SAN QUINTIN, Mexico — Workers at large, export-oriented farms in the Mexican border state of Baja California have led a week of violent protests over low pay, abuses and poor conditions, threatening a harvest that supplies millions of dollars worth of tomatoes, strawberries and other crops to the United States.

Burning tires and tossing rocks at vehicles, hundreds of farmworkers have blocked Baja’s main north-south highway on and off, and as many as 50,000 are believed to be on strike statewide as of Tuesday.

Baja California Gov. Francisco Vega said over the weekend that the harvest – and thousands of jobs – were at risk. “If the fields continue without a workforce, the harvests will be lost and that will affect everyone who depends on this part of the economy,” his office said in a press statement.

Many of the workers are migrants from southern Mexican states like Guerrero and Oaxaca who toil at huge hot-house farms just south of Ensenada. Their demands – health care, overtime pay, days off, an end to abuse by field bosses and more pay than the $8 many earn for a full day of stoop-labor – echo those of farmworkers 40 years ago in the United States.

“We all saw it as something normal for them (farm owners) to suspend people from work for three or four days, or fire them without severance for demanding respect for our rights, for demanding overtime or days off,” said Jose Ignacio Garcia, a 19-year-old who has worked the fields in Baja since he was 12 and is expecting his first child in August. “We got used to working more than 10 hours a day for 100 pesos ($7), but that doesn’t even buy the minimum necessities you need to live, to support a family.”

Demonstrations have exploded into rock-throwing scuffles with riot police and the arrest of about 200 protesters. Many businesses in the area have closed, and the highway blockades prompted the U.S. consulate in Tijuana to advise travelers to exercise caution.


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