Organic Consumers Association

Campaigning for health, justice, sustainability, peace, and democracy
  • Purple flower
  • asian farmer
  • veggie market
  • african wheat farmer
  • woman harvesting
  • allium
  • 3 lambs
  • apple
  • apple
  • apple vendor
  • apples in basket
  • apples on tree

The Struggle for Justice for Banana Field Workers Sterilized by Dole Foods Pesticide Continues

For related articles and information, please visit OCA's Fair Trade and Social Justice page.

It was easy to find Antonio Hernández Ordeñana's office in Chinandega, Nicaragua. Although the city is Nicaragua's fourth largest, Hernández is well known, and the locals had no problem pointing the way.

When I visited in 2006, the building looked newly painted in a bright green, with large letters on the front declaring, "Legal Offices for Banana Workers." Twenty or thirty men waited in a lobby just as hot as the day outside. The men, most of them in their sixties, no longer labored in the fields-the banana industry had faded decades before. They had come to Hernández for reasons documented in scores of newspaper clippings tacked to the waiting room wall. Headlines announced the meetings, protests, and legal struggles of los afectados-former banana workers made sterile by exposure to the pesticide dibromochloropropane, also known as DBCP, Fumazone, or Nemagon.

Beyond the lobby, offices and storerooms were arranged around a leafy central courtyard. Hernández took me to a room crammed with files, where he explained the strategy he and Los Angeles-based attorney Juan José Domínguez were pursuing. Like a handful of other Nicaraguan and U.S. firms, theirs were filing cases against fruit and chemical companies in both countries in hopes of securing compensation for banana workers exposed in the 1970s and early '80s, when DBCP was widely used to control soil-dwelling nematodes that fed on the roots of banana plants. Along with volumes of paper, the offices held objects that spoke to the pesticide's history and legacy. One, a metal barrel, dull and rusty with age, bore Dow Chemical's diamond-shaped logo and its Fumazone brand name. The label included no warning of serious health effects, and, in any case, was in English, which wasn't much use to the rural laborers who dispensed its contents. Across the courtyard was a modest laboratory, used by a visiting technician to measure sperm counts. Warning me not to be shocked, Hernández brought me to the threshold of a small room adjacent to the lab. I could see through the doorway that the walls were hung with soft-core porn. This is where would-be plaintiffs were sent to provide semen samples.

One of Hernández's most controversial cases-originally known as Tellez-has travelled a roller coaster route between his offices and the doorstep of the California Supreme Court in San Francisco, more than 3,000 miles northwest of Chinandega. What seemed the height of victory for plaintiffs-a 2007 Los Angeles jury verdict in favor of six Nicaraguans-was transformed into defeat when that decision was reversed by Judge Victoria Chaney in 2010. The case-now in the hands of California appellate lawyer Steve Condie-ground to a halt this spring when the California Supreme Court refused a petition to review Chaney's reversal.           

Like OCA on Facebook

Translate

English French German Italian Portuguese Russian Spanish