Florida Modern Slavery Museum Favorite 


Jan 13 2010

In December 2008, farm labor contractors Cesar and Geovanni Navarrete were each sentenced to twelve years in prison for their part in what U.S. Attorney Doug Molloy called “slavery, plain and simple.” According to the Justice Department, the employers “pleaded guilty to beating, threatening, restraining, and locking workers in trucks to force them to work as agricultural laborers… [They] were accused of paying the workersminimal wages and driving the workers into debt, while simultaneously threatening physical harm if the workers left their employment before their debts had been repaid to the Navarrete family.”

Although shocking in its details, the Navarrete case was simply the latest link in a long, unbroken chain of exploitation — including forced labor — in Florida’s fields. It was the seventh farm labor operation to be prosecuted for servitude in the state in the past decade, cases involving well over 1,000 workers and more than a dozen employers in total. The federal government has since initiated two additional prosecutions, bringing the total to nine as of 2011.

Even setting aside forced labor, farm work in the U.S. still offers the worst combination of sub-poverty wages, dangerous, backbreaking working conditions, and lack of fundamental labor protections. In this context of structural poverty and powerlessness, extreme forms of abuse such as forced labor are able to take root and flourish. However these cases are reflective of the impunity and exploitation that is rampant throughout the agricultural sector. In other words, modern-day slavery does not take place in a vacuum, nor is it an inevitable feature of our food system.

To highlight these abuses and to identify their causes and solution, in 2010 the Coalition of Immokalee Workers — a community-based farmworker organization — decided to create the Florida Modern-Day Slavery Museum. The mobile museum consists of a cargo truck carefully outfitted as a replica of the trucks involved in the Navarrete case and a collection of displays on the history and evolution of slavery in Florida over the past four hundred years. The multimedia exhibits were developed in consultation with workers who have escaped from forced labor operations, as well as leading academic authorities on slavery and labor history in Florida.

With a team of farmworker and ally docents, the museum toured Florida intensively, visiting churches, schools, universities and community centers for six weeks in the lead-up to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ three-day Farmworker Freedom March in 2010.

People’s reactions to the museum were so overwhelmingly positive and such a buzz was generated that the CIW later decided to tour outside Florida to cities throughout the Southeast and Northeast, including a stop on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. In March 2011, former President Jimmy Carter visited the museum in Atlanta, Georgia. Approximately 10,000 people have toured the museum since its creation.

(Reposted from www.beautifultrouble.org)

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