Banana Farmers Allegedly Made Sterile by Field Chemicals
Fraudulent Personal Injury Claims by Nicaraguan Banana Farmers Threaten Legitimate Ones
By Gerri Elder
The chemical pesticide DBCP, or dibromochloropropane, was utilized on banana farms until 1979, two years after it was linked to sperm damage among factory workers producing the chemical.
According to an L.A. Times report, banana plantation workers toiling in the fields of Central America have been subject to its exposure, allegedly leaving them sterile.
The issue begs the question: how should international law and justice respond when wrongdoing by a multinational corporation, such as Dole Foods or Dow Chemical, happens on foreign soil.
Los Angeles County Superior Court judge Victoria Chaney dismissed Nicaraguan claims of chemical sterilization against Dole Food Company and Dow Chemical Company based on fraudulent claims by workers who had never worked in the fields and who were primed as witnesses on the stand.
Chaney interpreted the scam to be part of a much wider fraud in Nicaragua of manufacturing plaintiffs to testify against multinational corporations. She points to a law passed by the Nicaraguan government in 2001 that fast-tracked DBCP claims.
Nicaraguan courts have awarded more than $2 billion to thousands of peasants with DBCP claims since 2001 yet without means to enforce collection.
While international law prefers that cases be tried in the country where they occur, many legal courts in the third world are ill-equipped to handle these international cases and are unable to enforce the outcomes. Foreign peasant plaintiffs have turned to U.S. federal courts to uphold their entitlements.
Alejandro Garro, a law professor at Columbia University, sympathetic to banana plantation workers, stated that “there are alleged international, global wrongful acts, but we don’t have a proper forum, and it’s ping-pong between countries, between the courts of developing and developed countries.” And lost in between are parallel and legitimate claims of personal injury and dignity by peasants toiling in banana fields as a result of chemical sterilization.
In theory, a person who has been exposed to DBCP on a banana plantation and can produce a laboratory report showing sterility is entitled to damages.
Chaney appears to be responding to an industry of manufactured court cases. But the sad reality is that fraudulent claims can also dismiss parallel legitimate claims by thousands of injured peasant farm workers.
This discovery of fraud jeopardizes many other related claims by banana plantation workers in Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Africa’s Ivory Coast who have suffered sterilization by exposure to the chemical pesticide, DBCP, dibromochloropropane.
Plaintiffs’ lawyer Steven Marks, of the Miami-based Podhurst Orseck law firm, stated that “it’s amazing to me that a judge can criticize in a sweeping way an entire country’s integrity and make a ruling on every individual’s honesty and integrity, even those who aren’t before her.”
Judge Chaney’s ruling implicates attorney Mark Sparks of the Texas-based law firm, Provost and Umphrey. The firm represents Nicaraguan plaintiffs against Dole in a Florida case with the Miami-based law firm of Podhurst Orseck.
Chaney implicated Sparks in a 2003 meeting in Nicaragua where lawyers, medical laboratory officials, and a judge set out a plan to manufacture evidence to bolster cases in Nicaraguan courts.
Sparks denies ever having attended such a meeting and the basis of the ruling came from witnesses whose names and testimony to Dole remained sealed under an order by Chaney who believed that their lives would be in danger if their identities were made public.
Source: LA Times