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Published: Thursday, 4/12/2007

U.S. demands probe of slaying

BY CLYDE HUGHES
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Cruz Cruz
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The U.S. General Consulate Office in Mexico is pressing for a complete investigation in the beating death of a Toledo union worker found dead early Monday at the union's office in Monterrey, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) said yesterday.

Law enforcement officials from the state of Nuevo Leon are investigating the death of Santiago Rafael Cruz, 29, a Mexican native who has lived in Toledo since 1998 and had worked for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee as manager of its Monterrey office for three months, said Baldemar Velasquez, longtime president of the union.

Mr. Velasquez said he believed Mr. Cruz's death is directly related to FLOC's efforts to organize workers in the Monterrey area.

He said the union's education efforts made workers there less susceptible to people who would charge workers large sums of money to enter the United States illegally.

FLOC's program there recruits Mexican residents interested in going to the United States as part of a guest-worker program through a contract the union has with a North Carolina pickle company, union officials said.

Mr. Cruz was bound, gagged, and beaten, Miss Kaptur said yesterday.

She said she talked with Edward Heartney, consul for politics and economic affairs with the U.S. consulate general in Monterrey, who assured her he'd press the Mexican government for a thorough investigation and offer the assistance of the FBI.

Miss Kaptur said she also could call for a special investigation, which is allowed through the North American Free Trade Agreement, which would engage the labor departments of both the United States and Mexico.

She said the investigation provision in NAFTA, though, does not provide for sanctions.

"Right now, they need to do the basic policing work," Miss Kaptur said. "Our government is engaged and I wanted [Mr. Heartney's] assurance on that. You see how NAFTA is contributing to this endless stream of people who are so vulnerable to exploitation.

"There are no worker protections under NAFTA. When [FLOC] does try to take the illegality out of what's going on there, this sort of horrendous tragedy occurs. It will be taken note of on a national level here."

Mr. Velasquez said his union workers have been harassed there before for organizing workers and helping them obtain legal documents to work in the United States.

He said he believes that people running illegal operations to move Mexicans into the United States see FLOC as a threat.

"We're actually fighting the corruption that's prevalent in this area," Mr. Velasquez said via phone call from Monterrey. "There's been 10 policemen killed here in the last year. We've educated the workers not to be taken advantage of and some people here don't like that, but we have to carry on the work."

Mr. Velasquez said Mr. Cruz's body will be returned to Puebla, Mexico, where the majority of his family is located, for a funeral. He said arrangements for the funeral have not been made yet.

He said Mr. Cruz's work with FLOC, which dates to his arrival to Toledo in 1998, made a difference in the union.

"He had a heart for the people," Mr. Velasquez said. "He spent his extra time consulting people, teaching them how not to get cheated and ripped off by phony promises by people who said they could get papers for undocumented folks, and he would explain any proposals out there for immigration reform.

"Basically, he wouldn't allow people to be duped by other people wanting to take advantage of people's ignorance. He was very effective at that."

Mr. Velasquez and Miss Kaptur said the murder investigation is still in the early stages and both said they plan on following the results closely.

Contact Clyde Hughes at:

chughes@theblade.com

or 419-724-6095.



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