DBCP: A Chemical Artifact That Keeps Exploding

DBCP: A Chemical Artifact That Keeps Exploding

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By Vicente Boix Bornay

In 1969, the DBCP landed in Central America through the transnational agro-exporter Standard Fruit Company [4], which would apply the product in its fiefdoms and banana farms. In the United States, 26,000 workers have tried it, in about 470 processes.

Past [1]

It is no coincidence that the green revolution [2] had its golden age after the Second World War. Some researchers say that many chemicals created to end human life in hostile times were redesigned and reformulated to bury intrusive bugs and weeds. From dangerous and detestable weapons, they became essential and miraculous tools for the modern farmer. Military technology seeped into much more peaceful fields, altering production patterns and peripheralizing the advantages of an agricultural model that it sought to remedy in a plis plas, the serious structural problems that enveloped the world.

In addition, the banalities of the market always demanded a large and unblemished fruit. Cosmetically perfect. That it ate through the eyes. Discarding those that did not meet minimum aesthetic standards. Come on, like a kind of Enrique Iglesias, but in the form of banana, papaya, etc ... This is how the crops have undergone a kind of cosmetic surgery, based on an extra dose of agrochemicals.

Now, several decades later, the pan has been uncovered. The double camera was discovered in the hat. The dove did not appear by magic. It was hidden. Cleverly, the magician opened the door so that he could escape, sorry, the illusionist. It was all a trick. A fallacy without a miracle that tied the farmer to technology, while causing numerous and monstrous impacts on humans and the environment.

1,2-dibromo-3-chloropropane (DBCP) is one of those bastard children of the miracle of chemical loaves and fishes. From the restless minds of renowned scientists, who wanted to make their way through history, not caring about obituaries, wakes and hospital beds.

Although it had been synthesized before; In the 1950s, the laboratories of Shell Oil Company Y Dow Chemical Company, observed the effectiveness of DBCP to combat nematodes [3]; in the same way that they also detected the effectiveness to cause different pathologies in laboratory animals. However, the silence turned sepulchral and some evidence was skipped and missed.

In 1955, Shell production began and in 1964 the product was registered, after medical checks on workers at the Denver plant. However, no one warned the doctor to look at the most vulnerable target for DBCP: the male reproductive system. So, Shell he baptized his spawn with the name of Nemagon Y Dow with that of fumazone. The tragedy began.

In 1969, the DBCP landed in Central America through the transnational agro-exporter Standard Fruit Company [4], which would apply the product in their fiefdoms and banana farms. Other companies like From the Mount Y Chiquita Brands, they repeated the steps in several southern countries. No one would warn the workers they were exposed to, and even less did they provide them with personal protective equipment that would isolate them from the chemical and its effects.

The countries that used the DBCP were: Guatemala, Ivory Coast, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Peru, Ecuador, Philippines, Saint Lucia, France, Israel, Dominican Republic, Spain, Brazil, United States, Saint Vincent and Burkina. Faso.

In the early 1970s, more medical studies alerted to the effects of DBCP. In 1977, in a plant of Western -another producer of the chemical thanks to an agreement with Dow Chemical- a high rate of infertility was detected [5] male. The alarms went off. In the United States, the chemical was banned for many applications that same year. In 1979, the DBCP was only authorized for the cultivation of pineapples in Hawaii and in 1985 it was permanently canceled.

Despite the reigning concern in the United States, the chemical continued to be used in other countries, such as Honduras or Nicaragua, during the 1980s. In the Philippines it was detected in 1986 and 1991 [6]. In Panama in 1997 [7].

Today it is estimated that there could be about 65,000 affected. In humans, science only attributes male infertility and genetic toxicity to DBCP. Those affected report that there are more negative effects. Above all, because the tests carried out on animals show a devastating chilling power, with affectations in the liver, kidney, respiratory system, digestive system, skin, cancer of various types, endocrine disruptor, etc ... [8]


Nicolasa Caballero is Nicaraguan. He worked in bananas from 1973 to 1988. He has problems with black spots on his feet, legs and arms. He suffers pain in the bones and in the head. He comments that he had two children who were born with physical disabilities and who died when they were 6 months old and when they were one year old. He worked from 6 in the morning to 12 at night. He weighed the bananas and carried out other tasks in the production process. In his work he had contact with the poison, without any type of protection and sometimes he ended his day soaked. He claims that the DBCP is the source of his misfortunes.

Now, his monthly medical expenses are around 500 cordobas [9]. Children and grandchildren live in her humble home. Some work in what is available and others study in search of a better future. Despite his illness and his age, he has to go out into the streets and markets to sell corn [10] and tamales [11]. Every day of the week, at twelve noon, Nicolasa punctually goes to his corner at the “Los Bisnes” Market in Chinandega. There, on a modest wooden bench, he sets up his corduroy full of corn and waits for hungry customers. At six in the afternoon he returns home. In your bag, 40 córdobas (approximately 3 euros) to eat, live, medicate and little else.

Before this, Nicolasa got up at five in the morning to buy the corn that she later cooked and seasoned. She also does laundry, sweeps the house, and prepares food. Her family helps her, even though they are poor like her.

The disease has not only physically limited its victims. It also keeps them discriminated against. Few are granted work. They see deteriorated people in them, unable to function like the rest. Nicolasa confesses that when they observe her cancerous legs, certain people feel disgusted by her.

Moisés de Jesús Maradiaga and Teresa Espinales live in El Viejo (Nicaragua). They recently celebrated their silver wedding anniversary, but had no children to celebrate with. In addition, the event is surrounded by frustration and illness. He loses weight, he has passed 77 kg. to 53 in no time and things get worse. You have kidney and vision problems. He suffers from chronic gastritis, has trouble walking, and experiences sudden changes in body temperature. All this at 47 years old.

It started with bananas in the 1970s and did so for 21 years. He worked on the treatment of farms with the chemist. They did not warn them of the risk they were running and did not give them protective equipment at any time. The contact suffered when manipulating the DBCP in the barrels.

The great dream of Moses and his wife is to have a child. It is his only and permanent obsession. From the medical and scientific prism that is impossible. The DBCP castrated him, rendered him infertile. Therefore, you have no choice but to turn to spirituality and the power of God.

Two young nieces who study in Chinandega live in his house. In this way, he temporarily supplies the excitement and affection of the children he cannot have. Twice she tried to adopt two children, but their biological parents came and took them away again. He trusts his "compadre" (a neighbor who lives next to his house), to leave his young daughter in charge of his wife and him. Quite common in these lands.

Biologically speaking, Moses is alive. Your cells are still working. But the human being within that mass of bones and flesh, agonizes and is tortured by circumstances. It's not the only one. The general feeling with the other affected is the same. Some have no hope even of victory in the trial, which would easily allow them to visit better doctors, buy new houses and give their children the best of futures.

Moisés receives a pension of 1,035 cordobas per month (less than 60 euros). In addition to the diseases described above, he lost two fingers in two industrial accidents while working at the banana plantation. Together with his wife, he has a kind of shop at home where they sell firewood and snacks.

When asked about what he feels when he learns of the death of a colleague, the answer is overwhelming: "Surely we are going there too. After them we go ". They feel cornered, trapped, overwhelmed, imprisoned. Also alluded to. They perceive death on the streets of their neighborhoods. Looking frivolously at random for the next traveling companion.

Feel hatred towards those people who caused all this tragedy. " Nicaraguans are dying. They came to kill our people, our brothers. Because of the companies that came to our country, people are dying ”he exclaims angrily.

He is happy with his wife. It is his trigger, his vitamin to be able to continue. From time to time they go out for a walk in the park. If they win the DBCP battle, they will visit the best doctors. They will fight to fulfill their only great dream: To have a child.

Future [12]

Those affected continue to seek justice. In the United States, 26,000 workers have tried it, from various countries, in about 470 processes. The laws and courts of your countries are incapable of trying such complex cases. If it ever happened and they even won the lawsuit, the damages could be laughable. For these reasons, the affected groups and their law firms have initiated a kind of "invasion" in the North American courts.

Splendidly covered by efficient legal departments, multinationals have been able to repel the cases filed by workers, through the application of a legal recourse called "non-convenient forum" (FNC), by which the case must be transferred to the forum (court) appropriate or to the country where the cases occurred. Said in another simpler way, it is the best way for a North American court not to be able to judge a case that occurred in another nation, even if it has jurisdiction and possibility over it.

Ultimately, this doctrine has other objectives. Doctor JoséAntonioTomásOrtizdelaTorre (Complutense University of Madrid) and Professor Francisco Javier Zamora Cabot (Professor of Private International Law, Jaume I University of Castellón - Spain), point out that "... perhaps the FNC itself functions in practice as a mechanism to inhibit in the United States the demands made there because of the multiple excesses that its multinational corporations have been perpetrating throughout the world." [13]

In the countries of origin due to the lack of legislation and in the United States through the application of the FNC, traditionally, companies have not even drawn the sword, since they have been able to repel the lawsuits using different tricks.

However, luck is changing them. In April 2004, a Nicaraguan group quickly achieved the first trial in a California court, thanks to the fact that in their country, since 2000, there is a law to undertake these cases. Logically, companies do not resort to the FNC, because in Nicaragua there is legal text to accuse and condemn them. [14]

In March 2005, a Dallas court accepted a trial for 5 Costa Rican workers. This lawsuit was filed in a Texas court in 1993. The multinationals appealed to the FNC, which was accepted by the judge under one condition: if the Costa Rican courts rejected jurisdiction, the companies would submit to litigation in the United States. This has happened and now, these workers are the first 5, of the 375 that make up the case, apart from approximately 6,000 included in processes introduced in courts in Texas and Louisiana. [15]

Absorbed by the circumstances of extreme poverty and disease, workers in various countries have resorted to protests, strikes and actions. Some of them forceful. In Costa Rica, the claims prompted an agreement between the government and those affected to negotiate compensation. In one of these protests, serious clashes between riot police and workers led the latter to detain three policemen. Now, the courts want to convict Orlando Barrantes, secretary of the National Council of Banana Workers, for extortive kidnapping, in what has been described as a political trial. It is precisely this group, recently, has also filed a lawsuit in the United States for 1,700 more workers. In Honduras, the rapprochement is between those affected and the company Standard Fruit Company, although in this same country, other affected persons have recently initiated a judicial process and a law has been introduced in the National Assembly to process this type of cases. No more news is known about this legal text, which suggests that it may be shelved or lost in a closet.

In Nicaragua, for the moment, luck has been better. In 2000, a law was approved to process cases of those affected by the DBCP (Law 364). In December 2002, the justice sentenced Shell Oil Company, Dow Chemical Company Y Dole Food Company, to pay 489 million dollars to 583 workers, from one of the affected groups called OGESA [16]. The companies that had not appeared for the trial do not accept the verdict and brand the law as unconstitutional because it does not allow them to defend themselves. [17] Since they have not been established in the country since the Sandinista Popular Revolution, they cannot proceed to any type of embargo, so impunity remains unscathed. Since then until now, there have been several more sentences in favor of the workers of this group, although none as succulent as the first.

To receive the collection of the first sentence, the lawyers initiate the bureaucratic procedures to transfer the verdict to the North American courts. However, in October 2003, a judge for the Central District Court of California dismissed the banana growers' petition, alleging that there were errors of form and that US legal procedures had been violated. [18].

In April 2004, the other group of affected people known as ASOTRAEXDAN [19], you get the judgment mentioned above. In April 2005, OGESA took a vital step forward when the Venezuelan Supreme Court admitted the judgments issued by the Nicaraguan justice. This is possible thanks to the legal figure called exequatur, by which the sentences of one country can be applied in another. In Venezuela, two of the three accused companies do have assets and in fact, the judge has announced that they could soon seize their assets, freeze accounts, etc ... [20]. This is not everything. There is at least one demand in the United States for Honduran, Costa Rican and Filipino workers, which the FNC has cleverly and ingeniously sidestepped. It was applied to two others, they filed a case in their countries of origin and the court declared itself unable to resolve the cases. Now, the US courts should agree to carry out the trial, as the alternative forum denied jurisdiction.

In recent days, in Nicaragua, another lawsuit filed by a third group belonging to the Federation of Banana Workers of Chinandega (FETRABACH), has managed to come to fruition. The judge has sentenced Standard, Shell, Dow and Occidental, to 97 million dollars for 150 affected. [21]

This resolution gains importance for other reasons than merely condemnatory. On the one hand, Nicaraguan lawyers associated with the US law firm Provost & Umprey have managed to avoid those articles of Law 364 that were used by multinationals to allege its unconstitutionality.

The other reason of special relevance, goes through the evidence presented to trial, and above all, by the forcefulness of the conclusions based on them, affirmed by Socorro Toruño, judge in charge of settling the case. Nicaraguan journalist Valeria Imhof, has published in Nuevo Diario numerous paragraphs of the sentence that demonstrate the fraud with which the companies acted. Today I want to highlight the following for the vital information it provides:

None of the defendants suggests that they did not know that the DBCP was toxic (…) none argue that the workers were clearly warned about the dangers of the nematicide, or that Nemagón and fumazone brought explicit instructions in Spanish, nor do these defendants state that a workers were given protective equipment. Very serious accusations, such as that the pipes and sources of water for human consumption were also used for the DBCP, have not been specifically attacked by these defendants. These companies also avoid outright denying the assertion that after the DBCP was restricted in the United States of America, they entered into contracts for its sale or use “abroad” (…) Faced with such serious and clearly documented accusations, the strategy of defending themselves with formalities and general refusals, without going into the substance of the matter is to evade the truth of the facts. " [22]

Without the labyrinth of the FNC, with national laws and favorable rulings, now, a new battlefield opens, summarized by lawyer Henry Saint Dahl [23] in the following words:

“During the FNC era the great battle is over international competition. If the aforementioned laws are promulgated, the battle line will shift towards the issue of the execution of foreign sentences, that is, Latin American sentences condemning the payment of multinational companies based in the USA. Before, this did not happen given the archaic nature of Latin American procedural law. Changes can be seen if you will as one of the effects of economic globalization, which is followed by legal globalization.[24]

Therefore, after many years of crashing with justice, luck could be smiling to thousands of those affected by the DBCP. However, in Nicaragua, the workers do not lower their arms and continue with their demands.

At this point, Law 364 has become the best weapon for workers since it allows the processing of cases in Nicaragua, and consequently, disables and disables the option of the FNC. Workers believe and fear that the government could invalidate it thanks to pressure from a company [25] and from high-level American politicians like Colin Powell and Otto Reich. [26]. What does seem clear was the attempt to abolish it in September 2002, which began in the US embassy, ​​to go through various levels of the Nicaraguan government, among which was the presidency itself. [27].

The DBCP struggle in Nicaragua has been maintained in two main scenarios. On the one hand, the offices and the courts with the protagonists' lawyers. On the other hand, the streets, the houses of the sick, the media and even the National Assembly itself, with the perseverance and energy of the workers. Those from ASOTRAEXDAN have been the ones who have starred in the most energetic actions. Several marches to Managua with camping in front of the National Assembly that, in some cases, lasted for several weeks due to the pasotismo and valeverguismo of the political class. Hunger strikes like the last one, started and ended a few days ago, which clearly targeted the legislature and especially the Sandinista National Liberation Front, a romanticism of the past that continues to erect itself as the party of the poor, revolutionary and anti-imperialist.

All these proletarian demonstrations have pursued different objectives easily summed up in two words: justice and dignity. They have fought for adequate and free medical care, pensions for those affected or the defense of the persecuted law 364, the great crab in the testicles of multinationals.

Precisely all these events have been denounced by Omar Cabezas, Human Rights Ombudsman, at the 61st session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, held in Geneva on April 13, 2005; which shows once again the importance and seriousness of the history of the DBCP. [28]

Despite the pride of the sick workers, some of the great obstacles they have to overcome to reach the final victory are precisely the great internal disagreements of the group, which have forged their fission in various small groups led by lawyers. Divided, confronted, without class consciousness, lacking in political principles and naive in the face of the historical responsibility they must assume, the workers, once comrades on the farms, have a dispute among themselves fueled by leaders who at times seem like representatives of the lawyers in looking for potential clients.

Despite the previous criticism, the generosity offered by these sick workers is undeniable. It may take several years to reach the long-awaited final victory in the courts anywhere in the solar system. It may not be the case. If so, do not doubt that this lesson in perseverance, optimism, sacrifice and dignity, will have been more than worth it, laying a lecture in the history of social struggles.

[1] Most of the information in this section has been obtained from: Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Institute: “Unintended consequences: Impacts of Pesticide Bans on Industry, Workers, The Public, and The Environment”, Methods and Policy Report No. 13, April 1997 , at CONATRAB: "DBCP in banana production: History and present", March 1999, Costa Rica, and Documentation included in the summary of the case Miguel Sánchez Osorio and Others v. Standard Fruit Company and Others. Processed in the Second Civil and Labor Court of the District of Chinandega, Nicaragua, in May 2005. Data have also been collected from the Judgment in the case of Miguel Sánchez Osorio and Others v. Chinandega, August 8, 2005

[2] The application of chemicals in crops and their mechanization, supposed a radical change in the forms of agricultural production. This event, called the “Green Revolution”, reached its splendor in the sixties of the last century, although it had started previously.

[3] A species of parasitic worms that feed on the roots of certain plants.

[4] Since the mid-60s, I joined Castle & Cooke. This company changed its name in the early 1990s, becoming the Dole Food Company.

[5] Infertility: Biological and involuntary inability to conceive a child at a certain point in life. If the infertility is permanent and invariable during the life of the individual it is called sterility. In many bibliographic data on the case of DBCP, including some reports prepared by the author of the present work, sterility is widely indicated as a possible consequence of contact with the chemical. In this work the term infertility will be used as it is considered more accurate. Even in some data obtained from other sources, the term sterility has been changed to infertility in order to avoid confusion.

[6]KENNEDY, R .: “Fruit of the Poison Tree,” in Dallas Observer, March 10, 2005, at

[7] Email from the Office of the Ombudsman of Panama, June 20, 2005.

[8] and OEHHA (Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, California Environmental Protection Agency): “Public Health Goal for 1,2-Dibromo-3-chloropropane (DBCP) In Drinking Water”, at /pdf/dbcp_f.pdf , February 1999.

[9] 1 euro = 20 cordobas approx.

[10] Young ear of corn.

[11] A kind of tender cornmeal patty wrapped in banana leaves or corn on the cob. According to countries it varies, in some beans are added.

[12] The information contained in this chapter is based fundamentally on the cases of those affected in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras; because no considerable bibliography was found for other countries except the United States. Also obtained from SABLE K. and MAYER D .: “Yes! we have no bananas: forum non conveniens and corporate evasión ”, in International Business Law Review (Academy of Legal Studies in Business), Vol 4, August 2004, /mayer2004.pdf

[13] TOMAS, J.A. and ZAMORA, F.J .: "Comment to the Latin American Model Law for International Trials of Prof. Henry Dahl", comment to article 15 of said law, which rejects the inappropriate forum.

[14] IMHOF, V .: "Nemagón lawsuit admitted in the US", in Nuevo Diario, Managua, Nicaragua, April 21, 2004, p. 5, at

[15] KENNEDY, R .: “Fruit of the Poison Tree,” in Dallas Observer, March 10, 2005, at

[16] COLLADO R .: “Victims of nemagón win great demand”, in Nuevo Diario, Managua, Nicaragua, December 14, 2002,

[17] BBCMUNDO.COM: “Dole defends itself”, March 28, 2005, at

[18] SILVA, J.A .: “Nemagón judgment is in danger”, in La Prensa, Managua, Nicaragua, October 21, 2003, page 1, and NAVAS, L .: “Battle of the nemagón has not yet been lost”, in Nuevo Diario, Managua, Nicaragua, October 26, 2003, p. 2,

[19] Association of Plaintiffs Banana Workers and Ex-workers of Nemagón - Fumazone.

[20] / and NUEVA RADIO YA: "Embargo to US companies in Venezuela by nemagón", Managua, Nicaragua, April 29, 2005, at

[21] IMHOF, V .: "Sentence favors victims of Nemagón", in Nuevo Diario, Managua, Nicaragua, August 12, 2005, at

[22] Judgment of the case Miguel Sánchez Osorio and Others v. Chinandega, August 8, 2005, p. 89, 90 and 91.

[23] He has worked on the case with the law firms Fred Misko and Provost & Umphrey,

[24] E-mail from Henry Saint Dahl, June 21, 2005.

[25] BBCMUNDO.COM: “Dole defends itself”, March 28, 2005, at

[26] NAVAS, L .: “Battle of the nemagón has not yet been lost”, in Nuevo Diario, Managua, Nicaragua, October 26, 2003, p. 2,

[27] News that appeared in the issues of October 8, 9 and 10, 2002.


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