6 April 2006

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El Nuevo Diario reports that 1,420 Nicaraguan banana workers have died as a result of the illnesses caused by the pesticide Nemagon. 9,500 are seriously ill without access to adequate healthcare.

In their battle to collect on their compensation claim, the workers have seized an unexpected asset.

From the Nicaragua Network, 1/18/06:

Nemagon victims put lien on use of “Shell” trademark

“On January 13 the law firm Ojeda, Gutierrez, and Espinoza put a lien on the multinational Shell Oil Company against which the firm’s clients won a multimillion compensation claim in Nicaraguan courts.  The clients are 500 former banana workers from the Chinandega area whose health has been severely affected by their exposure to Nemagon.  Over a hundred of the former banana workers traveled to Managua to take part in the task of placing banners about the lien over the word ‘Shell’ at Shell gas stations in the capital.

Attorney Angel Espinoza explained that, since his clients won their claim for US$486 million compensation against four multinationals (Dole Food Company, Dow Chemical Company, Shell Chemical Company and Standard Food Company [Dole’s name in Central America]), they have not received a cent from any of the companies. ‘The companies’ failure to pay up has resulted in our decision to go ahead and place a lien on the use of the Shell trademark,’ says Espinoza. The law firm has already filed claims against Dole Food Company and Dow Chemical Company.

The gasoline and other products sold at Shell gas stations in Nicaragua are sold by the company Shell Nicaragua, S.A., which pays a monthly sum to Shell to rent out the trademark. The lien applied by the Chinandega farm workers and their lawyers does not affect Shell Nicaragua S.A.’s ability to continue selling its products, but the company can no longer do so under the trademark Shell unless company officials agree to start paying the Nemagon victims the monthly sum they have been paying to the Shell Oil Company.

Espinoza explained how, as a means of pressuring the Shell Company into negotiating with the Nemagon victims, the farm workers plan to begin procedures to auction off the trademark to the highest bidder (a process which should take about a month). ‘I think Shell officials are going to really start feeling the pressure when we begin the auction process,’ said Espinoza, who believes his clients are in a very strong position to negotiate the swift payment of their compensation debt with the multinational.

In 2005, 34 Nemagon victims from Chinandega died from the diseases caused by their exposure to the pesticide Nemagon on banana plantations during the 1960s, 70s and 80s. The agro-chemical was sold in Nicaragua and other Latin American nations at this time despite the fact that was banned in the US [in 1979] and several other parts of the world for being considered one of the most harmful toxic substances to be employed in agricultural production. Exposure to Nemagon has been shown to cause infertility, different types of cancer and several other diseases. There is also a greatly increased chance that children born to those exposed to the pesticide will be deformed.

‘We can’t wait any longer for the companies to pay us,’ said Martha Isabel Gonzalez, one of the Nemagon victims, ‘our health is getting worse every day and we cannot afford even the most basic treatment.’”

(Sources: La Prensa, 01/14, 01/15, 01/16, El Nuevo Diario, 01/15, Radio Ya!, 01/16)

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