies worse conditions to workers in post that the company has greater advantages.”

1All quotes are unofficial translations

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