GreenGold
 
Oro Verde
 
 

 

 


 
testimonies and stories

Gustavo Murillo, Ecuador

 

Click picture to view larger image

 

Guayaquil 17th May 2002
Ecuador

This interview was conducted with Gustavo Murillo, a worker at the Los Alamos plantation on 17th May 2002, the day after two attacks against striking workers. I met Gustavo during the first few days of the strike along with many others on the Los Alamos plantation. When I saw him on the morning of the interview he was in the National Health hospital in Guayaquil with Bernabé Menendez , one of the men who was shot during the second attack. Although not a relation, Gustavo accompanied Bernabé in the ambulance from Naranjal out of solidarity. Gustavo had neither slept nor eaten. He was clearly very upset about events but nevertheless agreed to be interviewed before going to the Los Alamos workers' picket at the Labour Ministry.

Jan Nimmo

 
 

My name is Gustavo Murillo. I was born in the city of Guayaquil on 25th March 1977. I am a resilient, hard-working person. I studied but left when I was still young. I studied in a modest school called Luz y Vida (Light and Life). It was there that I managed to get through the first years of primary school. At the age of 12 my mum was taken from me - she left my side. I started work. I left my home to work, in order to look after my grandmother. I live with my granny, Margarita Arribas, and my uncle Vicente. I had worked a bit before, but at this age I started to work full time. Before, when I was 7 or 8 years old I worked with my mum. We had a restaurant and I helped her out there. At 12 years old I was motherless and I started to work away from the house. You could say that I've worked doing a bit of everything - in a bakery, as a builder's helper... in all the work that's come up I have been honest and hard-working. There came a point where I couldn't continue studying as there wasn't enough money. So I didn't get the chance to study. I think that even though I never finished secondary school I'm a person who likes to educate himself, to learn - to learn a little more with each day that goes by. You never stop learning - reading, the newspapers, the news, being aware of what's going on in the world - being up to date with what's happening; I haven't got behind. If I could have carried on studying I would have. But owing to the economic situation we found ourselves in, not just me, but the Ecuadorians in general, this didn't seem possible.

I started work on the Los Alamos plantation four years ago, with the hope that this would bring better days for my family. I started work on Los Alamos with goals and dreams, which now, today, are in ruins, they've just fallen over like a tower of playing cards. I never thought that I'd say this, but what's happened over the last few days has hurt me inside. I'm emotional and I don't feel psychologically well. Sometimes I just feel like running out and screaming at the top of my voice, running away without stopping. I don't believe there's a part of the earth where they treat human beings like they have treated us - me personally and my compañeros . I want this to serve as a lesson for many people, for future generations. I hope that the generations to come don't make the same mistakes, and that things begin to change. I hope that there will be better days than those we've just had. I have nothing to complain about with respect to my family, at least I have them, because I've always said that I have more than I deserve - an incredible grandmother and an uncle who has gone out of his way for me. I owe both of them so much; part of who I am, I owe to them. I feel helpless and sorry that I can't give them back more in return… (a long silence)… can't give the two of them what they both deserve.

You could divide my life into two parts. From when I was born until I was twelve years old - the normal part - with a mum. I never had my dad by my side. But my mum was both mother and father. She let me study, she gave me an education, she taught me Christian values, humanitarian values, for which I am truly grateful. And the second stage in my life, from 12 years old until now, from when I had to learn to stand on my own two feet, when I had to learn to eat verdes and maduros (green and ripe plantains - a staple in Ecuador. There have been difficult times, when I have just wanted to give it all up and not go on but I've kept going. Life has taught me lessons. I've had some bad times but also some good times, for which I am grateful. And the bad things teach us something, these are the experiences from which we learn. They teach us to carry on. The experiences that we have had in these last few days at Los Alamos will not knock us down, but they will teach us to get to know people better and that, unfortunately, we cannot trust in anyone. Because we trusted in that person who we have as an employer (Álvaro Noboa ), and no, we didn't think he was entirely honest, because no one is 100% honest, but that at least he was trying to be. You've seen the way in which he has repaid us; at gunpoint, with bullets, with aggression, violating the fundamental human rights of every worker. Unfortunately we are helpless, because this Señor (Álvaro Noboa) has economic resources. He can do anything he wishes to in this country. No one can stop him. He is the owner of practically half of this country and of the Ecuadorians. How can you swim against this tide? You can't, even though you try, you'll end up exhausted. But we're here - still on our feet and fighting, still trying to change things.

 

As an Ecuadorian I want my country to see better times. We can't totally eradicate poverty. Someone once said that the poor will always be with us. And no, we're not going to disappear, but yes, we're going to help. We can alleviate their worries and their pain. If I could I would help the poor, those humble people who sometimes don't even have anything to eat. I have experienced this myself. I have seen the people who beg, people who don't have anywhere to sleep. This is the reality of our country. A rich country: Ecuador is a country rich in minerals and all that. But, alas we've ended up here, where each day the country gets poorer and poorer. Day after day the country moves like a crab - instead of moving forward it's going backwards. We are all demoralised by this and it's made us believe that this is a small, poor country. But it's not like that. I believe in my country, I believe in my people. I believe that with an effort and with persistence the Ecuadorians can go forward. We lack a leader; we lack a head, someone who walks shoulder to shoulder with the people - someone who can be an example. I believe that a leader isn't just somebody that feels like a leader who has to be served - it's someone who sets an example, and says, "Let's go forward!". That's the way things should be done. A leader is what this country is lacking.

One of my dreams was to study and to graduate - to be an ambassador for my country somewhere else in the world. To show people: "This is my country, I'm proud of my country, of my people". Well, if only that were possible. I swear to you I believe in my country. I really think that if we make the effort Ecuador could progress. We're going to give those people, who want my country to sink, a good lesson. Those who get rich do so at the expense of the poor and the humble. And how do they pay them? With bullets, sacking them from their job, they don't even give them tools for work, they mistreat them physically, verbally and physiologically and do not respect human rights. If those people are human beings then so are we.

We're not against those who have wealth if they've earned it. To be rich isn't bad in itself when it's a fortune that's been earned through someone's efforts and hard work. What is immoral is getting rich on the backs of the poor. We're not criticising the rich, but we want them to realise that what they have, they have because the poor work for them to possess it. They have to realise this and be more conscious of this and treat us a bit better - better treatment for the women of Ecuador, for the Ecuadorian children, the children who work on the banana plantations, doing the various jobs.

Here, in this country they don't respect human rights. The justice system is a politicised system, a justice system which is corrupt. Someone once said: "The prisons are for the poor". If it's a rich man they give him money and a lawyer". I think it was a Rubén Blades song. And that's how it is - if you've got cash then you'll get out in two days. If not, then you spend the rest of your life in the cells. Here, inside our prisons, there are people who are truly innocent. The real thieves are the ones who are guilty of making our country the way it is - those thieves in collars and ties - those thieves hidden away up there, in power. I'll tell you this; believe what I'm going to say to you now: sooner or later, if God really does exist, God will exact justice. Then we'll see that day when the hand of God comes down on them. Because He said, "Don't rob the poor because I am the defender of the poor". Sooner or later that day will arrive.

You talked a little about the poor treatment of Ecuadorian workers. We know what has happened on the Los Alamos plantation. Could you tell us more about that situation?

Yes, I can explain to you, broadly speaking, what has happened in these last few days. And not just what's happened recently but what's been happening for ages now, before there was anyone willing to put themselves forward to stop the abuse. This abuse isn't recent. It's been happening for ages. As there was no one to put the brakes on the abuse, they've gone on abusing and abusing more and more...

When I started working here, as I said to you, I had high hopes of better days to come. But in the time that I've been here at Los Alamos I have lived and breathed the reality of my people. Hard-working, modest people; people who are there because they really need to take the bread home. But I've seen how these people work in inhuman conditions, terrible conditions, in which no human being should have to work. You can make a note of the different points: they don't have uniforms , the food is scarce, it's bad and isn't enough to sustain people who do this kind of work. With respect to health, there's no specialised doctor. And, this isn't a joke, the gardener has now assumed the responsibility of doctor, he has no qualifications. In other words, there are no guarantees for the workers on this plantation, and that's the truth. During these days I've lived and breathed this. I'm a person who doesn't talk much, who likes to observe and in all the time that I have worked here I've quietly gone along, passively observing things. But I reached the point that I can't keep my mouth shut any longer - and you have to do something for these people and so that things change. It upsets me. I hurt inside to see how the women have to leave their children in others people's houses to go to work, just to earn a few dollars… since we no longer have the sucre . Often women are abused by the foremen of the packing plants. This isn't something I was told, something I read in a newspaper, it's something I've seen with my own eyes. I've seen how when the boss on the plant liked a girl who worked there, he forced the girl to be with him. She has no choice - if she doesn't comply she doesn't get her wage. They mistreat the men as well; they suspend them from work... and pay a wage which is one of the lowest in our Latin America . Low wages, bad food, no health care, no provision of tools for work, being abused by the bosses. All this has accumulated, bit by bit.

 

The moment has arrived when the workers of Los Alamos can no longer bear any more and they've reacted. We reacted peacefully. Señor Álvaro Noboa Pontón hasn't. He's using violence, but we're not. We are peaceful people, good people, and modest people. People who can walk down the street with their heads held high, proud of who they are; human beings, Ecuadorians. Maybe he isn't, who knows where he was born, or who he is. Maybe he doesn't know himself. But we are modest people. Part of what he has gained is thanks to the efforts of these people. It's certain that they have benefited from the company, but the company has paid them an absurdly low wage. The company can boast about this and say, "Yes, the workers have also benefited". But you go and investigate this. We don't even have social security. They don't pay us the social security although they discount it from our wages. They treat us badly. About three months ago, the compañeros decided to take action and to stop this abuse. That's when they organised the trade union and Señor (Noboa) hasn't liked it one bit. So the moment arrived when the people from Alamos stopped working completely, went pacifically on strike, like peaceful people. All activities on the banana plantation were stopped. With what end? With the objective of damaging the company? I had never thought about going on strike. If you want to earn money you have to work. But these people changed me - they made me see reality. If you don't put pressure on in this way things will never change. Today I realise that's the way it is.

We stopped work, we've formed a trade union, thanks to FENACLE who have supported us and thanks to all those people from overseas, who don't have to do anything; they could be quite happy in their homes in their own countries enjoying all the great things they have there. In spite of this, some of them have sacrificed their time and are even willing to sacrifice their lives. And do you know why I say that they are even willing to sacrifice their life? Yesterday they were about to take our lives. I am proud to count on those people. People that we never thought were going to support us so much. I hope God rewards them for what they've done. We don't have any way of paying them back. What I'm saying I don't say lightly. I really mean it. I'm talking from my heart. I'm a really straightforward ordinary man. I've hardly been to school. But I have learned and educated myself to know people. These people will have their rewards sooner or later. Once more I am really grateful, and please God, repay these people. I trust that God will repay you justly for what you have done for us.

I want to relate, not what our friends are doing for us, but what this so-called human being (Álvaro Noboa) has done to us. There are compañeros who have been working here between 12 and15 years, and according to our Labour Code should have left their employment with the company well remunerated. What has this "man" done? We'll call him this in inverted commas. He has remunerated them with an absurdly low amount. With a nominal amount, you could say, so that you don't go away empty-handed. Our redundancy pay isn't in accordance with the law. This is one of the reasons we have risen up. He (lvaro Noboa) isn't in agreement with the law. We believe the law in this case isn't just for us, but for the "haves" as well. If he is right, then fine, but if we're right then the law should take our side as well.

If a person starts work when they are 30 years old, they work for 12 or 15 years, they leave work at between 45-50 years of age. Do you believe they leave the company well remunerated? They don't even get a redundancy payment. I tell you, this continual abuse has filled the glass drop by drop, day after day, month after month, year after year. And on 16th May 2002 something happened that changed many of our lives. We had been on strike for more or less 10 days. We had peacefully taken over the installations here on the plantation. Peacefully. God knows that I'm telling the truth. We guarded the place ourselves. We looked after our own physical integrity - that of our compañeros, and we took good care of the company's property. Because yes, we had formed the trade union, but that's not to say that we had taken the trade union as a shield to destroy, damage or assault like they have done to us. We want the trade union to serve as an arbitrator, as a mediator, between owner and employee. We want the trade union as an observer, and when it has to act in the favour of the owners, then it should do so. And if it has to work in favour of the workers that it does so too. We want a just and impartial trade union. We don't want our trade union to be a monster. We don't wish ill on the company. We want the company to grow. In order for the company to grow, we also have to grow. The company profits will grow and we will also grow. And we'll see better days for our country. Better reserves and investment for our country and a better image of our country.

Coming back to the original subject, I'm going to tell you what happened in the early hours. It was definitely the early hours - I have still have it all really clearly in my head - it'll be a long time before I recover from this. I don't know if my compañeros feel the same. The tears flow when I think of it. I'm a man, and a man shouldn't cry. I cry not just because I'm angry but through indignation at the degree of violence and at the total impunity with which it has been committed.

I tell you, I don't want to remember that night, but I have no choice. I have to remember it because from the bottom of my heart I forgive this man (AN) for what he did. I pardon him because, if God is going to forgive him, then who am I not to forgive? I don't just forgive him in my own name, but in the name of my compañeros too…He's acted unjustly. We were on guard, and some of us were sleeping calmly in our rooms. We never for a moment thought that what I'm about to tell you was going to happen. When suddenly from one day to the other history changed. Masked men, armed men, men swearing, burst aggressively into our rooms. The got us out of our rooms, pushing and shoving us. They assaulted us both physically and verbally. At the beginning, I swear to you, you just don't know what to do. They didn't even give us our clothes so that we could get dressed. Nothing. They mistreated and humiliated us. For what reason? For being ordinary workers who wanted better lives for their families. That was the reason, the big sin. So they took us out of our rooms. They made us kneel down. They didn't let us see their faces. Then they put us in pick-up trucks. There were dozens of our compañeros in these pick-ups. One on top of the other. It is one thing for someone to tell you this but it's another to have actually experienced what really happened. I think that it's like the time of the Nazis, an ill-fated time for humanity. But we relived these moments, I swear to you. They didn't respect our human rights. One on top of the other, the way I would throw one sack on top of another, without any consideration and without restraint.

They took us to a building where they shut us in. They threw water over us, they threw in tear gas, they insulted us and they harassed us. Later they put us in a banana container. If they shut you in a container like that then after 10 minutes the air runs out. They put us in the back. And according to what they told us, they were going to take our lives. Where had these men come from? The came on the orders of our dear employer, who has found himself unable to do anything, his hands tied because we have won a clean fight. I say that we have won because I believe in our triumph. And he couldn't bear this, and he used the only method that a brutal man can use to show when he has failed in all possible ways - force. These men said: "We're going to kill you and dump you". We were afraid for our lives.

In our rooms, it is common for us to have compañeros de cuarto - friends, room mates. I had a compañero. When I make friends I don't care what gender they are, I look after and defend my friends. My friends are like my family. If someone is my friend, then nobody bothers my friend. And that day they wanted to harm my friend. They took my compañero de cuarto, Juan Carlos Cano. It's of no importance to me whether he thanks me or not. I consider him my friend, my brother. They took him out of the room. I don't know where he is, if he's disappeared. I think he's been "disappeared", although they say he's out there somewhere. When he appears and I see him with my own eyes I'll believe it. He was also one of those who were put into the banana truck. They were going to take us in this truck to an unknown destination . Some of our compañeros who had escaped this treacherous and sinister aggression had alerted the local police. A patrol car turned up. They wisely blocked the way with a bus that was there and prevented the crime that was about to be committed, although it was already a crime by then. They had to free us; they let us go in the middle of the plantation. And these masked men, I've found out today, are our compañeros. They are from the Clementina plantation. That comedian got it right when he said that people were confused when God said that we have to love one another - and instead understood that he'd said arm yourself one against the other (word-play on the verbs to love ourselves and to arm ourselves in Spanish - amarnos and armarnos). And that night it was proved. They had taken up arms against us, brothers against brothers, friends against friends, compañeros against compañeros. They were bought off for a few cents.

 

The day moved on. Because of what they had done, we were no longer their compañeros. We nevertheless continued to consider them our compañeros. We knew who they were. They have families the same as we do. We had no arms, only armed with our hands and with the truth. We were waiting for a peaceful solution. And they were armed to the teeth. Pick-ups arrived and supplied them with arms. Where did these arms come from? God knows where they came from. Many people arrived by plane . I want to say that those in charge of these operations were those who we had once called our bosses, our supervisors. They are people that we see every day and whom we had held in consideration; our bosses, our superiors whom we had respected. Even now we continue to respect them. But we can't trust them. Our bosses were in charge of the aggression. These people at one time gave us a smile, but they ended up being more like Judas. They betrayed us, they sold us. But no matter, they'll pay in Heaven.

So the day wore on, and some journalists arrived , but we don't just consider them as that - not for their profession, because we're not putting down their profession, no! Do you know how we consider them? Like family, we consider them to be our friends, our compañeros in arms. The title is of no importance, nor the social class or race. We are all compañeros on the same road. We are united for one single reason, our hearts. They arrived and verified what had been happening. The police were never really on our side. Never. Although they said that they were neutral and they weren't on anyone's side, they were on their side. Because they were the ones who gave the police food, they fed them. After the police had eaten, of course, they never came back .

Guillermo Touma was also present in his position as abogado (advocate) for the workers of Los Alamos. I only know him a little, but I am also very grateful to him. He's a man that has earned respect; a man who won our admiration and respect. You don't have to know a person for years to realise that they are a great person. And this man is and I hope he continues to be. He arrived with the journalists, and truthfully I don't know all their names. But the name's not important, their faces say it all, they're rebuena people, as the Mexicans would say. And that's what is important. You know who I'm talking about and once more, thank you. They arrived and verified what had happened in the early hours - that a compañero (Mauro Romero) had been shot. His blood had been shed on the battle ground. He had paid with his blood for being a brave man. Later we found out that this same compañero had had one of his limbs amputated. I had been a silent witness, a loyal witness to his bravery and integrity.

There were many compañeros wounded in the early hours, women sexually harassed, their private parts groped, their clothes ripped and stolen. Those men entered to rob. Many of our belongings have disappeared. And it's not so much their market value, but that they've been gained through our effort and sweat. These possessions are a fair reflection of what we have earned from our work. These people, it appears they have no families, have taken away our possessions. Like common thieves. They never took us into consideration. God knows where the compañeros who were in the second truck are, because these men filled two trucks. When they saw that the police were arriving they stopped and the people in the second truck got out - they had to release them. Of those 10 compañeros that have disappeared - where are they? God only knows… I hope that they are well.

Later, as I say, after all this happened, we were calm, so much so that one from the other side said deceitfully, "What we want to do is to sit down in the gateway and talk about all this". Perhaps for a moment I believed this, but that's not how it was, we didn't believe him because we knew what he was getting at. There was a bus inside the gateway which had been there for a few days. When the strike was declared the fact was that nobody left and nobody entered. And this bus had been there from the beginning and couldn't leave because that would break the strike. The armed men took advantage of this and came from behind the bus and began something that would change history and the course of that day. They started to shoot without compassion or pity, unconcerned that there were innocent women and children present. Their objective was to get us out of there. Who knows, to get us out of there dead or alive - either way it was the same. I bet that when we left there they were celebrating, they were happy. "Well, compañeros, we did it", they would congratulate one another. While this was happening, a compañero called Martin Clavijo was bleeding on the ground.

The police reinforcements, who had been called earlier, since midday, never arrived . God knows why they never arrived. Maybe they couldn't find the road, or they didn't hear the call. They never arrived to support us or protect us. They waited until one of our compañeros fell on the battle ground - until one of ours had been wounded, Martin Clavijo, who was bleeding on the ground. I said to one of the police, "Help him, help to lift him". It was like I was talking to a brick wall. He never helped. At that moment something happened, that same policeman received some bullets in his arm. That made him move, but he still didn't help the wounded man, and just looked instead at what had happened to his own arm.

We took the injured with Guillermo Touma - because it wasn't just one person injured by then, it was many - as fast as we could to Naranjal, and from there on to Guayaquil. Our compañeros were angry and indignant and proceeded to block the road between Naranjal and Puerto Inca (the main road between Machala and Guayaquil). We had borne all this peacefully. Blocking a road like this in this country is illegal, forbidden by the Constitution. But we were left with no other option. One way or another we had to let the country know what was happening. Our compañeros closed the road. Even we, who were coming from Naranjal (in the ambulance), couldn't get through at Km 26, to Guayaquil, and we had to go via Troncal. As bad luck would have it one of the ambulance's tyres got a puncture before arriving in Guayaquil. The compañeros were groaning with pain. There was a puncture and we had to stop. A woman, who was travelling in the car behind, helped us and lent us a jack. In a few minutes we were able to change the tyre.

 

We arrived in the city of Guayaquil and went to the IESS Hospital (the social security hospital). The man there didn't want to attend to the injured. After a lot of insisting they attended to them. Of the 3 injured, 2 were able to be discharged. I don't know their names. However, Martin Clavijo stayed flat out in his bed. I stayed there all night. I didn't sleep a wink. I hadn't slept the night before. Who was going to be able to sleep after all that? Nobody could have slept with all that had happened. I spent two nights without sleeping or eating. The time that I was going to eat was when the shooting happened. I had to go hungry, without food. But that wasn't important, what was important was our compañero's health, the father of a family. And I stayed with him. He wasn't my family - he was no relation of mine, but he was one of those things that you rarely encounter: a friend. He was a colleague from work, I had to stretch out my hand to him and help him. So that's what I did, because that's what I've been taught to do: you have to offer your hand and do good without thinking about who you're helping. We stayed there all night, and the man calmed down a little. I tried to sleep but couldn't because I knew I had a responsibility to look after my compañero.

And that was how we passed the night, the man complaining about the pain from time to time. Some compañeros had left money to make a phone call, but I couldn't get through. In the morning I tried again, hoping that somebody would come. I was waiting for someone to take responsibility because the situation was serious and he needed surgery. And no matter how much of a friend you are you always need someone from the family on these occasions. I don't know if a family member arrived; as I say, I was three days without eating or washing or changing my clothes because my things remained in the room where those aggressors had appeared. The abogado and a journalist arrived, demonstrating again that they were people showing solidarity. I watched them, I walked and I watched them. I said to myself, there are very few occasions that you see this between Ecuadorian brothers and sisters. I am a man that says things to your face. I call things by their name. I saw how Guillermo Touma went off to another place in the hospital as if he were really a member of the family. And he helped the man. I know that that afternoon the man went for surgery. God, I hope that he's well.

One of my family arrived. I called my uncle at the house. I phoned him with the idea that, because he knows a little more than I do, he could help in some way. I was feeling exploited, I didn't know how to release what was inside me. I tell you, I kept it in, I contained it. My cousin arrived. After a while I had to go to my room, to change my clothes and wash myself. I caught a taxi because I wanted to let it all out - to let go. I arrived at my house. And the moment arrived that I had to get out all the anger and powerlessness; more than anything the powerlessness; the feeling that we are useless, that we had all the will, the integrity, but that we were powerless, that we couldn't do anything about that man (Álvaro Noboa). Poor man! I say poor man, because he'll pay in Heaven.

I cried like I'd never cried before, remembering those sad moments in the early hours (of the 16th) and entitled it madrugada de terror, Morning of Terror - for so many people. The titles for that day read, "Bullets, pain and blood". Because, yes, there were bullets and we felt pain. A lot of blood flowed. And I exorcised what I had inside me and was destroying me. The person that I love and adore most in this life (Gustavo's grandmother) had no idea what had gone on. Her attitude surprised me; I didn't want to go home to my house (Gustavo is half crying at this point); I didn't want to arrive home in that state; because if I were to arrive in that state, she would get upset. I worry about her health. She surprised me because she gave me strength. She said to me, "Although you've lost everything, and although you now have nothing left of all that you've worked for, you have life. And there is hope… of carrying on". This gave me the strength to pull myself back together. I washed, I dressed and said to myself, "Where are you going? You're starting again. Yes, because my compañeros are waiting for me and this doesn't end here".

I have now got rid of what was inside. Well, maybe not completely, because even now I feel a bit low, but there are better days ahead; I'm sure of that. I'll go to the Ministry of Labour and proudly greet my compañeros and our foreign friends who don't feel foreign - I think of them more than ever as Ecuadorians. I'll greet my compañeros and I'll be waiting for this situation to be resolved in the only reasonable way: through dialogue. I hope, for the good of my country, because this transcends to an international level. It would be terrible for our country - which is coming out of an extreme and incomparable crisis - to fall from grace morally. Blows to the body hurt, but the blows that hurt us most are the blows to our souls. These don't heal overnight - only time can heal. It would be bad for our country to yet again project a negative image. But that image is the reality, and we've got to tell the truth even if it hurts.

Let's see if these men in charge of our country are a little scared and might just see the need for change. Like I've said on previous occasions we're not going to stop this abuse overnight. Because the abuse travels by bus and we have to walk. But the time has come to stop and put an end to it. Things are going to change, not because they want it, but because it's what the people are asking for and the people are the voice of God, and when the people stop everything stops. This is something that should be made known around the world, because the national press is biased, and our complaints have fallen on deaf ears. As they were saying yesterday on the radio in Naranjal, we are on our knees, begging, because when we stood up they didn't listen to us. Please tell the world, and don't let any more innocent blood flow. We are Ecuadorians, we're brothers, all with the same purpose. We all want to do well. I repeat, the trade union is not a monster, it is a mediator and an arbitrator. For me that is what a trade union is. Someone who shelters but sanctions, someone who loves, but is capable of discipline. It's not because of the fact that we've got a trade union that we'll get the company to do as we wish. No, the trade union has to be the starting-point for the company's and the workers' growth. That man (Álvaro Noboa) has realised that. He believes that the trade union will take away the last cent he has in his infinite bank accounts. If only we knew how many accounts he has! I would love to have been able to speak to him, ask him some questions - and he'd have put his hand on his heart before answering me and he would have put himself in our place. Would he like it if one of his children, or his relations, had been assaulted like we were in those early hours? What would his reply be? There's another question. Would he like to see Ecuador do better? I'm sure his reply would be yes. We'll struggle so that our Ecuador is better then! We have to fight in order for Ecuador to do better. But I have had no way of talking to him, and I don't believe I ever will have. But he's aloof and pig-headed. I know where he lives. I know how he lives. I've seen him many times.

We are experiencing this reality from up close. And you've experienced it in the last few days. That's life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hope there's a solution, for everyone's good, for the good of the company, for us, for our families. I really wish that you could have met my grandmother. My grandmother has recently had an operation. It's my home, but I'm ashamed to come home empty-handed; with nothing. I tell you, off the record, I never thought that she'd say these words to me: "You lost everything, but you have life and where there's life there's hope". The abogado (Guillermo Touma) told us that maybe he'd try to help us get back some of the things that we had. There's hope. We have to work to get those things again, maybe even better things. Perhaps God is teaching us humility. Sometimes you can get a bit above yourself, you might be looking down your nose at others. Sometimes we need a good dose of humility.

I see life as a ladder. You're just about to get to the top, on the top rung, and then all of a sudden you slip and fall. And that's you back down on the bottom rung. It's very difficult to start all over again, but if you don't want to stay there at the bottom you've got to fight back and start again. I've always thought about life like that. Sometimes you're about to reach your goal, but along the way you have left something that needs doing, so you've got to correct your mistakes and learn if you don't want to repeat them. We have to try to be better every day to ourselves and to our compañeros. Sometimes there are people who are difficult to like. Sometimes you get enemies for free, you might not have done anything to them but they regard you as an enemy, sometimes without any reason.

We are all brothers and sisters of the same race, because we've all been created by the same God. But our differences are sometimes what helps us overcome this. Imagine if we were all the same colour or height... Our differences teach us to overcome, to make ourselves better…. in a modest way. If you're riding high and your brothers have a fall, some would give them a shove instead of giving them a hand. Sometimes we have to stop along the way like the good Samaritan so that you can help them up; but maybe he won't give me his hand. Maybe along the way I'll trip up and there will there be someone to give me a hand? I don't expect people to be grateful to me. I've got more out of life than I deserve. I have an exceptional family: a grandmother that I've told you a bit about, who has done everything for me; and an uncle, who at times is a bit serious and strict, but a really good person - someone who likes discipline and likes things to be done the right way. Sometimes as young people we don't like this and we think that discipline is bad. At first it seems hard, but later it bears fruit because it shows us the right path. I had a mum to whom I'm very grateful. I'd like to know my dad. To ask him to forgive me, to say to him, "Was it because of me you went away? You're my dad, the man that my mum loved. I don't resent you, I feel proud to be your son". But I've never had the chance to say this. My mum was also my dad and for that I am very grateful. My mum had a strong character - too strong. Even at my age, after what has just happened, I miss my mum and her embrace. I wish she could say what my grandmother said, "If you've fallen, get up again - your mum's here, come on son you can do it". Missing my mum at my age! It's during those sad lonely moments that I miss her. I thought about my family and not about whether I was going to die when they were going to take us away in those trucks. I thought about them and also about my compañero de cuarto (room-mate). I didn't know where he was. Those men rushed in in droves. I feel responsible for him even although he's not my relation, but he's my friend and my compañero. He slept in the same room as me. What are his family going to say? Couldn't you take care of him? I really hope he's OK. That's why I want to go to the plantation, to Los Alamos, to see if he's still inside there; to know if he's OK and what state he's in; to see if he's eating. I'd like to take him food. When we had the idea about striking I said to him, "Juan, when we finish all this we're going to sit down. We're going to ask for rice with beans and roast meat. And we'll eat like we've never eaten". That was one of our great dreams. He would say to me, "Yes that's what we'll do". But my friend's not with me and I don't know how he is. I would really like to know how he is, I hope they let me in to see him. (Gustavo is now crying) I'm not even bothered if they pay me more; what's important is how I feel. If I have a friend I'll do whatever I have to for him. That's how I think about people, because I'm just one person. I feel really lonely. I don't know, I just don't know... (Gustavo cries) I want to go and see if he's OK. His family doesn't know anything. I haven't been able to see him because I don't have the bus fare - I hope he's eaten. I hope he's well. God, please let him be OK.

I'll be really sad if this (the strike) isn't resolved in our favour. It'll very much upset me. Not because of the value of the money, but because of the effort and the blood that's been spilled. Who going to give my compañero back the leg that they cut off? Who's going to give him that back? They can pay him all the money in the world. I hope that that man (Álvaro Noboa) doesn't just think that we want him to put his hands in his pockets. We want fair treatment. We want him to respect our rights… that's all. Doesn't he want us working for the company? Well make us redundant then; we'll take our money and go. It's his house, his company, and he can do what he likes with his company but he has no right to treat us the way he has. Please, I ask him, please don't treat us like this. I am really upset about my friend and I'll be responsible for what has happened to him*.


*Happily, Gustavo's friend turned up alive and well.

Interview and Translation: Jan Nimmo

Back to testonimies and stories

Home

 
 

 

Gustavo Murillo:woodcut by Jan Nimmo