Canción tóxica" por Perrozompopo)
They live under sheets of plastic—cooking, sleeping, and living off a few basic foods supplied by the government and thriving off each others’ determination. Five hundred individuals call home an area filled with hundreds of tent homes, made of plastic and cut wood, filled with rock furniture and hammocks--located across the road from the national palace and the tallest building in Managua which houses the congressional offices. This is the result of a march that occurred almost five years ago. Six different times, folks have marched from the city of Chinendega to Managua, in protest of the use and affects of the pesticide known as Nemagon.
As early as 1958, chemical companies have known that this pesticide can cause serious health implications for anyone exposed to it. In 1979, the EPA banned the chemical in the United States. But the fruit companies (currently known as Dole, Del Monte, and Chiquita) continued purchasing and applying this dangerous pesticide on Central American banana plantations until 1986. By 1993, almost 17,000 plantation workers claimed to have been affected by this harmful chemical. A few of the many health problems related to nemagon include sterility, blindness, liver damage, kidney failure, lung cancer, brain cancer, miscarriage, joint damage, and breast cancer…just to name a few. The people we met in the community have also lost their homes and land which they’ve lived away from for the past few years. Even if they wanted to return to Chinendega or wherever else they marched from, they would have nothing to go back to. Some are blessed to have children outside of the community that send them a little money (a new type of remittance). Many are living with fatal diseases, and many have already been lost.
As we spent time with this community, I could sense their pain. They told us that this is not a political struggle—the government has in fact responded to them by giving them food, water, electricity, some medical attention, and is now building them houses. (During our interview with the community’s council, noise from the construction of these houses across the road filled the air.) They were selfless enough to tell us that they don't want to distract the government or keep them from helping other Nicaraguans. Even if the government has not provided the best assistance with legal matters dealing with the transnational companies, the people are oober grateful for what the government has done for them; they just wish the transnational companies that actually applied the chemical would show even a fraction of the attention that the government has.
As we did research for our projects, we came across a few court cases, in Central America and the U.S., many times resulting in forced payment by the companies to the victimized workers, but many noted that the results of the cases often ended up in appeals by the companies. (I don’t know if that’s correct law terms…essentially, the companies found some way out of having to pay…either by claiming false evidence or lying witnesses.) Many indemnifications have been issued, in which the companies paid a small sum of money to many workers; there was an instance in 1997 when thousands of workers received $100 if they signed not to sue the companies. One hundred dollars to compensate for over 20 years working in contaminated fields and living even longer with the resulting illness or the inability to have children. A lousy $100.
As I researched this issue, talked with the people, and created a project, I found myself so angry. I find myself so disgusted with the companies. I understand that these companies need to look out for their own well-being, but how can they look at these affected people who are living with chronic conditions and not have any sympathy? They argue that it is debatable whether it was nemagon that caused all these people’s problems. They argue that some people claim to have been affected when they didn’t even work in the fields (women, for example) but fail to recognize the fact that the pesticide remains on the plants, even through packaging (where women mostly worked, even though they did cover in the fields and chemical application sometimes).
Through this frustration, however, I see faces shining. I see the face of Altagracia and her pride of the Purisima altar. I see the face of the old woman whose first communication with me was a huge smiley hug. I see the face of Guillermo as he tells us about his life. Such beautiful people. Such a sad circumstance.
“We are fighters,” one woman told us. These people continue living in silent protest. Their presence is impossible to miss as you drive through Managua. Nothing will ever compensate for the pain, sorrow, and death these people have experienced. “We just want the transnationals to become sensitized,” they tell us. They are looking for someone to take responsibility and recognize them as suffering human beings—not to give charity, but to simply give them some acknowledgment.
For more info on the nemagon struggle, check out http://www.bananasthemovie.com/ and what the trailer, read the facts, get informed. Also, this photographer captured some great photos a few years ago. Make sure to scroll down and check out the pictures: http://www.opticalrealities.org/Central-America/Nicaragua/Nemagon-Survivors/10317166_Lzevs#713060564_r9PHp.
Even though I only spent a few hours with them, the people I met in the community forever have a place in my heart. When you eat a banana, think of these people. Think of what went into the production of that one simple fruit. Look beyond the sticker on the peel and examine what's within.