June 5 - World Environment Day

No such thing as too much awareness


On this World Environment Day, we witness with pain and admiration as our affiliate organization, the Nicaraguan Association of People Affected by Chronic Renal Failure (ANAIRC), presses on with its struggle in Managua. The members of this organization are former sugarcane laborers of Ingenio San Antonio, property of the Pellas Group, and widows and orphans of former laborers, who have set up camp in front of the Cathedral to demand compensation from this powerful economic group, which it holds responsible for causing a humanitarian catastrophe in the Chichigalpa region through the indiscriminate use of agrotoxic substances and corporate irresponsibility.


To date Chronic Renal Failure (CRF) has claimed 3,355 mortal victims, all former sugarcane laborers from Chichigalpa, where thousands of others have also fallen ill from pesticide poisoning. The health of these people is not only seriously compromised, in many cases their very lives are at risk. For them, it’s only a matter of time, because they know they’re dying.


The most recent CRF fatality was Marco Antonio Pereira, a former laborer who had spent 22 of his 54 years working for the sugarcane mill Ingenio San Antonio. Marco Antonio died alone, on the bus that was driving him back to Chichigalpa from the ANAIRC camp in Managua, where he’d gone to express his solidarity with his fellow former workers and their affected family members.


Sadly, Marco Antonio will not be the last victim. Nicaragua lacks the medical infrastructure necessary to perform kidney transplants, a surgical procedure that would save the lives of many of the CRF patients who could still harbor hopes of survival. Most likely tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, Marco Antonio will have become the next-to-last victim.


Swine flu (or Influenza AH1N1), the source of the latest global health scare, has killed less than 200 people worldwide, but the media hype around it has had earth-shaking repercussions. Concerned voices have been raised warning that the pandemic alert is also a golden opportunity for Roche Pharmaceuticals to market its Tamiflu drug. Not one person has died from Influenza A in Nicaragua, but the press has already spilled rivers of ink and wasted hours of air time on the subject, while at the same time it remains shamefully silent on the tragedy of the CRF victims.


The same happens in other parts of Latin America with the thousands of people affected by the herbicide glyphosate, which is sprayed massively on the genetically-modified crops throughout what is known as the “Soy Republic,” extending over tens of millions of hectares of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.


Nobody knows for certain how many men and women have been affected by this agrotoxic chemical, because most people choose to turn a blind eye. These victims, like CRF victims, are also swept under the media rug for the benefit of the transnational corporations of the agro-food chain.


The Peruvian radio broadcaster Radio Programas del Perú* reports on its website that that country’s Ministry of Health has admitted that in the first five months of 2009 alone, 133 children died from the cold in Lima and the high Andean region. The declared cause of death in these cases is Acute Respiratory Infection (ARI), but the truth is that these children are merely victims of the weather and the lack of public health infrastructure.


According to a post by physician Elmer Huerta in his blog on the Lima newspaper El Comercio website, in the three days he monitored the most widely-watched TV channel, he found that 41 minutes were devoted to the AH1N1 flu, which has claimed no mortal victims in Peru, while the 133 children who died from the cold received only one minute of coverage.


We, the workers and peasants, the people and the children of this land, are being used as cannon fodder in a war that is not conventional, a war that is much more cynical, silent and covert: the war for profit and global domination that discards human beings or wipes them off the map by condemning them to a living death.


Which is why we say that the space we devote to these issues on our site can never be enough. We will continue to speak out about these tragedies, because we know that the leading environmental problem that Latin America faces is poverty and the vulnerability of its communities, exposed as they are to the ferocious ambition and greed of transnational corporations. We will not be silent because we know that our only hope of overcoming this situation is by raising more and more awareness, so that more and more people can question the media’s portrayal of reality, to instead look at it through their own eyes, understand it with their own hearts, and interpret it with their own minds.



Gerardo Iglesias and Carlos Amorín


         June 5, 2009




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