After years of working in a banana orchard in contact with a pesticide that has made them sick or sterile, Nicaraguans have long demanded compensation for hundreds of agricultural workers. A hope that goes a little further with the recent decision of the French judiciary.
A few rusty cans of the DBCP are still visible here and there on Tonala Road in Chinandega Division. The pesticide has been used for years in banana orchards in the northeastern Nicaraguan region.
In the 1970s, attracted by the job opportunities offered by art companies in the surrounding gardens, many workers arrived in Tonala, where there were only 600 inhabitants at the time, as against 13,000 today.
These plantations developed between the 1960s and 1980s, taking advantage of fertile soil, warm climate and abundant rainfall.
“There were four farms in Tonala, each with 4,000 workers. That’s where you got the best pay,” recalls Luis Gomez, 60.
“It was good, people came from all over but this joy turned to sadness because of not having children,” explained his wife Idalia Paz, 55.
Lewis became sterile after his exposure to DBCP.
The pesticide, which was banned in the United States in the late 1970’s and was marketed in Nicaragua under the names Nemagan and Fumazon until the mid-1980’s, has been widely criticized in Latin America for cancer and infertility.
Health risks were identified in the United States in 1977 after a farm in California identified high rates of infertility among workers.
“If we had known it was dangerous, we would have taken other precautions. But we didn’t know, we found out later,” Pedro Regaldo, 74, told AFP. El Paraiso Farm.
– Executive –
In 2006, a court in Chinendega ordered three American multinationals – Shell, Dow Chemical and Occidental Chemical – to pay 80 805 million in damages to 1,200 workers who market pesticides in the country.
But they did not receive a penny, and many of them died.
The decision was confirmed at the Nicaraguan Cassation in 2013 but was never implemented.
The American company withdrew all their assets from Nicaragua, explained Gustavo Antonio Lopez, a lawyer for the workers. For their part, the multinationals claimed that they had “never been present in the country” at their suggestion.
The plaintiffs then placed all their hopes before a French court in an “executive” manner introduced in 2018. This approach makes it possible for a decision by a foreign court to be enforced in France, including the possible seizure of the company’s assets in Europe.
Farmers gathered in Tonala and waited together in Paris for Wednesday’s decision. But their lawyer Bernard Javala’s brazen voice on the telephone quickly shattered their hopes.
“They are dismissing us,” the lawyer announced after contacting his counterpart in Paris.
Judges have ruled that all Nicaraguan court decisions are “unenforceable in French territory” on the grounds that multinationals have chosen to prosecute in the United States under their own law, which “deprives Nicaraguan of all jurisdiction.”
“We are disappointed (…) here the pesticides were spread, here in Nicaragua we were attacked. We were waiting for the decision on behalf of the sick”, lamented Idalia Paz.
“When they told me I was 100% germ-free (…) I felt a deep frustration. Was taken to work in the tonal banana orchard. He is also suffering from kidney and bone pain.
“I think it’s unfair, it’s a crime,” said Nicaragua Multinational. “They didn’t want to compensate me but they have, they are irreplaceable.”