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Small Victory in the Struggle Against Dole, Thousands Still Waiting for Justice

By Brooke Denmark International Team – Nicaragua

Last Thursday there was a rare excitement in the air when we met with the group of former banana plantation workers camped outside the Nicaraguan National Assembly. For almost 20 years, workers suffering from medical conditions due to their exposure to a dangerous pesticide popularly known as Nemagon have been struggling to receive compensation from large corporations such as Dole. On August 11, representatives of a U.S.-based law firm, Provost Umphrey, announced that they had reached a settlement with Dole for 3,153 workers affected by the chemical. The details of the settlement have not yet been announced.

ASONEF members’ protest community in front of the Nicaraguan National Assembly from 2004-2010

Despite celebrating this small victory, large questions remain unanswered. An estimated 17,000 workers were affected by the toxin. The fates of the thousands of unrepresented workers remain unclear. Dole has said that this is not a precedent decision or admittance of guilt. The Dole spokesperson who announced the settlement stated,

“Dole Food Company reiterates that there was no harm through exposure nor proof that supports there were damages to health, but in order to fulfill our social responsibility, we have taken this monumental step, but it should not be interpreted as the basis for an economic model for other groups still claiming settlements.”

But how monumental is this step really if only a fraction of those affected will benefit?

The President of ASONEF, the Association of Ex-Banana Workers Affected by Nemagon, Altagracia del Socorro Solis Navas, is one of the thousands of workers still waiting for an answer. She worked on banana plantations for 11 years. The effects of the pesticides began to set in by her 6th year. Today she suffers from long-term effects of the pesticide such as kidney problems and skin cancer. Solis is hopeful about the settlement announcement with some workers, but remarked,

“We are all the same, we worked together and need to be paid, not just one of us, but all of us worked. If we had known that the transnational corporations were using this poison, we would not have worked there. They didn’t provide us with protection or warn us that this poison was deadly.”

The ASONEF board members, July 2010

The pesticides did not only harm workers that had direct contact. The next generation is also feeling the effects. In Chinandega, where many of the banana plantations were located, during the 1990s children began to be born with deformities and studies showed alarmingly high rates of chemicals found in breast milk.

The son of Leonardo Ernesto Gonzalez Herrera, another member of ASONEF, was born after Leonardo was exposed to the chemicals. He was born with brain damage that continues to affect his daily life as an adult. None of the settlements so far have addressed the long-term damage done to other generations or the environment.

ASONEF board members in front of one of the houses recently constructed for them by the Nicaraguan government, August 2011

Solis raised another important concern about the recent settlement: the speed in which it will reach workers in grave condition. She warned that over the years many of her colleagues have already died waiting for a response from the transnational corporations, some before even reaching the age of fifty. “They died without anything but hope,” Solis warns.

Please call Dole today to pressure the corporation to provide compensation to everyone suffering the effects of Nemagon:

David A. DeLorenzo
, President, Director and Chief Executive Officer David H. Murdock
, Chairman of the Board Phone:818-879-6600 
Fax: 818-879-6615

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