Short Stories
Entry No. 38 December 23, 2004

Noxious Nemagon in Nicaragua

As my emotions settled down from my incredible visit to Pueblo Nuevo, Honduras, Susie and I headed down into Nicaragua. The border crossing proved somewhat eventful, unlike the others, as we had not received the stamp in our passport that says we had entered into Honduras. I politely told the officer that it was not our fault as we were told by the border patrol that the stamps we had were fine. Furthermore, the two police checkpoints that followed our first hours in Honduras missed this issue. I had to bite my tongue to refrain from commenting that if the police at the checkpoints had just been doing their job instead of worrying about telling us how pretty we were, they probably would have realized there was a missing stamp. After a bit of small talk and a pencil and pamphlet, we avoided a $75 fine and paid $6, $3 to get into the country and $3 to get out.

So now we are in Nicaragua and working to get to León in the Department of León, which is the sister city of Gettysburg, my alma mater. We had a few events planned there and we were hoping to arrive that day. However, we had to pass through Chinandega first and we didn't realize just what that would entail.

As we slowly rolled south of the border town towards Somotillo, we noticed some roadwork going on. We were thankful that we had a one way strip of new road and thought that we would make it to León that day. Nevertheless, of all of the people we talked to at the border who inquired about our travels and those who we talked with while sipping a sugary soda at a little snack stand, no one deemed it important enough to let us in on the fact that there were 50 kilometers (31 miles) of unpaved road to get to Chinandega. This wasn't sounding fun.

Our speed decreased considerably as we biked over loose gravel, sand, and mud. In some parts, my bike just sunk in the sand and I almost face planted a few times but recovered nicely and shouted a few follow-up curses. We realized we were not going to make it to León and settled for Chinandega for the night. This chain of events proved a blessing since Susie and I ran into a Nicaraguan and an Italian who were writing a story for a European magazine about the travesty that has happened with the banana plantations in this area as well as Leon, other Central American countries, the Caribbean, and in the Philippines.

The story starts with a new vocabulary word called Nemagon, pronounced NEM A GOAN in Spanish. It is a noxious pesticide and is just one of 32 chemicals that has been sprayed on or injected into bananas and has tainted bananas and the lives of many people. Nemagon is derived from debromochloropropane (DBCP) and kills a microscopic worm which inhibits the production and damages the appearance of bananas. It was banned in the U.S. in 1979 because workers in the plants manufacturing the product were found to be sterile.

Nevertheless, money had to be made and Dow Chemical and Shell Oil, two of the major producers of Nemagon, didn't want to just waste the money invested in producing this chemical and dump it, so they sold it. Up to 24 million pounds of Nemagon were exported throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s to unsuspecting banana producing nations like Nicaragua Standard Fruit (Dole in the U.S.), Del Monte, and United Fruit (now Chiquita). These were some of the companies that sprayed Nemagon extensively on their banana crops and it is likely, but not confirmed, that Nemagon derivatives are still being used in Nicaragua today.

At present, an estimated 22,000 Nicaraguans suffer from Nemagon-caused diseases and disability. If you want to find out more or write a letter, go to and scroll down a bit to the last of the "Ongoing Campaigns and News". Or, just go right to where I got all of this information.

    The Effects of Nemagon:
  • The wide variety of Nemagon-caused symptoms have been attributed to the fact that DBCP targets the endocrine system
  • Male victims of Nemagon suffer from reduced, impaired, or completely decimated sperm counts, with 67% of the male banana workers in Nicaragua rendered permanently sterile
  • Female victims are plagued with menstrual disruptions, discoloration of the skin, repeated miscarriages, uterine and breast cancer
  • Both women and men live with migraines and permanent headaches, bone pains, vision loss, fevers, hot flashes, loss of fingernails and hair, hematoma-covered skin, weight loss, anxiety and other nervous disorders, depression, liver damage, kidney and stomach cancer
  • 466 Nicaraguans have died as a result of Nemagon-caused cancer
  • Offspring of banana workers are born deformed, deaf, or blind
    The Case:
  • The Association of Workers, and Former Workers with Claims against Nemagon (ASOTRAEXDAN) has been organized, headed by one of the victims, Victorino Espinales
  • ASOTRAEXDAN has led the banana worker's struggle by convening assemblies, conducting medical exams on past & present workers, operating a radio program, organizing public protests, and filing legal suits on behalf of the plaintiffs
  • On January 17th, 2001, due to these efforts, the Nicaraguan National Assembly passed Law 364, which lays the legal groundwork upon which farm workers can sue the corporations
  • This law is explicitly threatened by the proposal of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA)
  • Three U.S. corporations have been found liable under Law 364 in a Nicaraguan court; Dole, Dow, and Shell have been ordered to pay US$490 million to Nemagon victims. Each of these companies has denied the legality of the case on fallacious grounds, calling for a new trial in the U.S.

When you buy your next banana from Wawa or Seven-Eleven, go for the smaller ones. Maybe they weren't as tainted with a Nemagon derivative. Is it worth it yet to go Organic?

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All photos courtesy of La Rel Agrotoxicos
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