FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE March 28, 2005
Members of the Miami University Students for Peace and Justice group traveled to Nicaragua March 11th-20th on a Witness for Peace delegation to learn about United States foreign policy. While in Managua, the delegation visited a protest camp of several thousand banana and sugar cane farmers who have been lethally infected by the chemical Nemagon. Nemagon is a virulent pesticide used in banana and sugar cane plantations in Central America, the Caribbean, and the Philippines. Approximately 5000 protesters, who are living in makeshift tents of black plastic and sticks across the street from the National Assembly, say that they will not leave until their government has acted justly by recognizing the horrible conditions in which they've been left to die, covering their burgeoning medical costs, and discontinuing the use of all pesticides that contain Nemagon.
The workers asked the students to take their stories back to the United States because the United States corporations Dow Chemical, Shell Oil Co. and Standard Fruit Co. exported and encouraged the use of Nemagon. The protesters claim that over 2000 people have died due to exposure to Nemagon. One worker, Juan Alejandro Varela Sanchez, said to the Miami students who'd gathered on the night of Friday the 18th, "And here we stand talking to you and it looks like we're normal human beings, but we are already dead. Nemagon has already killed our way of life, our energy, and has left us practically lifeless. That's why some of us will be burying ourselves."
The students were shown holes, which line a busy intersection, already dug for this purpose. In addition, the protesters are threatening to light themselves on fire or crucify themselves if the Nicaraguan government will not recognize their demands. Negotiations with the government continued through the weekend, but the protesters reiterated to the students that if nothing was decided by Monday, they would act on their threats.
Quotes from the Protesters
"Our struggle has actually been going on for over ten years. You haven't heard about it until now because it's been kept from your ears. Now we're reaching a point in our struggle where some may be willing to bury themselves in these holes. Some people have talked about burying themselves with their heads underground and just their feet sticking out as a final act of protest. Right now we're not sure exactly what will happen." -- Merlo Antonio Irrutia Silva
"We are not asking you to give us material aid, but to simply demand what we demand: justice. Tell people how we have been here protesting four times, each time for several weeks, each time walking the 150 kilometers from Chinandega while some of us die along the way from the venom creeping inside us. Tell them that many of us left our children behind in a deformed state thanks to Nemagon. When you go back, tell them that we will not tolerate that our government erase the law that is on the books to protect us allowing us to sue the companies that poisoned us. Spread this message not just to the United States but the whole world because this is a world- wide epidemic that affects much more than just Nicaragua." --Juan Alejandro Varela Sanchez
Nemagon was employed extensively in the banana-growing department of Chinandega, Nicaragua
Nemagon, derived from dibromochloropropane (DBCP), kills a microscopic worm which inhibits the production and damages the appearance of the bananas
Though banned in the U.S. since 1979, Nemagon was exported throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s to other countries
Dow Chemical and Shell Chemical, two of the major producers of Nemagon, exported up to 24 million pounds a year during this period
Standard Fruit (owned by Dole), Del Monte, and United Fruit (now Chiquita) are some of the companies that sprayed Nemagon on their crops
As a result it is estimated that 22,000 Nicaraguans are afflicted with Nemagon-caused diseases and disability
The wide variety of Nemagon-caused symptoms have been attributed to the fact that DBCP targets the endocrine system
Male victims of Nemagon suffer from reduced, impaired, or completely decimated sperm counts, with 67% of the male banana workers in Nicaragua rendered permanently sterile
Female victims are plagued with menstrual disruptions, discoloration of the skin, repeated miscarriages, uterine and breast cancer
Both women and men live with migraines and permanent headaches, bone pains, vision loss, fevers, hot flashes, loss of fingernails and hair, hematoma-covered skin, weight loss, anxiety and other nervous disorders, depression, liver damage, kidney and stomach cancer
The Association of Workers, and Former Workers with Claims against Nemagon (ASOTRAEXDAN) has been organized, headed by one of the victims, Victorino Espinales
ASOTRAEXDAN has led the banana worker's struggle by convening assemblies, conducting medical exams on past & present workers, operating a radio program, organizing public protests, and filing legal suits on behalf of the plaintiffs
On January 17th, 2001, due to these efforts, the Nicaraguan National Assembly passed Law 364, which lays the legal groundwork upon which farmworkers can sue the corporations
Three U.S. corporations have been found liable under Law 364 in a Nicaraguan court; Dole, Dow, and Shell have been ordered to pay US$490 million to Nemagon victimsEach of these companies has denied the legality of the case on fallacious grounds, calling for a new trial in the U.S. Statistics taken from nicanet.org (www.nicanet.org/labor/nemegon-follow-up.php)
* This press release was prepared with the help of Ryan J. Miller, a student at Miami University of Ohio. He is a member of MU students for Peace and Justice, and MU Fair labor Coalition (a local branch of United Students Against Sweatshops). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.