Migrant workers chained beaten and forced into debt, exposing the human cost of producing cheap food.
By Leonard Doyle in Immokalee, Florida for the Independent.
Published: 19 December 2007
Three Florida fruit-pickers, held captive and brutalised by their employer for more than a year, finally broke free of their bonds by punching their way through the ventilator hatch of the van in which they were imprisoned. Once outside, they dashed for freedom.
When they found sanctuary one recent Sunday morning, all bore the marks of heavy beatings to the head and body. One of the pickers had a nasty, untreated knife wound on his arm. Police would learn later that another man had his hands chained behind his back every night to prevent him escaping, leaving his wrists swollen.
The migrants were not only forced to work in sub-human conditions but mistreated and forced into debt. They were locked up at night and had to pay for sub-standard food. If they took a shower with a garden hose or bucket, it cost them $5.
Their story of slavery and abuse in the fruit fields of sub-tropical Florida threatens to lift the lid on some appalling human rights abuses in America today.
Now, Cesar, Geovanni, Jose, and Virginia Navarette will face a judge. Federal investigators believe they forced illegal immigrants to live in box trucks and pick tomatoes at their South 7th Street home.
FRED GRIMM of the Miami Herald wrote:
The details coming out in federal court made for a shocking story, except farm crew slavery stories and the brutal exploitation of undocumented workers have long since lost their shock value in Florida. The Navarrete case made The Naples Daily News, but the state's major media outlets paid little attention.
No one really wants to know about the origins of those cheap tomatoes.
See the website of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.
The CIW is a co-founder of the national Freedom Network USA to Empower Enslaved and Trafficked Persons.