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Murder of FLOC Staffer Still Unsolved 12 Years Later

 

By La Prensa Staff

 

The Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) is still seeking answers to the murder of one of its staff members, twelve years after his unexplained death. The homicide may be considered a cold case by U.S. and Mexican authorities, but FLOC leaders won’t settle for pat answers in the murder of Santiago Rafael Cruz.

 

FLOC hosted a memorial service Monday evening, April 15, 2019, to both remember Santiago Rafael Cruz and provide an update to the farmworker union’s ongoing attempts to keep the investigation alive and seek answers in his death. Rafael Cruz was found dead in FLOC’s offices in Monterrey, México on April 9, 2007. FLOC leaders claim his death is more than a murder investigation, but a case of international human rights abuses.

Santiago Rafael Cruz

 

Baldemar Velásquez, FLOC founder and president, has long maintained that Rafael Cruz was assassinated in retaliation for his organization’s attempts in México to stop the corruption against agricultural workers seeking employment in the U.S. under the H2A guestworker visa program.

 

“They could have killed Santiago on any street in Monterrey, but they decided to do it in the office to send us a message,” Velásquez told a crowd of 30 people gathered for the memorial. “We were in a campaign to stop the graft and abuses and particularly the extortion, particularly of our members who were coming to work under the visa at unionized farms in North Carolina.”

 

FLOC has maintained a presence in México since 2006 to help migrant farmworkers to obtain H2A visas and avoid extortion attempts by labor recruiters and drug cartels south of the border.

 

Velásquez told the crowd he had just finished a tour of four Mexican cities where he talked to at least 100 migrant farmworkers at each stop. Each worker was only supposed to pay $346 in fees to come to the U.S., but recruiters were charging them as much as $2,000 and pocketing the rest.

 

Under a labor agreement FLOC had reached with Mt. Olive Pickle at the time, workers could file grievances if recruiters charged too much. Many of them faced the option of paying a coyote (smuggler) thousands of dollars to sneak them across the border as an undocumented immigrant or pay a recruiter much less. According to Velásquez, Rafael Cruz paid $7,000 to be smuggled from Mexico to Toledo, where he later landed his job as a FLOC organizer.

 

“Recruiters were making money heads over heels,” he said. “We started to file grievances—hundreds of them—to force those American employers, who those recruits worked for, to straighten this thing out. We got two of the recruiters fired. They stalked our office, broke into our office twice. Once they stole our computers.”

 

HISTORY: Velásquez had just returned from México to spend an Easter vacation with his family in Michigan, when he received a call about the murder of Santiago Rafael Cruz, his hands bound behind his back and beaten to death. A college professor who stopped by the office every Monday morning to visit with Rafael Cruz discovered his body lying in a pool of blood. The FLOC founder and president returned to Mexico immediately.

 

“We changed the system of the money that was to be paid to the American consulate,” said Velásquez. “The money got deposited with the consulate and paid electronically so there was no cash changing hands. They hated us for that. That’s when the assassination took place.”

 

Lionel Rivera, a renowned human rights lawyer, and FLOC’s attorney in México, continues to work on Santiago’s case. Via Skype from his México office, Rivera told those gathered one of the killers is serving a 40-year prison sentence, but two other assailants known to Mexican authorities remain on the loose.

 

“As long as the Mexican government and the police and other people cooperate, we’ll be able to move forward with this,” Rivera told the group through an interpreter. “With FLOC, we’re going to keep pushing forward to apprehend the other criminals, the other assassins. At the same time, we’re going to push forward to continue the work that was started to stop the bribes.”

 

“A member of the government of Nueva León came out and said [the murder] was about a fight over a woman,” said Velásquez. “They changed the story to say he was trafficking workers and they changed the story two or three times. The government has had every opportunity to submit their side of the investigation.”

 

The migrant farmworkers’ union has identified corruption as the payment of bribes at both ends of the season: first for the right to enter and work in the U.S., and then again to Mexican immigration and customs officials when charter busloads of farm workers return to Mexico.

 

A large FLOC delegation traveled to México City last month to present a 20-page complaint to the National Commission on Human Rights detailing the corruption. The complaint outlines that 70 percent of migrant workers paid some sort of bribe, some as much as $180 each to ensure safe passage home. FLOC also is pushing for México’s federal government to take over the murder investigation from the state attorney general in Nueva León. Union leaders believe investigators know the names of the assassins, but has left them at-large for over a decade. 

 

FLOC plans to be more aggressive and active during the growing season, attempting to hold large international corporations accountable for the agricultural supply chain in the U.S. and globally. The main target continues to be tobacco companies. According to a union statement, FLOC’s aim is to create an alliance with tobacco sector unions around the world “to work together and avoid efforts to pit workers against each other globally in a race to the bottom.”

FLOC now represents over 10,000 agricultural laborers in the South and Midwest, a much larger contingent that when the migrant farmworkers’ union was first founded in 1967.

 

 

 
Copyright © 1989 to 2019 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 04/16/19 21:09:57 -0700.

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