Panama banana crisis

Panamanian banana co-operative Coosemupar, which sells its fruit through Chiquita, is in deep crisis as workers strike and funds run dry.

The beleaguered co-op, which was bought out by workers from Chiquita three years ago, has more than $30 million in debts and cannot get credit even for fuel to run irrigation pumps. Crops on 2,500ha ceased to be irrigated at the beginning of the week and risk being completely destroyed if they are not irrigated by the middle of next week.

Workers are striking as the price paid by Chiquita for a box of fruit is $1.10 below the cost of production. Part of the buy-out deal was an arrangement to sell fruit exclusively to Chiquita and workers now want the contracts re-negotiated.

“The only winner is Chiquita,” said Salustiano Gracia, the banana-workers’ leader. He said the co-op’s workers have been complaining for months that the business is not profitable and that increases in costs such as fuel had not been written into the 10-year exclusivity contract with Chiquita.

Opposition leaders in the Central American country are calling on the government to intervene and save the livelihoods of thousands of workers.