CLEVELAND, OH – “Bananas!*”, a documentary from the Swedish filmmaker Fredrik Gertten, was shown at the 34th Cleveland International Film Festival (March 18-28) in a record breaking attendance, and featured the ‘David and Goliath’ story of Nicaraguan banana workers fighting in U.S. courts against Dole Standard Fruit Company in a case about toxic exposure to a banned pesticide from Dow Chemical Company.
In the 1970′s the fumigant and nematocide dibromochloropropane (DBCP), used on 40 different U.S. food crops as well as most Banana Plantations and tropical fruit crops, came under close review in the first world for its toxic effect on humans. In 1985 it was issued an intent by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to cancel all registrants from further use of the chemical.
However the documentary showed that in the case of Dole Standard Fruit Company, the Dow Chemical Company was threatened by Dole with a lawsuit to fulfill its contract and deliver all the remaining stocks of DBCP to Dole. Records show that the remaining half a million gallons of DBCP were delivered to Dole. This happened upon agreement that Dole would resume liability for the use of DBCP.
Workers amongst the Nicaraguan Banana Plantations, and Dow workers, were at risk for sterility in the event of exposure to the chemical. According to the EPA, humans can be exposed to DBCP by “ingestion of contaminated drinking water and food, absorption through the skin and through inhalation.”
The EPA claims that, “because of the cancellation of all DBCP uses, environmental exposure is expected to decline with time.”
The film showed Nicaraguans working with machetes, harvesting, sorting and packaging Bananas in a moist and difficult terrain. Harvesters would take machetes and cut Bananas to be placed onto an elevated line where workers would then strap a harness to their waste and pull the bananas harvested throughout the plantation. The process looked similar to a horse harnessed to a plow, pulling its way through the field.
During the harvest and care for the banana plantation DBCP would be sprayed in a mixture called Fumazone or Nemagon with raised sprinklers that sent out streams across the Banana crop. The film showed how the process of spraying/fumigating would expose anyone present during or after to residue of DBCP. It showed Banana leaves dripping residue onto workers who reached for the harvest, and puddle after puddle where barefoot workers stepped to move the harvest.
D. Lorenzo, a Dole executive and board member who lived in Nicaragua, was asked in court if his company ever sent proper clothing to Banana workers who might be exposed to DBCP? He replied, they had not.
On the stand in U.S. court Dole boasted of an economic offering to Nicaraguans; where roads, schools and jobs could result in the presence of their company. Yet, young Nicaraguan workers were told by their fathers, “You will die if you work here.” When facing the fathers caveat, the resounding presence of the Banana Corporations were the only avenue for Nicaraguans to provide for a family.
The irony would be exploited in U.S. courts where Nicaraguan workers claimed to be prohibited from having families due to an exposure to DBCP. The trial showed Dole lawyers arguing that the plaintiffs case is based on opinion, and acted without the merit of factual evidence. Meanwhile, the plaintiffs attorneys flew in individual workers to testify against Dole and their practice of using DBCP.
Dole would use inconsistencies between answers during the deposition and those made on the stand, attacks on personal responsibility and previous medical records as a basis to disprove the Banana workers complaints. In the closing arguments their attorneys would call the plaintiffs “liars”, and state that Dole Standard Fruit Company could not be found to be responsible for exposure or be a part of causation to any harmful maladies from the chemical.
In their case, a jury would award over 3 million to Nicaraguan plaintiffs. Dole would claim this case as a victory, since the plaintiffs attorneys would of had to spend far more than the value of the verdict.
Shortly after the verdict, a judge in L.A. would throw out the case citing fraud against the plaintiffs attorneys for seeking out Nicaraguans to make false claims against the Dole Standard Fruit Company. Some of these fraudulent claims were shown to be double-sided questions. For instance, one question asks a father if he has a son? The father answers that he has a son in the deposition, but on trial is said to not be the biological father of the son. The father then claims that “not now or ever” would he declare to not be the father of the boy he helped to raise for most of his life. Since the father is sterile, and the boy cannot be said to be his son, this is enough to add to the fraudulent ruling by the L.A. judge.