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Call to the Fields Part III
by Baldemar Velasquez, President of FLOC


July 29, 2008


At 6:30 am I was already clammy from the humidity and dressed in my next set of shirt and trousers which is almost a must unless you want to wash every night.  You can’t help but get tar and nicotine all over so careful avoidance and contact minimizes the ingestion. 

Photo by Christiana Velasquez

I’ve always done well with poison ivy so perhaps whatever helps my body fight this stuff is helping me now but I don’t want to push my luck.  The gloves I got yesterday helped a lot, they worked great. I was able to pluck the smallest “retornos” as the men call the suckers, as the grips did what I thought they would.  I was then able to avoid direct skin contact with the leaves and stalk. 


I did have to throw them away tonight as they were pretty sticky and black with what would have been on my hands.  I’ve got two more pair then I’ll have to pick up a couple more to last me the rest of the week.  The white cap and handkerchief stuffed under the back of my cap covering my neck worked great too.   My neck didn’t need anymore sun, it was already pretty red but not burnt.   Being a “guero,” that is a term for a light skinned Mexican, we don’t burn easy but will get red.   I guess I’m a bona fide “redneck” now.


I did much better today as it wasn’t wet this morning so I didn’t have to wear the plastic trash bag and there was a cloud cover most of the morning.  We start every day with a stop at the farmer’s shed where he has one of those restaurant-type ice makers.  We fill the water coolers with ice and water for the day then direct to the field.  The little dew on the grass was all the wetness we encountered.  Apparently the moister the day before was from the thunderstorm that hit Sunday night.  Anyway I was glad I didn’t have to  put on the trash bag.


The field rows were really long so the men had to improvise as to where to move the van and pick-up with the water.   It was still very hot but the sun didn’t break through until late morning and then an occasional cover until the afternoon. I wasn’t near as taxed as yesterday and when 5:00 came and went I felt I could still do more.  


Don’t get me wrong, I was pretty tired and as I was isolated for a while working some 30 yards from the men, I contented myself by singing praise and worship songs.   “All Hail King Jesus, all hail Emmanuel, Lord of Lords, King of Kings bright morning star…….”


The day with the men was similar, more training for me, plenty of songs, “platicas” (talking between the men,) and sharing about family and friends they left behind.  Panza laments about his second daughter who is 17 and doesn’t want to continue her education right now but wants to come to the U.S.   He is not an insistant father as he feels that you try to “cosejar” (advise them) when they’re young but when they get “that” age, there is not much you can do.  


Caballo recounted his stint in the Mexican military and how the whole country is going to pots because not even the military has been able to reign in the drug cartels.   The U.S. government is giving Mexico 400 million dollars in Plan Merida to fight drugs but the military is used to attack civil organization like the teacher’s union in Oaxaca and the fiercely independent farmers in Chiapas.  Some of the highly trained military specialists are then hired by the drug cartels because they pay a lot and so the problem just gets worse.  


Caballo wants his kids to finish school and train as technicians, teachers or any profession to stay out of harm's way.


Caballo showed me how to spread the plants to access a clear view of the two plants at a time for suckers that might be lower down on the stalk.  We got some rows today that were really nasty, suckers all up and down the stalk so I spent a lot of time underneath the plants.  


The other part of the job I haven’t mentioned is taking out the tall weeds by hand, root and all, so we’re basically weeding as well.  I remember those exact weeds in my hoeing days in Ohio and Michigan.   “El Kelite” is what we called it and until today I never knew it’s name in English.   The kind farmer brought us lunch again so I asked him and it was red root pig weed! 


I learned today that RJ Reynolds has learned of my working in one of their fields and have started veiled threats.   All farmers fear the company and getting cut off would mean certain financial ruin.   This was true of the farmers in Ohio during the Cambell Soup campaigns.  


It is true that these companies have tremendous power but for some reason RJ Reynolds refuses to talk to me as president of FLOC.   The company apparently sent a letter to all its growers some months ago warning them not to have anything to do with us.   With all this concern to avoid FLOC, why are they concerned that I’m working in some remote tobacco fields.   Can someone ask them why the silent treatment, then the gossip behind our back?  


Seriously, they’re like a bunch juveniles who haven’t matured since middle school.    Let’s see if they get more blatant and try to start bullying people around, someone should tell them that it would be a colossal PR mistake.  See, nobody likes a bully and it would bring them unfavorable attention since most of their labor supply is questionable in their legal status and they do nothing to facilitate in helping their suppliers comply with the law.  


What is their procurement system design?   Some people refer to it as their supply line.   Is it to squeeze the farmer who with all his dramatically rising costs, let him take the risks the climate offers and keep the tobacco workers out of sight and out of mind?   RJ Reynolds can do better as I’m sure there are men and women there that have good minds and good hearts.


Call to the Fields Part V

Call to the Fields Part IV

Call to the Fields Part III

Call to the Fields Part II

Call to the Fields





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