Eight days ago on March 16, Labor Secretary Alfonso Navarrete Prida summoned the press to announce that federal agents had just rescued 200 men, women and children who were working in slave-like conditions in a remote potato farm near the desert town of Comondú in Baja California Sur.
The workers included 15 minors, apparently unattached to any adults. With no housing provided, they put up makeshift shelter with sticks and plastic, sleeping aside mosquito-infested puddles and refuse. They were paid four pesos per large bag of potatoes, about a quarter.
Ethnically, the workers are Rarámuri, recruited from the Sierra Tarahumara in the state of Chihuahua. Economically, they are poor enough to be vulnerable to the “recruiters” who lured them to the farm. Perhaps that explains this strange piece of information: The rescuers “negotiated” with the camp administrator so that these victims of slave labor could continue to work there. Under improved conditions, of course.
Fast forward to yesterday, and a new Navarrete press conference. Another 49 day workers, 13 of them minors, had been rescued in similar conditions at a cucumber farm in the state of Colima.
These workers, similarly lured, are Mixtecos from the state of Guerrero. They were found working without protection in pesticide-infested fields, with no housing, food allowance, shoes or potable water. They were paid three pesos per bucket.
Excelsior and Milenio fronted the latest announcement, with Milenio playing up a theory given by Navarrete to explain several recent rescues totaling more than 400 exploited workers: “'Organized crime is behind the labor exploitation.'”
Again, the coverage contained an unexpected paragraph: “The labor secretary gave the owner of the almost 10-hectare field 72 hours to improve the living and working conditions.”
Nothing like a couple of good, stiff warnings to take care of the slave-labor problem.
These horror stories tend to crop up occasionally and go back into hibernation. Which confirms that the problem is ongoing, widespread and not especially targeted for solution, save for the occasional show rescues.
We are at least reminded of what the economic term “inequality” leads to — have-nots preying on have-nots. Victim and perpetrator — neither sees any recourse. Maybe, if you like, capitalism is ultimately to blame. But the immediate cause is bad government.