Waiting for Crist to Speak Up

The denial expressed by the Florida Department of Agriculture of the persistence and severity of slavery in the fields and the silence of Florida Governor Charlie Crist are disappointing.

The Navarrete case could not be a more a clear-cut example of modern slavery: the victims were literally locked up at night, abused and refused release. Usually, we see different forms of debt peonage and psychological coercion employed to keep workers under a bosses’ illicit control, but here, the mechanisms are laid almost laughably bare.

From a bulletin on the Coalition of Immokalee Workers website:

Since the late 1990’s, Florida’s fields have produced a steady stream of slavery prosecutions, and 2008 was no exception. But what made the slavery operation that came to light in the past year — resulting in the conviction of a family of farm bosses for holding workers against their will right here in Immokalee — stand out were the disturbing details of unmitigated brutality suffered by the workers, including being chained and locked inside U-Haul trucks at night, and beaten by their bosses during the day.

Even more disturbing, perhaps, was the dismissive reaction by a spokesperson for Florida’s Governor Crist when asked for comment on the case by a reporter from Ft. Myers. The spokesperson — Mr. Terence McElroy of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services — appeared to downplay the significance of forced labor in the state’s fields, not once, but twice. His statements provoked an immediate outcry by human rights, religious, labor, student, and community organizations and leaders across the country.

Among those troubled by Mr. McElroy’s statements — and the governor’s own silence and inaction — was the honorable Mary Robinson, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who wrote in a public statement:

“… Slavery persists when government leaders fail to take the necessary action to prevent it. Taking preventive action is a human rights obligation of local, state and national governments… I support the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and others in urging Governor Crist to take immediate steps to combat modern-day slavery in Florida agriculture.”

As 2009 begins, Governor Crist has yet to speak on the subject of slavery in his state’s fields.

Join the CIW in asking the Governor to stand against slavery.

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2 responses to “Waiting for Crist to Speak Up

  1. Not a specific comment on this post, but I just finished reading your book, “Nobodies,” and once I found your blog I wanted to tell you how much I appreciated it. (It seems a bit strange to say I “enjoyed” a book about slavery, but I did still want to read more once I finished it.)

    I’ve been reading a lot about modern day slavery, ever since the movie “Trade” showed up in my Netflix queue, and of all the books I’ve read (about half a dozen) yours was most compelling in making the connection between modern day slavery and globalization. You also covered the implications for American workers in a direct, accessible way.

    In fact, I’d recommend it alongside Naomi Klien’s book, “The Shock Doctrine.” It seems like many of the countries she profiles have become major sources of slaves in the wake of their induction into the “global free market” and the consequences for their economies.

    I’d be interested in your thoughts on the evangelical movement’s concern about sex slavery, but near refusal to address labor slavery and the economic factors that perpetuate both kinds of forced labor.

  2. The CIW has issued a new petition demanding that Gov. Crist finally end the decades of gubenatorial silence and take a stand against modern-day slavery. You can sign it at http://www.unionvoice.org/campaign/Governor_Crist_stand_against_slavery

    Go to http://www.ciw-online.org for the lastest details.

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