Charges against Campesinos Thrown Out

July 23, 2004

GRANADA, Nicaragua – A group ofimpoverished Nicaraguan campesinosclaiming to suffer health complications fromworking with a hazardous pesticide in the1970s and 1980s hasone less thing toworry about thisweek: they are nolonger accused ofbeing mafiosos in theUnited States.California JudgeNora Manella ruledlast Wednesday tothrow out the criminalracketeeringcharges brought by Dole Food Companyagainst more than 1,000 former bananaworkers who claim they were poisoned by apesticide known as Nemagon, and are suingfor damages.The multinational banana company suedthe campesinos last December for allegedlyviolating the U.S. Racketeer Influenced andCorrupt Organizations (RICO) federal law,which was created to combat mafia activity.“WE beat them in their own backyardand in their own justice system,” saidBenjamín Chávez, of Nicaraguan firmOjeda, Gutiérrez, Espinosa and Associates(Ojeda), whose lawyers were also named inthe racketeering suit. “This shows that wewere always right.”The absolved plaintiffs belong to agroup of some 20,000 Nicaraguancampesinos who are suing multinationalcompanies Shell Oil, Dow Chemical andDole in some 100 lawsuits totaling damagesestimated at $17 billion – $16 billion morethan Nicaragua’s annual budget.Nemagon, the popular brand name of achemical called debromochloropropane(DBCP), was used widely in the UnitedStates to protect crops from worms.It was banned in the continental UnitedStates by the U.S. Environmental ProtectionAgency in 1979, andHawaii in 1985, aftertesting revealed itcauses sterility and respiratorycomplicationsin workers who arecontinually exposed tothe chemical. Themultinationals reportedlycontinued toexport the chemical tobanana plantation inLatin America until themid-1980s.THE former banana workers in northernNicaragua claim to suffer health complicationssuch as sterility, cancer, and problemswith the liver, kidneys and skin. Manywomen who used to work on the bananaplantains claim their chronic exposure toNemagon has resulted in birth defects in thechildren, or stillbirths.Similar cases have emerged in neighboringHonduras and Costa Rica.Ojeda has filed more than 70 Nemagonlawsuits in the last five years, representing4,200 former banana workers from thedepartments of León and Chinandega.Although the firm has managed to win fourcases in Nicaragua, totaling $600 million indamages, it has still not received a dimefrom the multinationals, which continue toappeal the rulings.The Nicaraguan firm responded by filingtwo cases for $489 million against themultinational companies’ holdings in theUnited States and Venezuela, Chávez toldThe Tico Times in a phone interview fromChinandega.“We will not stop until they pay,”Ojeda’s Chávez said. When and if they pay,the lawyers will take their 40% fee, headmitted.JOSE Augusto Navarro, Minister ofAgriculture and Livestock and head of thefour-month-old presidential commission forNemagon, say this week that the governmentis trying to bring all sides to the table,but it has been a difficult task because of thenumber of involved parties and the amountthat is being demanded in damages.Lawyers representing the multinationalcompanies in Nicaragua did not return TicoTimes’ phone calls this week.

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