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Case Study: Co-opting of Aid Organizations

An international medical NGO is staffing a health clinic in a remote village located near a large-scale agriculture enterprise operated by a multinational corporation. Many of the clinic’s patients are migrant workers who have come to the region seeking work at the commercial farm. Employees receive low wages by local standards, work very long hours, and have poor living conditions. Many of the workers and their family members present to the clinic with signs of malnutrition. A number of them also report respiratory complaints and skin and eye problems, which they associate with their handling of pesticides on the large farm.

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DBCP in Nicaragua

by Alberto Guevara

A wide variety of health problems are attributed to nemagón also called DBCP or debromochloropropane. This pesticide, banned in the U.S. in the 1960s but used throughout many parts of the Global South into the 1980s, is associated with sterility in men, menstrual disruptions and miscarriages in women, discoloration of the skin, various cancers, and renal failure.

All agricultural workers I met in Nicaragua who had been exposed to nemagón over the course of years working on banana plantations complained of chronic bone and muscle pains, sensations of burning, migraines, sleeplessness and loss of motor control. These Nicaraguans, camped in protest across from the National Assembly in downtown Managua from 2000-2010, deployed their naked flesh as mirrors of the violent indifference with which they were treated by Dow chemical and the banana business that allowed their exposure to the dangerous nemagón. Many have lifted shirts and leg pants, or in the case of men even stripped down to nothing to expose their dying flesh in protests, to the government, the media, various courts, and other Nicaraguans. I took this and other close-up photos of protesters’ bodies, with the nemagoneros’ explicit encouragement and consent, as a way of bearing witness to their situation but also wanting to document these Nicaraguans’ tragic but politically powerful use of their dying/diseased bodies as rhetorical and political weapons.

Alberto Guevara (aguevara@yorku.ca) is an Associate Professor of Performance Studies in the Department of Theatre at York University, Toronto, Canada. 
Photo location: Managua, Nicaragua