Nicaragua: The march of no return for the victims of Nemagon

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Dow Chemical was the pioneer in producing Nemagon, whose active ingredient, the dibromochloropropane (DBCP), was found highly efficient in eliminating nematodes. But, as far back as 1958, this very same company detected the development of testicular atrophies, infertility and severe harm to the lungs and kidneys after laboratory animals were exposed to the product. A confidential note received by the company’s managers at the time proves it. Even so, and despite the fact that the United States Department of Agriculture indicated their disagreement with the minimum preventive measures put forward by the Dow Company and others, DBCP’s sale was approved, as was its commercial distribution and use worldwide.

Insect-like men.

In 1975, almost 20 years later, prompted by countless contamination complaints from rural laborers and their own workers in the United-States, Dow Chemical warned one of its biggest clients, the Standard Fruit Company that the pesticide was affecting banana workers, and announced that it could no longer sell Nemagon. The Standard Fruit Company reacted immediately threatening to take the Dow to court in the United States for breach of contract. Dow accepted to carry on selling the chemical product on condition that the Standard agreed to handle all forthcoming legal claims. The advantage of Nemagon was its economic cost. Standard believed this was a good deal for themselves and for Dow. They signed a mutual protection engagement, and for four years several thousands of human beings in the banana plantations around the world have slowly grown sick, and treated like flies since the production and application of DBCP continued. The workers were never warned of the risks they were exposed to and were not provided with the proper protective equipment. […]

In 1975, the United-States Environment Protection Agency (EPA) ruled that the DBCP was a potential carcinogenic agent. In 1977, from the 114 employees producing the chemical product in one of Occidental Chemical’s factory, 35 were sterile. In 1979, Nemagon was prohibited in the United-States for almost all use, and its distribution temporarily suspended.

The same year, the Standard was still applying DBCP in its plantations all around the world. When the product was prohibited in Costa Rica, the Standard moved its stock to Honduras. There is apparently evidence that sold it to Africa in 1981 to Shell and that the Standard was still using it in its Philippines plantations in 1986. According to the testimony of Italo Antinori, the Defender of the people from Panama, it was still being used there in 2000.

This is not a mistake, therefore, an accident or unpredictable event, but a true crime, a planned genocide, a crime against mankind whose consequences are not limited to the worker and are passed down to their descendants until who knows when. This is not the mention the fact that DBCP is extremely long-lasting and will remain in the environment for a long time.

Real people

[…] Among the diseases, cancer cases are countless. We also estimate that five thousand men have become sterile, skin and immune system infections and allergies have developed, certain women can no longer procreate or have children with malformations and some people grow slowly deaf or blind,. Nobody knows exactly how many people have died from the Nemagon, but we are most probably talking thousands around the world. Worse still, the tens of thousands of persons contaminated by DBCP know they will die from it. In this specific case, exposure to Nemagon equals a premature death penalty.

There was never was a trial, and a small group of workers received extrajudicial compensation of amounts that they qualify as ridiculous, up to 100 dollars, when farm workers and laborers affected by the DBPC in the United-States get on average of one hundred thousand dollars in compensation.

Some five thousand persons belonging to the most numerous organized group of affected persons in Nicaragua (Asotrexban), marched up to Managua – during what was called “the march of no return” – and for almost two months, they have set camp in front of the National Assembly. From the day they left Chinandega until today, 40 persons have died, and since they started counting their dead, the number of casualties due to Nemagon has increased to 903. Until now, they have not yet been heard by a deputy, and have only been able to meet with the human rights attorney of the country, Omar Cabezas, who brought their case in front the UN Human Rights Commission which recently met in Geneva.

The acampados (campers) demand compliance with the Raizón agreements, signed a year ago with the president of Nicaragua Enrique Bolaños. They primarily specified the “ratification and credential of the commitment agreed on by the governments in November 2002 to legally council the persons affected in the United-States through the embassy in Washington, and recognition that the president did not promote any modification to a law (number 364) which grants the right to the person affected to be compensated, and for healthful awareness to all persons contaminated”. […]

As per Victor Espinales, president of the association for the persons affected, “the whole world is watching us die. What else can we do in order to be heard?

Carlos AMORIN

RISAL et REL UITA, avril 2005

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