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Uniting Food, Farm and Hotel Workers World-Wide

First Round Victory in Campaign for Justice for Nemagon Victims

Posted to the IUF website 23-May-2005

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On May 13, the struggle of the Nicaraguan rural workers encamped in front of the National Assembly building in Managua reached a turning point with the signing of the "Preliminary Agreements" (click here for background). The agreements set out a 21-point programme of commitments designed to ensure medical, social and economic assistance to the victims of Nemagon poisoning and chronic renal deficiency, which have affected workers on banana and sugar cane plantations, respectively.

The draft of the Agreements was drawn up by leaders of the victims' group with the assistance of civil society support groups as a counter-proposal to a meagre token document presented by the government. The resulting final document is essentially the original draft with minor changes which leaves intact the major demands of the victims' groups.

In addition to measures aimed at addressing the immediate needs of the affected persons - guaranteed, free medical assistance, inclusion in housing and crop-assistance programmes - the agreements include measures aimed at improving the disastrous public health and environmental situation in western Nicaragua. Furthermore, the government has committed to providing 80 members of the Nemagon victims groups with passports so they may travel to the United States to testify at hearings in the court cases against the transnational pesticide and banana companies which manufactured and used Nemagon.

The signing of the Preliminary Agreements marks a turning point in the struggle of the Nicaraguan rural workers, but there is still a long way to go. The victims' groups have no illusions about the government's motivations in signing the Agreements nor about its willingness to follow through. During the week prior to the signing, Nicaraguan President Enrique Bola�os was in Washington, D.C., where negotiations were taking place with President Bush and the leaders of other Central American countries on the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Parliamentary deliberations are to begin shortly in Managua, and it is clear that Bola�os' instructions were to see to it that the encampment in front of the National Assembly be dismantled as soon as possible. That is why 300 activists will remain in place to maintain the pressure on the government and monitor progress on the issues which require parliamentary action: the budget revision to ensure the necessary funding, a law providing for disability pensions for victims and their families, the recognition of chronic renal deficiency as a professional disease, and the commitment that Law 364 (which provides for full treatment of Nemagon-related illnesses) be neither repealed nor reformed until all obligations under that law are fulfilled.